It’s one of those mornings when there are a dozen things I should be doing at my desk before dashing off to a doctor’s appointment and more, but instead I’ve found myself lost in thought reading Mark Oppenheimer’s piece about Maggie Gallagher that appears in Salon today.
I met Maggie in 2000 and started working full-time at the Institute for American Values in 2001. I too was at that Osprey Point meeting that the reporter describes, in which the day’s schedule was filled with good serious talk about marriage, as marriage was then commonly understood, and we had one informal, evening gathering for those who wished to talk about something called gay marriage that a court in Massachusetts would be addressing sometime soon. I remember that evening my dear mother-in-law, now ill, was taking care of my baby daughter upstairs in my hotel room while I briefly attended the evening meeting downstairs. The texture of it all seems kind of long ago and poignant to me, and also sweet (my daughter at that age took the idea of “nursing on demand” quite literally, so I was rarely separated from her even for an hour that first year; I remember apologizing to my mother-in-law for running out again in the evening, telling her that I had a feeling this would be important).
Oppenheimer’s tracing of Maggie’s intellectual journey in those years rings true to me, from what I observed in that period. The gay marriage debate came to us – and by “us” I mean those of us who were researching and seeking to lead public discussions on mother-father marriage and fatherlessness and children of divorce and the like… David Blankenhorn and Maggie Gallagher and then-young me and many others. The reporter gets it absolutely right when he muses that it doesn’t seem like Maggie is motivated by anti-gay animus. She’s not. He’s right that what she really, really, really cares about and thinks about 24/7 with incredible intensity and vision and creativity is something which the reporter appropriately, perhaps more appropriately than he realizes, calls Marriage, with a capital M.
But Oppenheimer gets it wrong when he talks about children. He persists, as so many proponents of same-sex marriage seem to, in a seemingly stubborn, dogged, refuse-to-get-that-these-two-things-could-possibly-be-connected attitude that asking how redefining marriage might affect children is patently ridiculous. The future of same-sex marriage, he contends, in language which seems to be intended as both slightly tongue in cheek and at the same time completely serious, will be about “shiny, happy couples raising rosy-cheeked,well-adjusted children, children who play with dogs and go to school and fall from jungle gyms and break their arms, children often adopted after being abandoned by the heterosexuals who did not want them or could not care for them…”
In another place he writes, “[Gallagher] surely knows that the children of gay and lesbian couples have not been wrenched away from happy hetero homes—either they are the natural children of one parent in the couple; or they are the products of sperm donation or surrogacy; or they are adoptees, given up by mothers who could not raise them; or they have been abandoned or taken away from abusive or neglectful homes.”
In fact, at least until recently, most children being raised in gay and lesbian unions were also children of divorce, children who did at one point earlier in their lives have a married mother and father,until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage. Some of those children may indeed have felt that theirs was one of those “happy hetero families” the reporter refers to.
The other glaring absence in Oppenheimer’s piece is any grappling at all, on his part, with deliberate fatherlessness or deliberate motherlessness as they happen through sperm donation or egg donation/surrogacy. Oppenheimer names these methods as ways that children appear in lesbian or gay unions. But it doesn’t appear that he’s given one iota of thought to the question of how children and young people conceived this way make sense of it all. Perhaps he would like to. He could start here.