A third possibility

09.18.2012, 1:00 PM

"Two dads are better than none."

(Originally posted here.)

When I first saw this picture being shared on my Facebook feed, I immediately reposted it my wall. Not just because I was raised by a lesbian couple and this is one of those rare instances where the existence of families like mine was acknowledged, but because I agree with it. Our society abandons worrisome numbers of children in our foster system, often leaving them with little hope of a permanent family and frequently with little assistance or support after becoming legal adults. For those children, the sexual orientation of a potential parent or guardian seems so peripheral to their need for security, stability, and basic care.

But after posting it I realized it was a little too easy to agree with. It presents a family with two fathers as better than total isolation, which I hope is obvious to anyone concerned for the welfare of foster children and orphans. The comparison is between a socially contentious option (same-sex parenting) and an almost unthinkable horror. With that implicit choice, between social abandonment and same-sex parents, this supposed advocacy for same-sex parenting seems to work with the assumption that being raised by a same-sex couple is substandard rather than challenge that belief.

I’m rather familiar with that debate, previously sparked by Robert Oscar Lopez’s personal story of how damaging he felt his lesbian mother’s parenting to be. I respect his right to judge his upbringing, but know that I was in no way damaged by being raised by a lesbian couple. Prior to that, we had Zach Wahls’ famous disagreement with that, based on how he was no different from the straightspawn. Just as with Robert Oscar Lopez’s argument, his statement seems utterly detached from my experiences growing up in a family like his. Sometimes it’s with fascination and sometimes it’s with confusion, but I frequently interact with others who cannot stop balking at how different I seem to be.

So I’ll put forth a third option: I am a better and stronger person than I would be had I been raised by a male-female couple. This is not meant to disagree with Robert Oscar Lopez’s and Zach Wahls’ life experiences or proclaim people like me to be superior – it’s a statement that only applies to me. And I can’t help but feel it ring true.

Allow me to explain. I can be painfully headstrong, and I belong to many socially powerful groups. I am White. I am male. I am cisgendered. I belong to a family at least somewhat comfortably entrenched in the middle class. I am a native-born citizen of the United States. I belong to so many overlapping groups of people who are told, seemingly almost from birth (at least in the United States) that we are the world’s normal people, the cream of the crop, and absolutely always right about everything. Regardless of who my parents’ happened to be, I would be exposed to those beliefs constantly, simply because they’re everywhere. I am already quite insufferable about all sorts of things, and it’s clearly something that could only get worse because of social pressures that would (quite unfairly) tell me that I am absolutely and totally in the right.

But I think the unique experiences that I have gone through as a person raised by a lesbian couple have given me some basis on which to relate to people who haven’t been as privileged as I have been. There’s of course some hubris in comparing my experiences to others, but I think it’s helped me learn a valuable lesson in empathy. When my Latin@ friends have talked about how dehumanizing it is to be accused of being rather than a person an “illegal”, I could think of how infuriating it is for people to ask me which of my mothers was my “real” one. When my trans* friends have talked about how the secret of who they really are (by, it unfortunately has to be pointed out, no fault of their own) must be carefully disclosed because of the terrifying violence they could face, I could think of how dangerous it felt whenever a stranger in public would badger my mothers over what exactly their relationship was. When my Black and Muslim friends have talked about how even their cautious and courteous attempts to discuss racism or religious bigotry are often seen a “pushy” or “aggressive,” I could think of how by openly existing I am contesting some people’s political beliefs.

I don’t know if Zach Wahls, Robert Oscar Lopez, or if any one raised by a same-sex couple feels anything remotely akin to this, but I know that I, as a person, am better at understanding people who’s lived experiences are at times radically different from mine because of the unusual components of my own life. I view this as an enormous asset and strength of mine, and I wouldn’t deny it or trade it for anything in the world. I am different as a result of being raised by a lesbian couple, and I appreciate it.

37 Responses to “A third possibility”

  1. Mark Diebel says:

    Good question and am glad you asking it. I admit here that I am an adopted person, so my response comes from that experience.

    You write, “It presents a family with two fathers as better than total isolation, which I hope is obvious to anyone concerned for the welfare of foster children and orphans.”

    I see you are considering US fostering situations and possibly older placements. Or is that too specific? Perhaps my answer will make little difference whether you are talking about older or younger or even infant placements.

    If you are talking about “total isolation”, then you are talking about an experience that MANY adoptees will experience regardless of the context of the adoption. MANY could mean 10 in a 100 or 50. I don’t know and I don’t have any figures to relate it to. I know lots of adopted people. I also know how the experience can rise in consciousness at many stages of life. Isolation is never partial, it is a state of not-being-known: it is by definition total.

    Thus, even within adopted families, the adoptee can experience isolation arising out of a variety of elements but having to do with the difficultly of adopters to overcome 1) a prevailing myth that the adopted family comes as an experience of relief and safety for the adoptee, 2) grasping the reality of the loss involved with the original relinquishment and 3) the need for grieving.

    The myth of relief, the happy adoptee myth, holds parents in thrall to a fiction: an imagination about the strength and validity of their love. They know how much they love the child and imagine that this is sufficient to receive the child fully into their trust and overcome isolation.

    In reality, the child will need the affirmation and insight of the adopters to see that it is socially accepted to see and take-in the original loss and then to grieve it.

    It does not matter whether the adopter is straight, gay, lesbian…transgendered…adoption brings with it a specific set of circumstances for the child which the adopters need to understand. Isolation is not solved by mere entrance into a family however it is made up. Love is not sufficient. Too many who are adopting are utterly convinced by the strength of their love, its compact with poets and madmen, but this is a fiction that they project on the relationship.

    Social policy and practice needs to take stock of the reality experienced by adoptees if it wants to constructively develop good practices.

  2. Alana S. says:

    Do you never think of your father?

  3. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that gay parenting has absolutely nothing to do with marriage equality. NOM would have people believe that the Regnerus “research” is a reason for opposing same-sex marriage.

    Irrespective of whether or not gays can marry, the same heterosexual couples are going to unite in the same marriages, crank out the same kids and sue for the same divorces. Gays will likely adopt the same children. The only children that “gay marriage” affects are the children of same-sex parents who might benefit from increased stability and security.

    Regnerus is flawed. More importantly, Regnerus is irrelevant.

  4. Mark Diebel says:

    Alana, the short answer is yes. More should be said but not here.

  5. marilynn says:

    Mark think of how much more rocking your life would be if the parents who created you and their partner or partners or spouses who raised you no different than if you were their bio child as well.. think of how rad it would be if they all would have been able to cooperate and get along in an effort to provide you with all the love and support and happieness and civil liberties you and every other person deserves when they are growing up.

    Opting out of raising our offspring should be an option fine, but one where there is disinterested third party oversight to try and vet instances where people make private deals with one another not to take care of their kids.

    It does not have to be the way. Sometimes people don’t get along and we are better off with them out of the way but shouldn’t a minor simply have that fundamental right to expect to be cared for by the people who made him – minimum of all people on earth? Shouldn’t the law require people to try to cooperate for the benefit of their child and set uniform standards for investigating the reason why someone is not being cared for by their bio parents? Why should’nt every bio parent not caring for their offspring be answerable to a higher authority about how that came to pass, and probe a little bit to determine if anyone was coersed or paid not to raise their child. I’m not suggesting anyone overturn any existing family structures I’m suggesting that we owe it to ourselves and each new person born to treat them with dignity and respect that comes from not being the object in a private trade contract. How could that extra step to ensure money is not being traded for parental rights, is there a way that could be done that would be respectful of your family and families like yours Mark? How could something like that work to support the evolving concept of family rather than under mine it?

  6. Karen says:

    I love this! This is such a healthy way to approach life. You sound so much like my Buddhist brother. Yes, our life experiences and struggles shape us and grow us. My personal ‘donor’ conception experience has been absoultely priceless and I actually feel blessed by it – my Buddhist take on it. It’s challenged me to think in ways I never would have otherwise. I was also born to privilege but identify and prefer to hang out with those who were not because of my sense of difference/being different. But it’s also made me much more aware, respectful and educated on conservative values, specifically Catholic social thought. It’s been mind opening. That’s the beauty side of all of this from my POV. We are lucky indeed!

  7. Mark Diebel says:

    Marilynn, it would be pretty cool if that was the case. In reality, we know, relationships are complicated and natural parents do not always get along to say nothing of adopters…then add international complications and the story becomes unwieldy.

    Then, for many years in many countries (and it still the case in many places), a child born out-of-wedlock was a huge problem for the mom. Society would not help them and social institutions often instructed them to give up their children — even against their wishes.

    Much should be done with adoption practice reform but reform is resisted sometimes with poor reason. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed an adoptee rights bill last year after thirty years of hard work that included many moms, fathers, and adoptees.

    Adoption relationships may work just fine with some placements…in wide settings. It is still rare for a Caucasian child to be placed in a black or mixed race family. Adoption practice is not and should not only be about the rights of a group to adopt: the reality of adoption and the reports of adoptees must be included in the discussion with equal vigor and presence to those who would become adopters.

  8. Matt N says:

    Karen: I’m not sure if I’d call any of us lucky as long as some are privileged and some aren’t… but I suppose we’re in a uniquely less distressing place than most people though, given that we have advantages that others don’t but that we’re hopefully not clinging to them for dear life. Still, I’m not happy about it.

    Alana: I’m not sure if your question was directed at me or Mark?

    Mark: I want to thank you for pointing out there there’s more profound issues about psychologically feeling secure that adoption or other solutions to the problems that foster children face don’t necessarily address. I’ll admit, I wasn’t think of the psychological isolation of being in that situation, but just basic physical security or knowledge that baring really extreme circumstances the providers of basic security will continue to do so.

    One of the big problems with a small but persistent minority of foster homes is that they differentiate between their “real” and foster children, with foster children often receiving horrifyingly small portions of food, being exposed to the elements, all kinds of really awful stuff. For the majority of foster children who aren’t placed in those sorts of homes, the threat of being uprooted to another home (which very well could be such a place) is essentially constant. What’s more, some children inevitably age out of the foster system, which often leaves them with no one to fall back on for help while looking for work, attending school, or other early adulthood things that most people rely on their parents for help with. I was thinking of those and similar situations with physical or financial security being a problem for foster kids, but you’re absolutely right that there’s a huge spectrum of feelings of insecurity that foster kids understandably experience that aren’t easily resolved by adoption.

    David: I tried to steer clear of issues of marriage in this post and focus on the claims about the different results based on whether a child is raised by a straight and cis-cis couple, as opposed to any one else (single parents, same-sex parents, male-female parenting couples with at least on bisexual member, and any trans parents at all). Obviously Wahls and Lopez were both speaking the context of advocacy for or against same-sex marriage, so this was a bit of tilting at windmills, but I wasn’t trying to even legitimizing going there.

  9. Karen says:

    I meant *we* are lucky, as in just you and me and how we both have drawn very positive outcomes from it all. What did you mean by “Still, I’m not happy about it” I’d love to hear more about that side as well.

  10. Alana S. says:

    it was actually directed at you Matt

  11. Ted says:

    Matt N., this is a beautiful and touching post. One of the reasons that I think that my experience as a gay person is the insight it has given me as someone who is simultaneously inside and outside. An ability to appreciate the disenfranchised of all kinds goes with the territory, which is one reason that I am always especially disappointed when I find glbt individuals who are racist or anti-immigrant or whatever. They should, I think, know better; though I also think it unfair that minorities have to bear the burden of higher expectations than others.

  12. Matt N says:

    Karen: To link this to the original post, I am happy that I have the parents I do, but I’m not happy that as a result I am part of a family that experiences heterosexism. I’m fairly certain I’ve been insulated from the worst of it because my home environment was one that actively opposed hetersexist norms (and, to make it anecdotal, I’ve seen my brother, who’s much younger than me deliver what I’d consider potentially college-level arguments against hetersexism and related concepts, which is probably only possible because of the household that raised us both.)

    There’s thorny issues of culpability there, because I often see people argue against permitting the existence of families like mine on the grounds that children of LGBT* folks will be harmed by heterosexism/cissexism. In my experience that attaches guilt for hetersexism/cissexism to the parents, rather than the external social forces that are actually threatening (as I said in the OP – random strangers can get quite invasive and threatening, and even people that you know well can basically deny your experiences and occasionally attack you).

    Alana: Well, there’s a long discussion to be had on that issue. For one thing, the person I presume you’re referring to as my father is not someone I consider to be anyone’s father. But yes, I am well acquainted with him, and hadn’t been raised isolated from him if that’s what you mean. Likewise, he’s not verbotten for me to think about, or anything along those lines – just not precisely pleasant. He had a chance (an unfair one I think – given that I see it as connected to the way my family has been targeted because of my parents’ sexuality and gender) at being a parent, and he has no one to blame but himself for failing to be one.

    Ted: Yeah, I struggle with this. I don’t want to hold anyone to unequal standards, but if you’re LGBT* then I feel like you should be aware of the social and political marginalization you experience and the legal inequalities that you face, among other issues. The failure of an LGBT* person to notice the similarities between the particular unfairness thrown at them and the particular unfairness thrown at all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons (race, religion, class, gender, disability, and so on) seems just so identifiable?

    In keeping with the point I tried to make about how my experiences only reflect on me, I sometimes wonder if the reason it’s so easy for me to make that connection is because of my parents’ gender, not their sexuality. I’m not sure if I, as a bisexual, have a different approach to heterosexism just because I don’t remember a time when I didn’t perceive it (and I’m not sure if all LGBetc people necessarily remember a time when they didn’t – but I know some who don’t).

    But I think I have a different approach to sexism compared to most men (and especially cis men), because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t perceive that as well. And especially, I have difficulty strictly separating the two – the oppressive experiences my family has had over my life aren’t neatly sorted into times when people used a different standard against my mothers because of their gender and when it was because of their sexuality. It’s something I’ve noticed that almost all of the people who can’t quite get over how “different” I apparently am are women. Often, the context my “difference” is noticed in is one of me taking them or issues related to women as serious. I’m not going to declare myself immune to sexism or anything, but in a real way, my childhood was something of a crash course in solidarity.

  13. Karen says:

    “Well, there’s a long discussion to be had on that issue”

    That is what I was referring to as well.

  14. Ted says:

    Matt N, your voice is much needed on this site. Thank you for sharing your experiences–and your analysis of them–with us. I look forward to more posts by you.

  15. zztstenglish says:

    Adoption is a privilege not a right. See Lofton v Florida.

    Just because you marry doesn’t mean you can necessarily adopt. Married folks are denied adoption all the time.

    And singles can adopt too.

  16. zztstenglish says:

    @Dave Hart writes “I’ll take this opportunity to point out that gay parenting has absolutely nothing to do with marriage equality.”

    Except that’s false !


    See page 333(“[Marriage benefits] is, rather, recognition of the extra costs incurred in maintaining children…” See footnote 12 taken from the US Treasury

    And the fact that you are trying to delink marriage and kids means you want all the benefits without raising kids. In other words, you want something for nothing.

  17. JHW says:

    zzstenglish: That’s not actually what your source says (as I’ve been trying to say repeatedly, but keep on having comments close prior to getting the chance). Here’s the full quotation, with my added emphasis:

    Essentially, the definition of a head of household is an unmarried individual, including one who is legally separated, who maintains a household for the entire year for a dependent. Single taxpayers having no dependents are not in a comparable position. The difference in income tax rates is not related to customary household expenditure. It is, rather, recognition of the extra costs incurred in maintaining children or other dependents.

    In other words, the quoted paragraph is explicitly not about marriage benefits. It is about benefits for an UNMARRIED PERSON who is (actually, not just theoretically) caring for a dependent, often a child. Your bracketed paraphrase is inaccurate.

    Steve Black does draw the inference you want, but what his discussion of tax law actually shows is that when the tax code wants to compensate people for the costs of child-rearing, it does so irrespective of whether or not the individual in question is married, and it focuses specifically on those who are raising children. The tax treatment of married couples, which (definitionally) applies only to married couples and is not restricted to married couples with children, has a different rationale: it is about understanding a couple as an economic unit. That is why marriage penalties exist (marriage is not a tax subsidy, the net financial impact of income splitting and the higher married tax rate is sometimes positive and sometimes negative), and is illustrated by the history Black recounts of how joint income tax filing came out of trying to equalize the treatment of married couples in and out of community property states.

  18. David Hart says:


    A: You are pointing to a paper in a repository (in contrast to a scholarly journal) that has not been subjected to peer review. I know a thing or two about the tax code. The argument is without merit and irrelevant. If you are concerned about taxes, there is considerably more fodder in the capital gains trough.

    B. Marriage equality has nothing to do with parenting other than to provide married parents for children being raised by gay couples.

    C. Procreation is not, and never has been, a requirement of marriage. The absurd argument exists solely to provide secular reasoning for a religious objection.

    D. The “responsible procreation” argument posited by NOM would require gay marriage to affect the parenting of heterosexual couples. Robby George’s amicus brief reads like an undergraduate essay emulating Thomistic styling. Nobody can explain; Will straight couples have more, fewer or different children because of gay marriage? Why? It’s ludicrous. Intellectually dishonest pablum that George is trying to fog his way out of.

    E. We are all aware that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that we do violence to children when placed in the care of a gay couple. That was one of a number of things that Ratzinger got wrong. All of the research confirms that gay couples raise children who are as healthy and happy as their peers from “traditional” marriages.

    If you want to be taken seriously, then I suggest that you use a real name. For all we know, you are Maggie Gallagher or Brian Brown. You do seem invested in a religious point of view.

  19. zztstenglish says:

    @JHW –

    1. “not about marriage benefits.” Look at the section header where it states 3. Specific benefits.

    Also, the fact that those benefits are linked to children should tell you something. Singles can qualify for SOME benefits for the sake of the child since things happen in life (death of a spouse, abuse, etc.) But since gays are trying to delink marriage and kids to begin with (and they want all the benefits that come with it), then this makes same-sex marriage a waste of tax money.

    “inference of what you want”

    Which Black concludes on page 356 “The tax law encourages individuals to marry and have children..”

    Since gays cannot procreate, then they do not meet the state interest in marriage and do not qualify.

  20. zztstenglish says:


    A) Even though he gets some of his info from the US Treasury but I’m not surprised you’d dismiss it anyway.

    B) When does equal protection apply?

    C) That’s because the state cannot inquire about that due to privacy laws. See Standhardt v Arizona(“government inquiry into a couples’ procreation plans or requiring sterility tests before issuing a marriage license would raise serious constitutional questions”)

    Just because the law cannot perfectly delineate the fertile/infertile distinction doesn’t mean marriage isn’t about procreation. It just means the state uses imprecise ways through the gender prerequisites (man+woman) and subsidies. Besides, why do you think the state subsidizes marriages for?

    D) Except the state has ruled that way. See Adams v Howerton(“[T]he state has a compelling interest in encouraging and fostering procreation of the [human] race…”) and providing (“stability to the environment in which children are raised.”)

    Furthermore, expanding benefits to more childless marriage yields no benefit to the state.

    E) Irrelevant and blatantly false. My argument has nothing to do with religion. But in compliance with the civility policy, I’ll refrain from further comment on that point. Furthermore, to say all research supports same-sex parenting is dishonest or being intellectually lazy. There’s plenty of data that challenges same-sex parenting

  21. JHW says:

    zztstenglish: Right. TAX benefits for people who raise children—married or unmarried. That’s why he talks about the “head of household” filing status, which explicitly applies only to unmarried individuals.

    The fact that many tax benefits are linked to children tells me (unsurprisingly) that society has an interest in supporting people who are raising children, and also that, as I said before, when society wants to pursue this interest via tax policy, it does so in ways that apply to unmarried people as well as married people, and that apply only to people who are actually raising children, not to people who theoretically might be. The tax consequences attached to marriage fall into neither category. Indeed, again, they are not always “benefits,” as Steve Black acknowledges and helpfully describes.

    To provide a brief schema:
    - There are some tax benefits (the child tax credit, the dependency exemption) that apply to anyone of any filing status who is raising and supporting a child
    - There is one beneficial filing status (the head of household filing status) that applies specifically to a single person caring for a dependent, including, probably most typically, a child
    - There is one filing status (married filing jointly) to which married couples in general, irrespective of whether or not they have children, have access, which sometimes results in more taxes paid and sometimes in less—not based on the presence or quantity of children, like the child tax credit and the dependency exemption, but simply based on how much income the household has and the degree of similarity between the incomes of the spouses

    It’s quite clear, at least to me, that the rationale for the third policy is distinct from the rationale from the first two, just from how the different policies work. And we have such a rationale readily available from an understanding of how income splitting works. The married filing jointly status treats a married couple as a single economic unit: their incomes are combined, and the tax bracket is widened to accommodate that combination (but not to the point that they are taxed as two single individuals of the same income, which is why some couples face marriage penalties.) This understanding of the law’s tax treatment of marriage is reinforced by similar legal treatment of marriage in other contexts, sometimes favorable (as when federal law exempts transfers from one spouse to the other from the estate tax), and sometimes unfavorable (as when federal law counts a spouse’s income when it determines eligibility for means-tested benefits). Again, the consistent principle over all these cases is not treating marriage favorably, but rather treating a marriage as an economic union, where both spouses have a common entitlement (within certain limits irrelevant here) to each other’s income and property. That principle applies just as much to married same-sex couples as it does to married different-sex couples, and for exactly the same reasons.

    One brief comment about delinking marriage and kids. I think commitment and stability are important for children, and I think marriage is one good way to foster commitment and stability. But I don’t think the worthiness of any particular marriage is dependent on its involvement in procreation and child-rearing. And leaving aside the various strained and implausible rationales same-sex marriage opponents conjure up for this, the consistent pattern of marriage law in our history, which has fully accepted infertile and childless marriages even when a party knew beforehand that he or she was not capable of procreation, supports my view. I don’t want to “delink” marriage and kids; I’m happy with the link that already exists. I just don’t want that link to be distorted as a way of denigrating the aspiration of same-sex couples to marry.

  22. mythago says:

    @zztstenglish, when you post partial and misleading things (here with the tax code, and previously with your comments about gay male couples) you weaken whatever argument you were trying to make. FYI.

    @Alana, you seem to be assuming all same-sex couples rely on anonymous donors, which is not the case.

  23. David Hart says:


    That’s a very good point. On the whole, male couples who want children are going to adopt or they may have children from a former traditional marriage. I am hoping that acceptance will diminish sham marriages in the first place. But I digress. Gay men might use surrogacy but that is an expensive and risky proposition.

    Lesbian couples are likely to have more children from previous marriages (that’s just a guess). Their options, if they choose to have children are either adoption of artificial insemination.

    We don’t know and we don’t even know what we don’t know.

    There is a theme from some on the right that the children of gay couples will certainly be gay. That’s ludicrous.

    The consensus, on the whole, is that they will be as well adjusted, happy and successful as the children of straight couples. There does not exist any research that would have us believe otherwise.

  24. JayJay says:

    The trolling by zzstenglish diminishes this entire site. Not only is he uncivil in his characterization of gay people and gay couples, but he consistently posts–not to put too fine a point on it–lies. He simply attempts to mislead and misrepresent rather than engage in a conversation about marriage and family.

  25. Chris says:

    Besides, why do you think the state subsidizes marriages for?.

    zztstenglish, it is dishonest of you to keep asking this question as if it has not already been answered. I have explained to you how society benefits even from childless marriage numerous times on this site, as have others. You have not acknowledged our answers. This indicates that you are not actually interested in an exchange of ideas, and that you are, in fact, merely trolling.

    Furthermore, expanding benefits to more childless marriage yields no benefit to the state.

    As I’ve explained before, this is simply not true. Marriage has many benefits to society beyond children. Married people are less likely to need government assistance, less likely to commit a crime, less likely to have serious health problems, less likely to become substance abusers…there are real, tangible benefits to society that come from committed pair-bonding, beyond responsible procreation and child-rearing. For you to consistently ignore these benefits as if they are irrelevant is silly.

  26. zztstenglish says:

    @DHart – Just because you marry doesn’t you mean you can adopt. And singles can adopt too.


    And you should also think twice before mentioning artificial procreation because there’s lots of data that proves it’s harmful.

    PS: I noticed you avoided my inquiry. When does equal protection apply?

  27. zztstenglish says:


    1. But he states further on pg 356 “The tax law encourages individuals to marry and have children…” Hence, it’s still a misallocation of tax money since gays are trying to delink marriage & kids as Dhart writes a few months ago: “I’ll take this opportunity to point out that gay parenting has absolutely nothing to do with marriage equality.

    2. “not to people who theoretically might be”

    A symptom you never fully read the paper. Yes, there are childless marriages but that’s because the system is imperfect due to privacy laws. See Equal Protection v Bruning pp 108-109(“Even if the [procreative] classification at issue here is to some extent both underinclusive and overinclusive, perfection is not required to satisfy equal protection standards, and such imperfection as exists can be rationally related to the secondary objective of legislative convenience”)

    3. “rationale for the third policy is distinct from the rationale from the first two” But there’s no tangible societal gain. The only parties who benefit are the 2 adults. There’s no rational reason to be subsidizing intimate relationships between adults. To the contrary, see Maynard v Hill (“[Marriage] partakes more of the character of an institution regulated and controlled by public authority … for the benefit of the community”) and (“The relation once formed, the law steps in and holds the parties to various obligations and liabilities. It is an institution … for it is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”)

    In other words, the state invests in marriage and the tangible return on that investment are productive participants in society. Children are a benefit to society who’ll one day defend the nation, run the economy, etc. Marriage is the framework in raising them.

  28. zztstenglish says:

    @Chris – Again??? Would you prefer I assume before asking? It’s not like I’m asking the same person. I’m asking a DIFFERENT PERSON EACH TIME.

    Next, you supplied NO EVIDENCE as to those things you mentioned. There is no legislation or anything in the tax code that mentions marriage subsidies are for the less likelihood of “substance abuse” and “serious health problems.” Stop trying to blur things. Besides, some of those things you mentioned are already addressed in other government services.

  29. JHW says:

    zztstenglish, preserving your numbering scheme:

    1. Please don’t shift the goalposts. Remember that your consistent line has been that here you have an authoritative government source supporting your view that the purpose of “marriage benefits” (again, a misleading term) is to encourage having children. We find, actually looking at said government source, that in fact it says nothing of the sort; it is in fact about a different benefit entirely, one available only to people who are not married. Now you backpedal; being unable to rely on your purported authoritative source, you instead quote the individual opinion of the author of the law review article you link to as if it were clear incontestable fact.

    Turning to the claim itself, let’s be clear about two things. First, a conceptual point: it’s possible for the law to encourage marriage and also to encourage procreation, without it being the case that the law encourages marriage because of procreation. Second, again, as you persist in ignoring, neither tax law specifically nor marriage law as a whole works in general to favor marriage. Sometimes it incentivizes marriage and sometimes it does not. It has a different rationale and a different structure from a subsidy.

    As for your quotation from DHart, you are muddling different kinds of links. It has never been a requirement for any given marriage that the two people married be optimal parents. Nor has it ever been in the history of this country a requirement for any given marriage that the couple actually engage in procreation or child-rearing, though it’s also true that child-rearing, traditionally and today, is rightly regarded as an important personal and social good. What has been a requirement, with various (largely now absent or weakened) legal and social penalties attached, is that people only have children within marriage. Same-sex marriage would enable more couples to meet that requirement; it would not undermine or thwart it.

    2. You’re not being responsive to the point. I’m not talking about what does or does not hold up under rational basis scrutiny (I wasn’t aware that we were having a debate about constitutional law here.) I’m talking about what we can figure out from looking at how the law actually works. Here we have tax benefits that are actually centered around encouraging child-rearing and compensating people for its costs, and we find that, unsurprisingly, they are allocated only to people who are actually engaging in child-rearing. (If there’s a privacy violation there, we are going to have to throw out a substantial portion of our tax law.) So when you say that the purpose of “tax benefits” for marriage is also to encourage child-rearing and compensate people for its costs, there’s a definite incongruity in the fact that “tax benefits” for marriage are not restricted to couples with children. They could be; it would not be hard, and it would be in accordance with practice elsewhere in tax law, as we’ve seen.

    More broadly, it’s extraordinarily silly to maintain that the traditional inclusion of couples who can’t or don’t procreate within marriage is an accident of legislative convenience or a product of extremely modern notions of privacy. (People used to have to get a blood test to be married—talk about invasive!) The traditional rule, which is fairly old and recognized both in law and in religious traditions, is that marriages can be voided when one spouse is incapable of consummating the marriage (impotence), but not when one spouse is incapable of bearing children (infertility). This is not an issue that somehow fell by the wayside until the same-sex marriage debate. It is a question that was directly asked and answered, and answered with consensus: the capacity to procreate is not necessary for a marriage.

    Marriages are valuable for many reasons and procreation is just one—an important one, to be sure, but not the only one, and not a necessary one. This purely instrumentalist conception of marriage you are maintaining, where marriage is apparently exclusively about the state interest in children such that marriages that don’t directly serve that purpose are unworthy and wasteful, is a very modern conception, foreign to law and culture both today and historically, and in fact, as far as I can tell, pretty much invented to respond to the challenge of same-sex marriage.

    3. The state has an interest in protecting and providing for the rights and well-being of its citizens. That includes the two people in a marriage. Marriage facilitates the capacity of two people to make a deeply natural, deeply human consensual commitment to each other, one importantly connected to human goods of intimacy, family, and belonging. Because the state has an interest in treating people according to their actual circumstances, marriage law then proceeds to treat those two people no longer as two single individuals who may as well be strangers, but as two people who have made such a commitment, who have formed a union. It follows that rules for taxation, for property, and for a range of other things should not work precisely as they do for two single individuals. Legal rules, after all, apply in ways that impact a relationship regardless of whether or not the relationship is recognized as a marriage; Again (and again and again…), this doesn’t function as a “subsidy”: it’s sometimes favorable and sometimes not.

    You cite Maynard v. Hill. Briefly, what Maynard v. Hill is about is whether a territorial legislature could dissolve a particular marriage. The Supreme Court’s answer was yes. The parts you quote are about establishing that marriage is within traditional legislative authority, and that, because a marriage is not reducible to a contract, a legislative act dissolving a marriage does not trespass the constitutional prohibition on impairing the obligation of contracts. They are not about “subsidizing” marriage in any sense of the term, or about how the state purportedly “invests in marriage” and receives “productive participants in society” as its return. (That’s a chillingly instrumentalist view not only of marriage, but also of procreation and child-rearing.) The Court’s point is just that legislatures set the terms of the marital relationship in a way that they do not for contracts—and one consequence of that difference is, as the case itself illustrates, facilitating unilateral divorce. The state, as I’ve said, wants to treat a married couple in accordance with what’s appropriate to its circumstances, and while sometimes that might coincide with what the couple would contractually arrange, other times it does not. There are power imbalances and information problems that would undermine the fairness and adequacy of such contracts, and there are times when the appropriate way to treat a marriage is not in accordance with what the couple might wish (this is what I’ve been saying about marriage not being a subsidy). One central historical reason for state involvement in marriage, of course, is the promotion and enforcement of public morality, and obviously this is inconsistent with permitting consenting spouses to define the terms of their relationship however they please; being a good John Stuart Mill liberal, I confess that I don’t find this reason to be very powerful, but other people do.

    Again, to make sure that this point isn’t lost: I’m not saying that the only reason for legal recognition of marriages is for the benefit of the couple, and I’m certainly not saying that societal interests related to procreation and child-rearing have nothing to do with it. What I’m saying is that we can make good sense of the legal terms and structure of marriage by just focusing on the nature of the couple’s relationship. Most of the time, other social benefits flow from this. Legal recognition of marriage facilitates stable adult relationships, by helping to render meaningful the commitments made in such relationships. Such relationships are a good environment for producing and raising children; they create private networks of support for adults as well as children, which relieves others, including the government, of the burden; they reduce rootlessness and at least theoretically discourage risk-taking and irresponsibility, which tend to have social costs. But the basic legal framework, the framework that applies indiscriminately to every couple who gets a marriage license and performs the requisite solemnization ceremony, centers on the relationship itself.

    4 (sorry, I can’t help myself). Are you ever going to reply to the point I’ve made repeatedly, which is acknowledged by your own source, that tax law’s treatment of marriage is not always favorable?

  30. zztstenglish says:

    1. I’m not moving the goalposts. My argument has always been that the state doesn’t subsidize marriage because people are in love. The state subsidizes it because of family / children. And YOU are the one who backpedaled when you initially said it’s “not about marriage benefits” even though the header stated “3. Specific benefits” Yet, later you backpedal and say “Right.” Or did you forget?

    “It has a different rationale and a different structure from a subsidy.” Tax breaks are awarded to all married couples. (“[T]ax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system.”) Regan v. Taxation With Representation, 461 U.S. 540, 544 (1983)

    “Nor has it ever been in the history of this country a requirement for any given marriage that the couple actually engage in procreation or child-rearing.”

    Nobody said it was a requirement because the state cannot mandate fertility tests. Not to mention some couples actually find out about infertility AFTER marriage. The state has no grounds to inquire about fertility. As for blood tests, it’s different because of the potential harm you can pass on to your partner from diseases or potential children if you are related. Thus, the state does have grounds to inquire. Big difference between checking for fertility vs checking for diseases and relationships between the partners.

    2. “I wasn’t aware that we were having a debate about constitutional law here.” I hope you realize the tax code and the law work in conjunction. In fact, Black points to the law several times in his paper. Also, my ‘silly quote’ was taken from the 8th circuit. Yes, some tax benefits are awarded to childless couples but again, you never read the paper. See pg 348 (“in deference to personal privacy, society cannot ask a couple what efforts they are expending to fulfill the bargain. So instead, Congress adopts a bright line test: those couples who fit into the class of persons who could provide both roles get the benefits. It is that simple. Is it exact? No.”)

    “pretty much invented to respond to the challenge of same-sex marriage.”


    You think I invented this? Nations around the world are doing this although it has been cut recently due to the economic crisis. A quote: (“Spain has launched a financial incentive scheme to encourage families to have more children, becoming the latest in a list of countries employing such a tactic to boost population numbers.) and (“The baby bonus follows similar moves in Australia, France, Singapore and Scandinavia to encourage larger families and counteract a trend towards ageing populations that places a burden on pension and social security systems.”)

    Now, since you’re probably going to say that doesn’t apply to the US, then see Lofton v Florida (“[It is] paramount for the state [to] promot[e] an optimal social structure for educating, socializing, and preparing its FUTURE CITIZENS to become PRODUCTIVE PARTICIPANTS in civil society.”)

    Again, the state invests in marriage / family and the tangible return on that investment are productive participants in society. Children are the state’s future workforce.

    3. “The state has an interest in protecting and providing for the rights and well-being of its citizens. That includes the two people in a marriage. Marriage facilitates the capacity of two people to make a deeply natural, deeply human consensual commitment to each other, one importantly connected to human goods of intimacy, family, and belonging.”

    All of which can be achieved without state recognition. Feel free to have a private ceremony / contract to exchange your vows. You don’t need state recognition for commitment, intimacy and belonging.

    4. Did you review the paper at all?? See pg 354 (“Supreme Court said ―[w]here taxation is concerned and no specific federal right, apart from equal protection, is imperiled, the States have large leeway in making classifications and drawing lines which in their judgment produce reasonable systems of taxation.”)

    I hope you realize the state does this ALL THE TIME where they use the tax code to encourage behavior rather than through legislation.

    *whew* Try to shorten your response next time. Please stick to the most salient points. It’s difficult to read

  31. JHW says:

    zztstenglish: That’s a largely evasive and non-responsive comment, and I see no point in continuing this. (That short enough for you?)

  32. zztstenglish says:

    @JHW – LOL. Whatever, pal. I addressed your points with evidence. You never read the paper because it addresses some of your points already.

    Before I go, please see the link below which might educate you on the law and the economic argument.


    Bye !

  33. David Hart says:

    Linking to Douglas Allen is like linking to NOM. He is associated with NOM as an advisor to Ruth. You could always try Pakaluk at Ave Maria U. If you get stuck you could always check out the latest nonsensical links from Greg Pfundstein or Brad Wilcox. Are there, for example, any Jews that you can link to? How about liturgical Protestants?

    Give it a rest.

  34. zztstenglish says:

    @DHart – “Linking to Douglas Allen is like linking to NOM”

    Ad hominem attack.

    Why don’t you attack his arguments instead?

    Besides, I backup his papers with case law.

    Speaking of which, have you ever heard of Baker v Nelson?

  35. Matt N says:

    Okay, zzztstenglish, I let you have your little flame war, but let me clarify a few problems that I see here.

    And you should also think twice before mentioning artificial procreation because there’s lots of data that proves it’s harmful.

    Alright, I’m actually okay with people questioning the ethics of donor conception, even though I’m a donor conceived person who not only thinks it pales in comparison to the heterosexism my family’s been subjected to but thinks it doesn’t even register at all as something harmful in my personal experiences. My issue is, I have a problem with someone declaratively reducing an experience, that I’ve had, to something that treats it as my life is not real or something to consider when summarizing what donor conception is.

    Personally, I’m willing to overlook that if the person making the statement is coming from a place of anger and hurt over their own status as a donor conceived person – but unless you’re donor conceived, you really need to start behaving as though I, and people like me, exist.

    In other words, the state invests in marriage and the tangible return on that investment are productive participants in society. Children are a benefit to society who’ll one day defend the nation, run the economy, etc. Marriage is the framework in raising them.

    Others have already pointed out that this essentially pretends that male-female couples who either cannot have children or choose not to don’t exist (or are, at best, grandfathered into marriage rights), but I think that overlooks two additional and important points: you don’t say conceived once in that paragraph, and you don’t prove children are the exclusive benefit.

    And really, if want to get into the nitty-gritty, no one else was in the room when I was conceived – just my two moms. So yes, the sperm wasn’t produced by either of them, but I was conceived intentionally by them, for them to raise. Not every family fits that model you laid out, but my parents, who you’re advocating to not have the legal benefits for the effective social work of raising me and my brother, did precisely that.

    But secondly, where’s your evidence that raising children (again – not producing them! That’s not the issue!) is the only such impact that couples, especially long term, married couples can have on the surrounding culture. It’s often presented as selfish that same-sex/same-gender couples want to marry for their own happiness, and simply that, but there’s actually something really profound behind that. The ideal romantic relationships are those were partners help each other grow and transform into better people who can more easily and more effectively help their community and society. Why should we bar a specific group of people from attempting that?

    Speaking of which, have you ever heard of Baker v Nelson?

    Yes, please, quote some judicial rulings that again, behave as if I don’t exist (this time: the queerspawn edition!). That’s such winning rhetoric when I can just declare to anyone still reading this that the fundamental argument there is that couples like my parents are irrevocably estranged from raising children. And well, again, my family and I exist. Surprise!

  36. zztstenglish says:

    @Matt – Opposing same sex marriage and artificial procreation doesn’t mean that I don’t believe you “exist.” I don’t know how / where you draw that conclusion. Your response is emotional and fatuous. I’m not condemning you as a donor-conceived person nor am I saying your life is “not real.” I am opposing the medical practice because there’s evidence that it is harmful but unfortunately, the law has not caught up with the science yet.

    “Others have already pointed out that this essentially pretends that male-female couples who either cannot have children or choose not to don’t exist (or are, at best, grandfathered into marriage rights), but I think that overlooks two additional and important points: you don’t say conceived once in that paragraph, and you don’t prove children are the exclusive benefit.”

    And I’ve repeatedly requested to show me where it states these ‘other benefits’ are written into legislation. Nor do I deny there are ‘spin-off effects’ whether it be religious, belonging, emotional, etc. (even though many of those can be achieved without state recognition). The taxpayers should not be subsidizing relationships for ‘intimacy’ and ‘belonging’ (as JHW said) any more than they should be subsidizing it for religious reasons.

    What I’m referring to is the societal purpose marriage serves and the intent of the legislation / tax code. And yes, I have addressed that point regarding couples who cannot have children or choose not to.

  37. Matt N says:


    So that’s a no, you’re not donor-conceived then? Thanks for your forthright answer.

    Likewise, aside from all the points made by others in this thread, I’m not clear how you managed to miss the point of what you actually cited to (not the Treasury’s explanation for it). The entire argument laid out in what you linked is that that explanation, that this is about raising children is either unbelievably poorly put together or a bald-faced lie.

    The comparison made in the section you cite is between male-female couples that are married and a single mother. The argument laid out is that they all receive tax credits for having dependents (ie children), but that those credits are added on to with the ability to file a joint return (ie as a married couple). If we even decide that the Treasury wasn’t talking nonsense, they might as well be – that policy doesn’t apply to many tax payers with children and there are other ones that actively, specifically do.

    What you cited even explicitly states:

    The tax law implicitly promotes traditional marriage. While [the single mother] is much better off for taxation purposes than [a single non-parent], she pays $1,160 more than do [one married couple], who have the same amount of income. Stated another way, if [the single mother] were to find a willing man (with $0 income), the U.S. government would subsidize her with $1,160 in lower taxes every year.

    Existing tax policy *fails* to meet the standards that they were quoting the US Treasury as stating that they had, in that being part of a legally recognized male-female couple grants that couple a lower tax rate as an independent factor over whether they actually have or intend to have children. The tax credits afforded married couples exist independently of those afforded to those with dependents.

    Before the tired argument is launched that the marriage-specific credits are simply to give male-female couples the means to prepare or recover from having dependents, then you are actively choosing to depart from what the Treasury and US government declared their intent to be. Their language, as you pointed out earlier, is quite clear: it’s about “maintaining children or other dependents” not preparation or recovery from such a status.

    If you’re going to disagree with those statements about what the intentions of those tax policies are or should be, by all means, join the crowd, but don’t declare your opinions to be the actual facts on the ground. The government’s policy is illogical, that’s the entire point of what you (accidentally?) cited. Now, we can make it logical within that argument, but that would require stripping currently married couples of their tax benefits or radically redefining how the government argues for them. I’d disagree with that decision, but that’s what that is. It’s not the existing policy and its accompanying rationalization.