In a searing, heart-felt post earlier today, Elizabeth Marquardt took the plunge, and announced her support for full marriage equality.1 Having gotten to know Elizabeth a bit over the past few months (and having even co-authored an article with her!), I’ve no doubt that her change of heart is the result of a long, complex personal struggle — agonizing, as she puts it. And I appreciate her honesty in anchoring her position in her own life circumstances so firmly.
I have to confess that I’m a little unclear about the reason for the change, which seems as much the child of resignation as of conviction, but it’s a welcome statement, nonetheless. Endorsements from unlikely sources lend to the logic of inevitability.
But I don’t completely understand Elizabeth’s call for marriage equality advocates to join her in opposing donor anonymity, perhaps as a way of reciprocating her show of good faith. To me, there are at least three separate debates here, and there’s danger in confusing them. Let’s see if I can unpack these. That’ll have to be enough for now — I’m just going to set out what I think are the issues, and just barely get into their merits. I’ll be curious to see what readers think of my rough taxonomy.
First, there’s the question about how families are created. This issue subsumes two important sub-questions: (1) Should we continue to permit anonymity in the donor pool? (2) Should we permit compensation for these donations?
Second, should we allow the creation of families where the children are not being raised by their biological parents? In some ways, this question has already been answered, in that we permit (and encourage, as appropriate) adoptions and the raising of children in blended families that include stepparents, grandparents, and so on. But those families don’t usually start that way, whereas in the case of assisted reproductive technologies (“ART”), they do. What is the proper public policy here?
Third, should we permit the recognition of same-sex couples? And, if so, what should we call that relationship?
When the questions are listed as I’ve done, the chasm between the first two and the third seems to me pretty broad.
Is that the end of it?
No. I do see some connection, because it’s natural for some to think that same-sex unions, once recognized as full-fledged marriages, will naturally lead to gay and lesbian couples’ demanding the same rights as our straight counterparts, including access to ART. But it is at least an open question whether the use of ART is a constitutional right for anyone, as an interpretation of the Supreme Court’s view about reproductive choice. If it’s not, then it seems that same-sex couples are no more entitled to the use of those technologies than any other couple. But if ART is a constitutional right, then we’d need a good reason for denying its benefits to same-sex couples, whether or not they’re legally married (unless we’re going to require marriage as a condition of eligibility for ART). And it seems to me the only reason left for such denial would be some argument that kids need not just two parents, but a mother and a father who are actually raising them. And that’s a separate issue from marriage, and one that seems to have already have been decided — by the law of adoption, which in turn is supported by social science research about how kids do when raised by same-sex parents.
- Right? ↩