Center for Marriage and Families

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04.13.2013 3:59 PM

Marriage Media
Week of April 7, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. Tie the Knot: Why Are So Many Twentysomethings Having Children Before Getting Married?, Slate

The reality is that children born to unmarried twentysomething parents are three times more likely to grow up with a disorienting carousel of adults coming and going in the home, compared to children born to married parents.

2. Counting the Cost of Family Failure: £46bn and Still Rising, Relationships Foundation

[T]he breakdown of relationships continues to be a huge charge on the public purse and has risen to £46bn a year (equivalent to a cost of £1,541 per taxpayer).

3. Marriage and Historical Inevitability, The New York Times

[I]f conservatives would profit from acknowledging the economic forces shaping these realities, liberals would profit from acknowledging that maybe. . . a cultural transformation that they’ve long favored is coming at a cost.

4. People Who Marry Young Are Happier, But Those Who Marry Later Earn More, The Washington Post

It’s uncontroversial at this point that marriage, in general, makes you happier, due to the work of Dartmouth’s David Blanchflower. It seems that’s true with twenty-somethings, too.

5. A ‘Gray Divorce’ Boom, The LA Times

One in three baby boomers is currently single, and these boomers are more vulnerable both economically and socially compared with married boomers.

6.  Young Opponents of Gay Marriage Undaunted by Battle Ahead, The New York Times

They identify themselves as part of the “pro-marriage movement” and see themselves at the beginning of a long political struggle, much like the battle over abortion.

7. The Difference Between a Happy Marriage and Miserable One: Chores, The Atlantic

According to a 2007 Pew Research Poll, sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage—third only to faithfulness and good sex.

For more, see here.


Anti-Street Harassment Week (via Girls for Gender Equity, NYC)

04.12.2013 7:16 AM

GGE Street Harassment is a Crime! poster

Thanks to the periodic emails I get from the awesome Girls for Gender Equity, I found out that this is international anti-street harassment week. Tomorrow, rallies and speak-outs are taking place worldwide to raise awareness of how hostile public spaces curtail the lives of women and girls as well as gender nonconforming youths of all sex and gender identities.

The organization Stop Street Harassment defines street harassment as follows:

Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed “eve teasing,” and in countries like Egypt, it’s called “public sexual harassment.” Street harassment is a human rights issue because it limits women’s ability to be in public as often or as comfortably as most men. The mobility of  all members of the LGBQT community is often restricted as well because of harassment and hateful violence motivated by the person’s actual or perceived gender expression or sexual orientation.

When Girls for Gender Equity began their grassroots organizing work in New York City, street harassment was one of the issues their youth participants identified as having an extremely adverse effect on their lives. Read More


Love is a Climb, Not a Fall

04.11.2013 3:44 PM

My friend from college, Marilette Sanchez, recently posted an especially vulnerable story on her blog about the “3 things I learned from my almost-break-up.”

What struck me most was this sentence, “Love is a climb, not a fall.”  Maybe this is a cliché, but I hadn’t heard it before, and it seems to me to be a helpful way of thinking about love in the long haul. In our soundbyte culture, I think that compact nuggets of wisdom, like this, can be especially helpful for young adults as we form our thoughts about love. In my humble opinion, this little sentence is Facebook meme-worthy.


The Feminist Librarian’s Bookshelf: Five Women’s Lives

04.11.2013 8:59 AM

March was women’s history month and this post was supposed to go up the week of March 25 … but the last couple of weeks have gotten away from me. So here is the second installment of The Feminist Librarian’s Bookshelf — the March edition in April!

The theme this time is women’s history and I chose to highlight five biographies or autobiographies by and about women whose lives and work have left an impression upon my own sense of “how to live?”

If I had to draw out some common themes from across these women’s lives I would say that some of the characteristics that unite this women are: leftist-radical politics, a vision for more equality and well-being (of many kinds)  in the world, and unconventional personal and family relationships.

Sylvia Pankhurst, 1909

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960). Sylvia Pankhurst: A Crusading Life by Shirley Harrison (Aurum Press, 2003). An often-overlooked member of the notorious Pankhurst family, Sylvia Pankhurst was the second daughter of women’s rights activists Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst. Her elder sister Cristabel would become famous on both sides of the Atlantic for her political theater. Sylvia was deeply involved in her family’s feminist activism, but eventually loosened her ties with them as Britain’s entry into the First World War exacerbated their differences over tactics and priorities. Sylvia pursued her own work in London’s impoverished East End, publishing a journal called the Women’s Dreadnaught, providing affordable meals and health services as well as supporting efforts to organize labor unions. Further radicalized by the Great War, Sylvia became an increasingly outspoken peace activist and also a critic of British imperialism. In the 1930s she became involved in anti-colonization activism, principally in support of Ethiopian independence; she would eventually make her home in Ethiopia.

Sylvia never married, though she sustained two long-term relationships: the first with Labour Party founder Keir Hardie (though there is no conclusive evidence the two had a physical relationship), and the second with Italian anarchist Silvio Corio. Sylvia and Silvio lived together for over thirty years (until his death) and Sylvia gave birth to their son, Richard, in 1927. Reportedly, it was Sylvia’s refusal to marry Silvio which caused the final rupture with her parents and elder sister Cristabel. I am fascinated by the way the story of this particular radical Pankhurst daughter is so often eclipsed by the high-profile lives of her mother and sister who were radical on the subject of suffrage but reactionary and chauvinistic in many other ways.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980). The Long Loneliness (Harper and Row, 1952). Catholic activist Dorothy Day began her career in political struggle as a journalist  in the Lower East Side of New York City where she covered labor and feminist activism for such eminent socialist newspapers as The Liberator and The Masses. During this period Day was in a serious relationship with fellow leftist Forster Batterham, though her increasing interest in Catholicism put a strain on their relationship and by the time Day gave birth to their daughter, Tamar, she and Batterham were no longer a couple. Several years after Tamar’s birth, in the depths of the Great Depression, Day met French emigre and eccentric intellectual Peter Maurin; the two formed a friendship which would become the foundation from which Dorothy Day pursued her social justice work. Together, they began publishing The Catholic Worker and eventually expanded their efforts to provide meals and shelter to the destitute in a communal setting.  The Catholic Worker Movement is still extant today, maintaining uneasy ties to the Catholic church. Read More


Hope for Caregivers

04.10.2013 2:32 PM

Okay, as a hopeful follow-up to yesterday’s more dire future-of-caregiving post, here are some good things happening in the world of caregiving and how you and those you love can access resources.

This first link chronicles three women who are re-defining caregiving.  I especially like number two, Jenn Chan, who started “The Senior Shower” project after she attended a baby shower.  What a great idea to raise awareness of those caregiving in our midst and to do something both helpful and fun.  I am going to pitch this idea to our church!

The second link will shepherd you through how to access the new AARP caregiving app on your phone.  From what I can tell, it looks easy to navigate.

Some hope!

 


The Natural Death Movement

04.10.2013 1:10 PM

Brandy L. Schillace offers a review of the 5th edition of The Natural Death Handbook.  I love how the book offers both practical, hands-on help but also thoughtful reading and reflection.  She notes that there is now an addition that addresses how to pursue a “natural burial,” a topic I’ve become increasingly interested in over the years.  My favorite line, though, is where she describes life as merely, “Death’s summer coat.”

“Cultural death practices-from Dia de los Muertos to sky burial to the veneration of remains and reliquary-evince a long-standing fascination with (and attempts to understand) the end of life. In our modern age, however, wherein death and disease are hidden away or sanitized by palliative care, discussions of mortality and mourning have become strangely taboo. In many ways, the natural death movement attempts to recapture this sense of death’s place in our lives and culture. The Natural Death Centre, the charity behind The Natural Death Handbook, exists to help re-open the dialogue about life’s end, offering a combination of practical advice, how-tos, go-tos, and reflections that inspire, comfort and challenge. At the heart of the movement is a commitment to death as a natural part of life. No longer conceived of as a terror, death is refigured as the winding down of life’s frantic clock — and dying as a means of coming to terms with our identities, our loved ones, ourselves. The second major contribution of this movement is the reconsideration of our death practices, particularly the harmful effects of certain preservation techniques on the earth itself, that patient womb to which we are returned.” Read more…


The “Ennead Awards.” How can you not LOVE the use of the word ennead?

04.10.2013 1:01 PM

John Culhane has offered some simultaneously insightful and witty analysis of SCOTUS at HuffPost.

“Well, folks, as we settle into the long lull between the arguments to the Supreme Court on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act and the expected decision in late June, allow me to present the First-Ever Ennead Awards. There are — conveniently — nine categories, to wit:…” Read more…


New Story from Anonymous Us

04.10.2013 8:40 AM

As well as a podcast:

The following is the latest story on Anonymous Us, submitted by an egg-donor conceived person, titled:
Not Knowing.

Many people who know me but don’t know my real story. Who I really am. Who my other half is. I grew up with two wonderful parents. They separated when I was about 4. My dad (who is my biological dad) ended up getting custody of me when I was 10. My mother, I found out she wasn’t my real mother a little earlier than I should have. I was probably 7 and I asked her “Why don’t I look like you?” and then she told me the story. My parents wanted very much to have a kid. But, my mother was too old to have kids at the time so they decided on surrogacy. My biological mother donated her egg and wanted to stay anonymous. All we know about her is that her family is all healthy, she has two older sons, and she has blonde hair (since my dad has black hair I probably got it from her.) Ever since I was told at age 7 that the mother who I always thought of as my own, wasn’t. And now that I think about it, we are nothing alike. There is another huge story that happened when I was 10 but, I’m not going to go into detail, let’s just say after I turned 11 my dad got sole custody of me.
I wonder all the time who my biological mother is. What does she look like? What does she like to do in her free time? What does she do for a job? Does she even know I exist? Does she ever want to meet me? What would I say to her if I ever met her? There is just so many questions and no answers. Only my close friends know about this and they want to know these things as well. Sometimes when I walk down the street, I’ll think, have I seen my biological mother today? Maybe I’ve already seen her and not even know it. The worst thing about being this way is not knowing. I just found out about this website and I like it. I like knowing that there are kids out there just like me who don’t know who their mother/father is. I feel like we all relate in a way. If I ever meet this wonderful woman who helped conceive me, I would have so many questions. I would also want to thank her so much for my wonderful and blessed life that I have because of her.


Unemployment is not primarily a matter of individual choice

04.09.2013 6:14 PM

David Blankenhorn wrote:

Here’s another one of the ads (and this one blew me away):
NYC Teen Pregnancy Poster
[Image shows a subway ad, produced by the New York City government, which says "If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98% change of not being in poverty."]

First, it’s factually true. Surely that ought to count for something!

But it’s not factually true. It is wrong technically, and it is wrong on substance.

Technically, it’s untrue twice. The 98% statistic comes from the book Creating An Opportunity Society by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill. Haskins and Sawhill listed three social norms as crucial for avoiding poverty: Graduating high school, having a full time job, and waiting until you’re 21 and married to have children. So in two ways – forgetting that the job has to be full-time, and forgetting that you have to wait until at least age 21 to have kids – the New York City ad misstated the statistic.

It should also be mentioned that the statistic only refers to your chances of being in poverty right now. If you currently have a full-time job, graduated high school, and waiting until 21 and married to have kids, then odds are 98% you aren’t in poverty right now. But there’s nothing in that 98% which promises that you won’t lose that job tomorrow and wind up in poverty. It’s a statement of present correlations, not a prediction of the future.

The poster is also substantially wrong, because it strongly implies that avoiding poverty is a matter of individual choice – all you have to do is get a job, and you won’t be poor! – and ignores that individual choice isn’t everything. Many people cannot control for themselves whether or not they have a full-time job. They can apply for work, but that won’t guarantee that they will get a job. “In the fourth quarter of 2012, nationwide unemployment rates were 6.3 percent for whites, 9.8 percent for Hispanics, and 14.0 percent for blacks. These elevated rates are projected to remain essentially unchanged at the end of 2013.”

There is an implied social contract, I think, between ordinary workers and the government. Ordinary workers are required to make a good-faith effort to support themselves. But the government, in return, should do all it can to bring about a healthy job market so people can find reasonable work with reasonable wages.

The government has failed to hold up its end. Faced with a jobs crisis, the government hasn’t done nearly enough to fight unemployment. The initial stimulus bill was barely followed up on. In fact, the government is making things worse with austerity policies, such as raising the payroll tax and pursuing massive layouts of government workers at every level of government. These policies mean it will take longer for our employment numbers to recover.

In that context, telling people they can avoid poverty merely by finding a full-time job is – well, the nicest thing I can say is “clueless.”


Read More


Are Family Caregivers Invisible?

04.09.2013 12:23 PM

Sheri Snelling writes an insightful piece on the current face of elder caregiving in the work place:

“Here is what we know today: 7 out of 10 caregivers work full or part-time and represent more than 15 percent of our entire U.S. labor force. We also know over the coming years our society faces a longevity silver tsunami where we are all living longer and more baby boomers are holding onto their jobs, putting off retirement while simultaneously caring for aging parents and spouses. And it isn’t just a boomer issue — Pew Researchrecently reported 42 percent of the younger Gen Xers are Sandwich Generation caregivers than their baby boomer counterparts (33%). All this has created an evolution at work — one where workers are more concerned about elder care than child care.

A challenging aspect for working caregivers and their employers is that caring for an older parent or ill spouse is not a joyful event; you don’t come to work with smiles and stories like you would if you were pregnant or just became a grandparent for the first time. In addition, in an era where the economy remains on life support, many employees are concerned about identifying themselves as caregivers, fearful for their job security. A report by the National Alliance for caregiving found 50 percent of working caregivers are reluctant to tell their supervisor about their caregiving responsibilities. In addition, the Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s found 46 percent of female employees asked for time off for caregiving and could not get it forcing them to make a choice between elder care and employment.

There are two problems with this situation: 1) Caregiving employees are forced into the closet — mirroring the gay rights issues over the last few decades where lifestyle remained a secret out of fear of reprisal; 2) Employers who don’t hear or understand the personal lifestyle challenges facing their employees cannot be called upon to institute programs and work environments where these employees can get support to stay on the job, be productive and remain healthy, thus continuing to positively impact the company’s bottom line.” Read more…

She goes on to point out that the average elder caregiver is 50 years old, a population that will soon comprise one in four people in the workplace in the next seven years.  She also fails to mention that the sandwich generation, soon to be defined by 50-year-old Gen Xers will also be caring for an unprecedented number of divorced and/or remarried elders–thus TWO plus households to manage, TWO plus financial outlooks to tend, TWO plus people to shepherd through doctor’s visits etc.  Snelling points out that there are good awareness-raising initiatives happening but the prescriptive arm to that awareness is lagging.  It will be interesting to see who becomes the employers of choice in the age of long-term elder care.


On the Military

04.09.2013 12:26 AM

There were two things last week that made me think about the military, one of the few remaining institutions that still has a strong presence in the lives of high school educated Americans, who are increasingly disassociated from civic and religious institutions.

The first was that Elizabeth Marquardt emailed me this New York Times article, “Elite Colleges are as Foreign as Mars,” in which the author Clair Vaye Watkins reflects on why “rural kids are more likely to end up in Afghanistan than at N.Y.U.”  At her own high school in rural Nevada, she never saw a college rep, although there were many military recruiters. And while the SAT and ACT cost something, the Asvab was free and taken during school hours.

Which reminded me of the time during my junior year of high school in a town not far from Maytown, Ohio that we took half the day off from classes in order to take the Asvab. Afterwards, I had a recruitment officer calling and “courting” me for the military. I remember for about a week taking seriously the idea of the Army Reserve, because of the benefits and paid college tuition. I knew I wanted to go to college, and my parents didn’t have much money, so it seemed like a smart route even if I had no interest whatsoever in the military. (If you know me, you are probably laughing right now at the thought of me in the Army Reserve. I can’t bring myself to kill the spider that’s been living on my bathroom ceiling for the past week or enforce my son’s bedtime, let alone summon the toughness and discipline required to be in the military. Kudos and much appreciation to all those brave souls who do have what it takes, though.)

The second thing was that I attended the trial for Mitch, an Iraq War veteran and the fiancé of a friend of mine. I remember Mitch from high school—he was in Spanish class with me one year, and like most of the girls in my class, I remember him for his country charm and movie star looks. He is now 27, and suffers from PTSD, which went undiagnosed for the first two years after his return fromIraq. Instead, he self-medicated with alcohol, which led to some trouble with the law. Rehab helped, but after an on and off again, volatile three year relationship with the mother of their two year old son, Mitch was accused by his ex-girlfriend of burglary and of menacing by stalking. It took the jury nine hours of deliberating, before they finally decided that he was guilty.

What struck me most during the trial was how the prosecuting attorney used Mitch’s military service against him. She said something along the lines of him being “a trained killer” and asked him how many doors he had busted in during his time in the military, going on to say that Mitch had all the skills needed to accomplish the burglary of which he stood accused. And then she focused in on what she called “his anger problem,” I think by which she meant his PTSD. She was unabashed about questioning Mitch about his time in Iraq while she cross-examined him. “Wouldn’t you say that you are now desensitized to pain?” she asked, implying that he would have no problem committing crime given this desensitization.

There was a long painful pause before he explained (very clearly all the while trying to keep a hold of his emotions) that while in Iraq he was trained to not let the stuff he saw get in the way of his job. But then he added, “But that stuff still affects me. I can’t stop thinking about it.” He was sober and sincere, and there was an awkwardness in the room as if we were being made privy to deep, deep wounds that we had no right to gawk at.

His mother, a middle aged woman with long black hair that reached down to the bottom of her back and dark eyes lined in heavy charcoal eyeliner, was sitting besides me sobbing. An officer handed her a box of tissues.

In a case in which there was no fingerprint evidence—in fact the only fingerprint found on the vandalized car was not Mitch’s—the prosecuting attorney asked the jury to rely on “common sense.” In other words, Mitch had a motive (his ex-girlfriend had not been letting Mitch see their son) and he had the ability. In her concluding comments, the prosecutor asked the jury whether Mitch was “the kind of man” that had the self-control to not react in some violent way when he was being denied visitation with his son. No, was her implied answer. “Is that the kind of man that he is? Or is he the kind of man that would get angry and get back?” she asked. I cringed to hear Mitch defined by his anger. I wondered how he must feel to hear this woman label him as the angry, violent, criminal “kind of man” and to see the jury sitting there, arms crossed, trying to pick him apart.

And then I thought about Mitch and his high school educated peers, particularly the men. There are many factors in their lives that make the military seem like one of the few good options. (And that’s not to say that it is not a good option for some—indeed I have seen the military act as a positive transformative force in men’s lives, equipping them with valuable skills and discipline.) But that fact makes it doubly tragic that Mitch’s time spent sacrificing greatly for his country was then viewed with such suspicion and used against him in such a pointed way.


On Bigotry, Again

04.08.2013 9:00 AM

Although I did not get to the conversation in time to participate before the thread reached the 50-comment limit, I’d like to re-kindle the conversation about Barry’s post, “Kind, smart, lovely people sometimes support bigoted public policy.”

Whether the word “bigoted” is fair to apply to the viewpoint of opposition to same-sex marriage, whether the label is used to “deliberately” shut down conversation, and what the word “bigoted” even means are recurring issues in conversations at Family Scholars Blog.

Matthew Kaal, for instance, cited the Merriam-Webster definition of “bigot,” which states:

“a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”

This definition, as Victor noted, differs from Merriam-Webster’s Thesaurus definition of “bigoted,” which is:

  “unwilling to grant other people social rights or to accept other viewpoints.”

The latter reflects, in my experience, the way many people commonly use the word “bigoted.”

Even if we can’t agree which definition or usage of the word bigoted is authoritative, I do think it’s important for conversation participants to know how other participants are using a particular word. So, I can appreciate the value of that aspect of the conversation.

However, today, I’d like to highlight an aspect of Barry’s post that I believe got a little lost in the conversation. Here, Teresa made a common accusation against those who use the word “bigoted”:

“For me, my commenting as anti-ssm, seen as a bigoted position … although that’s not how I understood it at the time … was no longer acceptable at FS. That’s how the common usage today of the word bigot/bigotry seems to work, in my opinion. It closes down discussion. It deliberately wants to do that, in my opinion.” [ellipses in original]

Although this comment has some unclear passivity going on in it, Teresa suggests that those who use the words bigot or bigotry are “deliberately” trying to close down discussion. She further clarified her position:

 ”How does it enhance discourse to throw labels at persons or positions which, by their current very nature, are meant to shut someone up? Either we argue an issue on merit/demerit, or we’re left flaming one another. I’m sure you agree, Barry. I’m, also, quite sure that you did not intend to close down discourse … but, that’s quite where we’re at today, unfortunately.”

I’m only singling Teresa’s comment here because she happened to be someone expressing it in this conversation. But, in my experience, it’s a pretty common accusation, and one that’s leveled against me at times even in this space, despite the general agreement that assuming bad faith is a violation of this site’s civility policy.

To address this accusation, I think it’s important to do a quick re-cap (my emphasis):

  • First, the title of Barry’s post: “Kind, smart, lovely people sometimes support bigoted policy.”
  • Secondly, Barry’s statement to Teresa, within his post, that even though she holds what he finds to be a bigoted position, he tells Teresa, “….that’s not to say that you’re a bigot, a hateful person, or acting out of spite or out of ‘yuk.’ From the little I’ve seen of you online, you seem like a lovely person, not at all hateful.”
  • Third, he says, “…if you do have some bigoted attitudes that you need to fight against, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Nor do I think that makes you any different from me. Or from most people. Surely we all have some prejudices and bigotries inside that we have to work on.”
  •  Fourth, he concedes, “History makes it clear that good, sincere people who are not hateful, can nonetheless hold bigoted positions.”
  • Fifth, he says, “So when I say that being against legal SSM is a bigoted policy, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that those who oppose SSM are bigots (no more so than anyone else, anyhow); I’m not denying that they are frequently smart, loving, and kind people.”
  • And lastly, in the comments, he tells Teresa, “In the prior post, I specifically told you that you were extremely welcome to post on my thread, and that I was hoping you’d post more.” 

So, I guess what I’m left wondering is what more do opponents of same-sex marriage want from people who genuinely and sincerely believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is a bigoted (or anti-gay, as I would argue) position to hold in order to convince you that we are not trying to “deliberately” “shut down discourse” about the issue?

I agree with Barry that “kind, smart, lovely people sometimes support bigoted policy.” And, I also believe that other people who are more problematic, like members of the Westboro Baptist Church, can at times, be “kind, smart, lovely people” themselves.  It’s not realistic or accurate, in my experience, to think that people are 100% monsters or 100% saints.

So, if we can go back to the definitional issue for a moment, I agree with Barry that the word “bigotry” includes connotations that acknowledge a broader, more systemic history of oppression that also-appropriate words like “unjust” do not include. To me, that is the importance of using the word bigotry – it is, in my opinion, simply a more accurate, specific representation of reality.  It contains history.

Yet, Barry’s post was still tepid.

It made big concessions that acknowledged a nuanced reality that some people can be kind, loving people in some contexts while being problematic in others. It acknowledged that not all opponents of same-sex marriage are horrible monsters. It acknowledged that we all likely have work to do on being aware of our own biases and bigotries. Barry specifically welcome Teresa to continue commenting and expressed hope that she would “post more.”

In light of these facts, I think it is incredibly unfair and unjustified to make the general, unqualified accusation that people who use the word bigot are “deliberately” trying to silence people or shut down conversation.  I  think that if Teresa, or others, choose to remove themselves from this forum because some people believe they hold a bigoted position, that neither Barry, nor I, nor those who fairly use the word “bigotry” are to blame.

In these conversations in this forum, same-sex marriage is explicitly treated as a debatable conversation topic amongst people of varying views. People are going to experience discomfort at times. I certainly experience discomfort. Participating here does require somewhat of a capability to endure other people making judgments about us or are beliefs that we feel are not deserved. When it crosses the line, by this site’s civility policy, is when people refuse to assume good faith and engage in personal attacks while having these conversations or in making these judgments.

In my opinion, the facts establish that Barry extended an assumption of good faith to Teresa, and many opponents of same-sex marriage, that Teresa and some folks are utterly unwilling so far to extend to him, me, and everyone who uses the word “bigotry.”


Does gay marriage undermine the mother-father norm? An attempt to clarify the question

04.07.2013 7:53 PM

By far the most common secular objection to gay marriage is that it violates the needs of children for mothers and fathers.  According to this argument, the human child has a deep need – many would say (I would say), a right – to love and be loved by the two specific individuals, the man and the woman, whose sexual union brings the child into the world.  The French feminist philosopher Sylviane Agacinski refers in her writing to the “dual origin” of each human child; she points out that this fact of our origin is of profound importance, both personally and socially; and she insists that society, insofar as possible, should respect it and should do nothing to deny or efface it. Gay marriage, in this view, is (among other things) such a denial and therefore should not be permitted. 

 I have made this argument, in a book and in many public venues.  The lawyers opposing gay marriage this month before the U.S. Supreme Court, in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, are resting their case largely on this argument.  And though I have changed my position on gay marriage, I still believe that the argument contains an important core of truth that deserves our attention and respect. 

 Most supporters of gay marriage profess to see nothing – not even the tiniest shard of evidence or theory – to support this argument.    

 We are left, then, with two ships passing in the night. The argument that means the most to one side appears to be literally unrecognizable by the other side. In my view, this fact goes a long way to explaining the regular assumption by nearly all participants in the debate of the bad faith of their opponents. (“If they are saying something that self-evidently false, they must be willing to lie and/or motivated by ill will.”)  Thus also the endless angry repetition of the same talking points, as if saying something (“Children need mothers and fathers!” “We allow adoption and we allow infertile couples to marry!”) for the 1001st time is going to achieve something that saying it for the 1000th time did not.

 I do not aim, in this post, to rehearse these talking points yet again.  But I do aim to try to frame basic question about gay marriage and children’s rights somewhat differently – perhaps more precisely – in the hope of producing, not agreement and not the vanquishing of one of these arguments by the other, but simply a bit more clarity regarding the key points disagreement.

 Here is my attempt at a more focused question: 

At what precise point does state recognition of gay sexuality and family formation deny the needs of children to the degree that requires the denial of state recognition?  

 OK, if you’ll accept at least provisionally that this may be a better way of asking the question, let’s now try to answer it. 

 It seems to me that there are six possible answers, and that as a logical matter anyone who asserts a conflict between gay marriage and children’s needs has to be able to choose, and defend, one of these six as his or her Rubicon, or point of decision.  Here they are.  

 1.         An individual engaging in homosexual conduct.  

 The classic Christian teaching – which is still the teaching of the Catholic Church, and which informs much of modern western history on this question – is that homosexual conduct is intrinsically evil because it is sterile; that is, it is not aimed at, or open to, conceiving a child.  Because homosexual behavior normatively insults, and functions as a potential alternative to, procreative sexual and conjugal behavior, homosexual acts in and of themselves should be treated by society as illicit, unworthy of legal protection or state recognition.  Until fairly recently in Anglo-American societies, homosexual conduct was a crime, and this line of reasoning is a main reason why it was criminalized.  So, it’s perfectly pedigreed, and a deep part of Christian and western thought, to view homosexual conduct in and of itself as an affront to the needs of children.        

2.         A gay or lesbian couple living together. 

The homosexual pair-bond takes this alleged insult and alternative one step further.  In this case, the sterile alternative to male-female procreation actually assumes a distinct social form that explicitly mimics, as it were, the male-female pair-bond, which of course is the basis of the mother-father married-couple home.  So here the insult to the mother-father norm presumably becomes sharper and deeper.  In this view, then, two homosexuals living together as a sexually pair-bonded couple clearly undermines the needs of children for mothers and fathers.   

3.         A gay or lesbian couple getting married.

In this case the conflict with the needs of children becomes even more pronounced, since in this case the state bestows a formal recognition on the homosexual pair-bond, a kind of societal endorsement and legal protection that heretofore had only been available to opposite sex (and therefore typically procreative) couples.  Now, sterile sexual conduct that is inconsistent with mother-father procreative norms is not only allowed to exist as non-criminal behavior; and not only allowed to mimic the male-female family household; but is also granted a kind of state seal of approval. 

4.         A gay or lesbian married couple raising a child who was born from a previous heterosexual relationship of one of the partners.

Now, into this same non-mother-father family form, we introduce a child – a child who, by definition, is being raised by at least one person to whom he or she is a biological stranger.  Now, the non-fertile, non-male/female alternative family form is complete: we have two parents (some would say, “parents”) and a child, with a marriage license. 

 5.         A gay or lesbian married couple adopting a child.

 The same as number 4, except that in this case the child is adopted, and therefore a biological stranger to both parents. 

 6.         A gay or lesbian married couple raising a child who was born via egg or sperm donation and/or surrogacy (“third party procreation”). 

 The same as numbers 4 and 5, with one major exception – in this case, there is a proactive decision, taking by a couple in a state-sanctioned pair-bond, intentionally to bring into the world a child who by definition will not be raised by the male and female whose bodies biologically made the child.       

 OK, as I said, I think these are logically the only six choices available to us.  So it’s time to choose.  If we believe that gay sexuality and gay family formation at some point undermines children’s needs for mothers and fathers, at what precise point does the undermining, the insult to the mother-father norm, reach the degree that requires a good society to withhold legal tolerance and recognition? 

 Let me personally cut to the chase. For me, the answer is 6. 

I believe that homosexual conduct is benign.   I believe that gay and lesbian couples living together are benign.  I believe that gay and lesbian couples should be permitted to marry.  I believe in the permissibility (especially given the alternatives) of gay adoption.  I don’t like our high rates of divorce and family fragmentation one bit, and have spent much of my life (and expect to continue to do so in the future) pushing for ways to reduce unnecessary divorce and slash our unconscionably high rates of family fragmentation and non-formation, but since we don’t outlaw divorce, and since we don’t outlaw unmarried couples having children or breaking up with their lovers and co-parents, I don’t see the grounds on which we would allow reconstituted families for all couples except same-sex couples.  

I believe these things about numbers 1-5 for two larger or connecting reasons.  The first is that I view orientation as fairly hard-wired.  The evidence cross-culturally and biologically suggests to me that the heterosexual project, if I can call it that, is fairly stable, secure, and deeply rooted in the human record experience.  Letting a small fraction of our fellow citizens conduct themselves homosexually, form same-sex pair bonds, marry, adopt children, and form stepfamilies does not, in my view, threaten the fundamental heterosexuality of the universe; there isn’t likely to be seepage or leakage from straight to gay; and therefore these sexual and familial acts do not threaten the needs of children (in particular the needs of the children of the 95 or 96 percent of us who are not gay) to the degree that requires the criminalization or stigmatization of homosexual conduct or the denial of legal recognition of same-sex couples and their children.  The second reason for this conclusion is my sense of what constitutes basic fairness: We have to find ways to live together and treat each other with a modicum of fairness and decency. 

As for number 6, I pick that as my point of conflict, my line to draw, my Rubicon, because I think there is something distinctively harmful (not that everything about it is harmful, but I believe it always contains a portion of harm) about intentionally, as a proactive deed of family formation, bringing into the world a child who by definition, as a result of premeditation, will be radically estranged from either her biological mother or her biological father.  Such an act clearly does, in my view, conflict with children’s rights. 

What is the best, the most effective, way for me, David Blankenhorn, to speak and act on this issue?  Does my conviction on this issue require me, as an ethical matter, to oppose gay marriage?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.  All persons today – gay or straight, coupled or single, married or unmarried – are already perfectly free to found families relying on third party procreation.  The practice is entirely licit and mainstream. Nothing and no one is preventing it from taking place.  More straight people than gay people currently use it.  By almost any reasonable measure, permitting gay marriage will do nothing to enhance the right of anyone to engage in this activity, and prohibiting gay marriage will do nothing to restrict that right, since the right is already all but absolute.  Gay marriage has no more causal connection to this issue than numbers 1 or 2 above (engaging in homosexual conduct or being in a same-sex couple), which is to say that, apart from sexual iconography, it has almost no relationship at all. 

In my mind, the best way to address this difficult issue is to address it directly, first by pushing for laws banning donor anonymity, and second by bringing together a broad coalition of concerned people (including gay people and gay married couples) for serious ethical and legal reflection, perhaps leading to shifts in public opinion and/or legal changes.  Anchoring my concern about this issue in opposition to gay marriage seems to me to be not only largely beside the point, but also possibly counter-productive, since so long as this issue is connected in the public mind to gay rights, so long will the issue be all but untouchable by policy makers and others.  The task before us, in my view, is to engage in serious ethical reflection on the activity itself, irrespective of whether the people who do it in any one case are gay or straight, married or single.  In other words, to address this issue effectively, we have to disenthrall ourselves.  This issue should not be about gay rights any more than straight rights; it should be about the meaning (to the degree that we can agree on the meaning) of the dual origin of the human child. 

I am not insisting that this analysis is correct.  I’m sure it has all kinds of weaknesses.  But I am suggesting that anyone who finds a conflict between gay sexuality and family formation on the one hand, and the needs of children on the other, needs to state clearly those precise sexual circumstances and living conditions in which the conflict emerges to such a degree that state recognition is unwise.  That is, I am suggesting that people who believe that a conflict exists need to spell out the coflict specifically, as I’ve tried here to do for myself, in the context of the range of logically possible answers, instead of simply repeating at the level of broad generalization that gay marriage is wrong because children need mothers and fathers.


The M.Guy Tweet

04.06.2013 8:44 AM

Marriage Media
Week of March 31, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1.  Nine Facts about Marriage and Childbirth in the United States, The Washington Post

  1. The average age for childbearing is now younger than the average age for marriage
  2. We are very near the “tipping point” when most births will happen out of wedlock.
  3. Most unwed mothers are not teen mothers . . .

An article on Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. For more, see #2-#7.

2. The Other Marriage Inequality: Column, USA Today

[I]t turns out that marriage inequality is one of the biggest things making people less equal, accounting for as much as 40% of the difference in incomes: “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.”

3. The New Unmarried Mom, The Wall Street Journal 

If 30 is the new 20, today’s unmarried 20-somethings are the new teen moms. And the tragic consequences are much the same: children raised in homes that often put them at an enormous disadvantage from the very start of life.

4. Study: Delaying Marriage Hurts Middle-Class Americans Most, The Washington Post

“When they can’t get the white picket fence, and a certain level of stability,” they defer marriage and have higher rates of nonmarital births. That in turn fuels more poverty, and takes them further away from the white picket fence.”

5. Knot Yet: The Future of Marriage in the U.S., The Brookings Institution

The great crossover in childbearing and marriage is concentrated among the 60 percent of young adults who have a high school degree but not a college degree. [The great crossover is "the fact that the age of first marriage. . . now lags the average age of first birth by about a year" (Source #7).]

6. The Case for Getting Married Young, The Atlantic

Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone”—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.

7. Late Marriage and Its Consequences, The New York Times

So while the new romantic landscape doesn’t offer automatic benefits to the upper class and automatic costs to everyone else, it does create a situation where the people who need the least help figuring out the wisest life course have multiple clear paths to take, and the people who would most benefit from a simple map to responsible adulthood can easily end up in a maze instead.

For more, see here.


Democratic Senators rush to support same-sex marriage

04.05.2013 7:20 PM

Matt Bors gets it exactly right:

Wonkblog has a good chart showing how fast support for gay marriage has grown in the Senate:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad this is happening. But I can see the humor in it, as well. (By the way, the above graph is a couple of days old, and thus already out of date. The current number of Senators supporting SSM is 53.)

Dan Amara and Jon Chait point out that there are only four remaining holdouts among Democratic senators, and try to game out who will be the very last one:

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“On Being” Episode with Blankenhorn and Rauch

04.05.2013 3:04 PM

Over the next week, NPR will be replaying the On Being conversation with David Blankhorn and Jonathan Rauch from last fall.  Krista Tippett hosts the show and explores their friendship and thoughts on marriage.  I had a chance to read through some of the reflections (AKA comments) at the site from last fall and there are many thoughtful and moving entries.


John Corvino and David Blankenhorn, live at 6 pm EST

04.04.2013 5:32 PM

Starts in 28 minutes–join us!


The Case for Early Marriage is a Case for Courtship

04.04.2013 10:32 AM

I appeared on HuffPost Live last night to talk about delayed marriage and its consequences. One thing that I didn’t get to say, but that is extremely important to say, is that there is no such thing as a right age to marry for everyone. However, there is such a thing as a right way to go about courtship (if I may use that ancient and beautiful word): to be intentional in relationships, and specifically, to court with a view toward marriage. And if young adults do this, more young adults will get married in their early-mid 20’s.

Also, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote the Slate article, “The Case Against Marrying Young,”  noted that many young adults are wary of getting married young because they saw their parents get married young and get divorced. This is a legitimate concern.

However, as I noted, what many working class young adults are instead doing isn’t any better: they are still forming intimate relationships and starting families – the only thing that’s missing, as they say, is “the piece of paper.” And when these young couples break up – and many of them do break up – they experience something like an invisible divorce. For instance, consider the emotional state and family situation of Ricky, the four-times engaged but never married father I wrote about recently.

So many working class young adults find themselves in a predicament: get married and make themselves vulnerable to divorce, or delay marriage and make themselves vulnerable to a string of broken relationships, and if they have children, a fragmented family.

The way out of this predicament, I would suggest, is for communities to come alongside young adults and encourage them to embrace intentional relationships and to embrace “the marriage idea”: the commitment to love and sacrifice for your spouse and family until death. In other words, for communities to rebuild marriage as a formative institution that guides young, passionate lovers to becoming old, mature lovers.

And I emphasize the role of communities here, because it really does take a village to build and sustain a good marriage.


Kind, smart, lovely people sometimes support bigoted public policy

04.04.2013 5:54 AM

Last month, Family Scholars reader Teresa asked me:

Barry, Anna J, can you help tease this out a bit more, for me, regarding ssm. Is the position opposing ssm, which I profess, existentially a bigoted position?

I answered at the time, but the comment thread ran out almost before anyone responded to me. So I thought I’d reopen the discussion, using the answer I gave Teresa (although I’ve edited somewhat).

So, Teresa, to answer your question: Yes. I think your position unjustly treats the needs and wants of lgbt people as less important than those of others, which is my definition of a bigoted position.

But let me rush to say that’s not to say that you’re a bigot, a hateful person, or acting out of spite or out of “yuk.” From the little I’ve seen of you online, you seem like a lovely person, not at all hateful.

I don’t know if you’re a bigot or not personally, because I don’t know you that well. But if you do have some bigoted attitudes that you need to fight against, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Nor do I think that makes you any different from me. Or from most people. Surely we all have some prejudices and bigotries inside that we have to work on.

History makes it clear that good, sincere people who are not hateful, can nonetheless hold bigoted positions. It’s impossible to look at the history of (for example) anti-semitism without finding plenty of genuinely kind people, people who really did have Jewish friends, nonetheless advocating things like “exclusive” clubs.

I think that one thing we should admit to is that being a nice person, a non-hateful person, a loving person, a genuinely good person, does not make us immune from holding bigoted positions.

When it comes to public policy, bigotry isn’t a personal flaw; it’s a social atmosphere.

In the social atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, everyone was so used to believing that Jews didn’t need to be treated equally that even good, kind, loving people had a hard time seeing why it was wrong for places like country clubs to have rules against Jewish members.

In the 1970s, it was a radical position to be opposed to laws that made gay sex illegal. For most of the 20th century, police routinely raided and shut down gay bars and nightclubs, and amazingly few people could see that it was wrong to do that. The reason people had trouble seeing it is not that people in the 20th century were stupid, or mean, or hateful. My grandparents, for example, were not stupid or mean or hateful. But they were raised from birth in an atmosphere gave them little reason to question such practices.

But those practices were, nonetheless, bigoted public policy.

So when I say that being against legal SSM is a bigoted policy, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that those who oppose SSM are bigots (no more so than anyone else, anyhow); I’m not denying that they are frequently smart, loving, and kind people.

I do think, however, that legal inequality for same-sex couples is a policy that only makes sense to so many smart, loving, kind people because we were all raised in a society in which discrimination against lgbt people has been the norm. Being raised in that society has obscured our vision. In a society in which most people are raised from birth to think of lgbt people as equal to everyone else – a society much like the US will be in a quarter-century, I suspect – legal inequality will seem like the strange and unjust policy it is.

I know that by even bringing this up, I will be accused of trying to shut down discussion, of being a bully, of trying to emotionally blackmail people, etc.. I don’t think those are fair accusations. I’m just someone who thinks that bigotry is an important issue that should be discussed, not ignored.


Should We Focus Less on Marriage and More on Stable Cohabitation?

04.03.2013 8:21 PM

At the recent Brookings Institution event about the findings of the “Knot Yet” report, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, concluded his portion of the panel with this statement: “We should focus less on marriage and more on stable cohabitation.”

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin echoed a similar, although more tempered, sentiment when he said, “The problem though is not cohabitation per se; the problem is Americanstyle cohabitation. We have the shortest duration of cohabitating unions of any western country…. So, yes, marriage is very important, but so is stability and sometimes we might be able to encourage stability even if we can’t successfully encourage marriage and that might be a worthy goal.”

I’m all for finding ways to help my cohabiting friends and neighbors with children become more stable. I’ve watched sadly as the 20-something cohabiting couple next door went from attached-at-the-hip inloveness as they delighted in parenting their toddler son together, to the bitterness of a break up brought on by cheating, to the birth of a second child and now to the ambiguity of late night visits and subsequent all-nighters spent trying to piece the relationship back together before he has to leave in the dusky dawn morning for his electrician’s job in a nearby city 45 minutes away.

But to me, the point popular among elites—that our energies would best be spent on stabilizing cohabitation, not fussing over marriage—largely misses the point.

Why? Because as cited in the Knot Yet report, the majority of American young adults still want marriage. To say that we should not focus on promoting marriage but rather on making cohabitation more stable is to ignore the aspirations of most cohabiting couples. Furthermore, it is unclear to me how one would go about stabilizing cohabitation without imposing on it many of the same expectations and norms of marriage.

Among the Middle American demographic—defined as the almost 60 percent of high school educated adults who have a high school diploma but no four year college degree—it is rare to meet someone who sees lifelong cohabitation as the preferred long-term alternative to marriage. Of the 74 high school educated young adults my husband and I interviewed as part of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, only one of them said that he straight up did not believe in marriage. Ironically, he was happily married. (He explained that he married to accommodate his Jehovah’s Witness parents, but that as an agnostic he personally saw no point in marriage and would have been fine with lifelong cohabitation.)

So while most Middle Americans cohabit at one point or another, most also want to get married to someone eventually. In their view, living together is what you do in the meantime, while you discern if this is the right person for marriage and get to a basic level of financial independence—but cohabitation is not the end goal.

Given this understanding, cohabitation is by definition unstable. It is a place of deciding, whereas marriage is the decision.  It is a process, or journey; marriage is the culmination, or destination. In the minds of Middle Americans, marriage is what you do when you are certain, when you’re stable. Cohabitation is what happens while you try to get to that point.

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