Reply to Mr. Tolley, part 1: This isn't a debate about same-sex parenting.

Via Family Scholars Blog, this (no doubt well-meaning) editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader, by a Mr. Tolley, repeats a couple of frequently-used anti-Same-Sex-Marriage arguments that are worth examining in detail.

As a result of the intent and design of same-sex marriage, and its inherent parental philosophies, in essence, if our society and government adopt and legalize same-sex marriage, we are basically embracing these same philosophies about parenting. We as a society are basically proclaiming that the person and role of a mother or a father (depending upon the couple) is not a necessary component for any child’s development.

And if we take this to its logical conclusions, here’s what else we are really saying. We are thus proclaiming to future generations of children that it really doesn’t matter to us if they are brought up without either a mother or a father. Getting the opportunity to be brought up with both a father and a mother is not an inherent right of theirs that should be sought after and protected, nor is it a right that should be fought for. And although some of us may have experienced the love and care of a mom and/or a dad for ourselves, that doesn’t matter. Times are different, technology is more advanced and parenting is for anyone who really wants it. As long as two people “love” each other, they can be and should be, allowed to be parents.

Does Mr. Tolley believe that the debate is about if lesbian and gay couples should be “allowed to be parents”? If so, he’s badly misinformed. But it’s hardly a new mistake; anti-SSM folks argue that same-sexers should not raise children all the time, even though (to my knowledge) they don’t propose that the government take children away from same-sex parents.

This conceptual difficulty is common in anti-SSM rhetoric: they say they’re here to discuss same-sex marriage, but then they actually discuss same-sex parenting.

But although the two issues are linked, logically they are distinct. Banning SSM will not stop same-sex parenting; it just denies the children of same-sex couples from having the legal protections that children of married couples have. So therefore, even if they establish that same-sex parenting is a problem (which they have not), forbidding SSM isn’t a logical solution to the problem.

So why is Mr. Tolley talking about same-sex couples being “allowed to be parents?” Because he, like the anti-SSM movement as a whole, has no credible response to the real subject of the SSM debate. The basic demand of the SSM movement – that same-sex couples and their children to be treated no better than and no worse than opposite-sex couples and their children – is so moderate, so reasonable, and so obviously just and fair that SSM opponents are struck dumb. They have no response, and rather than admitting they have no response, they change the subject. Never mind fairness and decency and justice, they say – let’s talk about children!

It’s rhetorical jujitsu. It’s a devious appeal to old bigotries against homosexuals – every single anti-gay law in American history, after all, has at one time or another been justified by an appeal to “think of the children!” And it’s fundamentally dishonest, because what we’re debating is not the legal right of same-sexers to reproduce.

What we’re discussing is the right of same-sex couples and their children to equal treatment under the law. We’re discussing live and let live. We’re discussing having the law treat gays and straights the same. We’re discussing giving the marriages performed in a Reform Jewish Shul the same legal status as the marriages performed in a Roman Catholic Church.

It’s about equality. It’s about fairness. And until the opponents of same-sex marriage are prepared to discuss equality and fairness, they’re not prepared to seriously discuss this issue at all.

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10 Responses to Reply to Mr. Tolley, part 1: This isn't a debate about same-sex parenting.

  1. 1
    mrkmyr says:

    dont the proponents of exclusive marriage first start off with
    “marriage is designed to help parents raise children”
    proponents of SSM then respond “but other couples who cannot or will not have children get to be married. and homosexuals can have children, too.”
    the exclusive marriage people then can say “but we only want to encourage (good) heterosexual marriages for the sake of children, not those nasty SSMs”
    They ignore the first point, and they are utterly unconvincing (amoung other things they assume gender stereotypes; that there are roles that men or women cannot play for children).
    But, the argument could relate to the SSM debate at a secondary level.

  2. 2
    Phi says:

    mrkmyr,
    Regarding “they assume gender stereotypes; that there are roles that men or women cannot play for children”

    Would I be assuming a gender stereotype if I said a man simply cannot empathize with his daughter during every stage of development, just as a woman cannot empathize with her son?

    Children have different relationships with mom than they do with dad. Not so much favoring one over the other, but the way in which a child approaches/interacts with mom is often much different than dealing with dad. Is this also an assumption?

    I’m not saying that homosexual couples cannot be good parents. Though I do believe good traditional parents are always better for the child.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Would I be assuming a gender stereotype if I said a man simply cannot empathize with his daughter during every stage of development, just as a woman cannot empathize with her son?

    Well, it’s a bit strong to say that he “cannot emphasize” at all – I mean, are you only capable of emphasizing with experiences you’ve personally experienced? So if someone said to you “I feel awful, I’ve been fired from my job,” you’d respond “I feel nothing for you, since I’ve never been fired I can’t feel anything at all”? I doubt it.

    But it’s true that there are things women will know more about than men, and vice versa. But it’s not like sex is the only possible varient that could act this way. Maybe the son is an unpopular wimp in school, and his dad was popular, so his mom can relate better. Maybe the daughter is interested in art, like her dad but unlike her mom. Maybe the kid is a jock and neither parent was into sports at all. Etc, etc.

    My point is, if we look at people as individuals, there are many ways a parent might or might not be able to directly relate to their child’s experiences. Sex is one of those ways – but there are hundreds of ways other than sex, too. Even with opposite-sex parents, it’s inevitable that children will have some experiences or feelings that neither parent can emphasize with directly. It’s not the end of the world, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they can’t be capable parents.

    Children have different relationships with mom than they do with dad. Not so much favoring one over the other, but the way in which a child approaches/interacts with mom is often much different than dealing with dad. Is this also an assumption?

    I guess if you’re assuming that ALL children have the exact same relationships with their mom, and ALL children have the exact same relationships with their dad, I’d find that a sexist assumption. People are individuals, and individuals vary; not all children are the same, and not all moms (or dads) are the same.

    I mean, obviously some things are different – if the child is breast-feeding, for instance, that creates a specific way of relating to mom but not dad. More generally, most kids relate to the parent who is around all the time and in charge of the caretaking (mom) differently than they react to the parent who spends more time away from home (dad). But in some cases, parents share the load equally; in others, the stay-at-home caretaker is the dad. There’s no single, universal truth.

    And even in a same-sex couple, children develop different relationships with each parent. That’s not something unique to opposite-sex couples.

    I’m not saying that homosexual couples cannot be good parents. Though I do believe good traditional parents are always better for the child.

    Well, as long as you don’t oppose legal equality for same-sex couples, I have no real argument with you. I even think you’re probably right – on average, children are better off being raised by two biological parents, and by definition that will always be a heterosexual couple.

    However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that “on average” is just that – an average. There are always a huge number of individual exceptions to that average, and I think our policy choices have to be inclusive of all families, not just the “on average” ideal.

  4. 4
    Amanda says:

    To be fair, alot of homophobes are for taking children away from gay parents, even if they are the only parents the children know and there’s no straight couples out there to take them.

  5. 5
    Dan J says:

    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that the parents are not the only influential adults in any given child’s life. There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and the like who could easily step in and relate when dealing with awkward teenage biological and social issues, just to provide one example. We shouldn’t downplay the value of the extended family.

  6. Once again, Amp, you made the point I wanted to make in the comments. The diversity of individuals is unlimited and to restrict marriages to couples based on diversity of sex only is wrong. Any two people will be the same in some ways, and different in some ways. They will share some experiences with their children and others will be novel. Even the novel experiences, though, parents will do their best to draw on similar experience or offer their wisdom as best they can.

    And certainly my relationship with my mom and my dad were different. Just as my relationship with any two individuals are different. The relationships with my parents are based on who they are as individuals, though, and that doesn’t always conform to gender stereotypes. For example, my mom and share a love of baseball and hockey, whereas my dad is not so interested in the former and hates the latter.

  7. 7
    mythago says:

    good traditional parents are always better for the child

    I assume you mean that it is always better for a child to have one female and one male parent. “Traditional” parent seems to imply that you also believe those parents should fit traditional roles.

    As Amp says, it’s not the case that a same-sex parent will always be able to empathize with his or her child’s development, and that there is no other way for a child to talk frankly with an empathetic adult about gender issues. (I dunno about you, but when I was a teenager, my first thought was never “Hey, I’m having issues about my developing sexuality, I think I’ll run and ask mom about sex.” Eep.)

  8. 8
    lucia says:

    >>it’s not the case that a same-sex parent will always be able to empathize with his or her child’s development, and that there is no other way for a child to talk frankly with an empathetic adult about gender issues. (I dunno about you, but when I was a teenager, my first thought was never “Hey, I’m having issues about my developing sexuality, I think I’ll run and ask mom about sex.” Eep.)

    Let me assure you, when I was a teen, the last person I could talk to about sex or relationships in general was my mom. I could talk to my dad. I think this is because of who they were and not their genders.

  9. 9
    timecarrot says:

    on average, children are better off being raised by two biological parents, and by definition that will always be a heterosexual couple.

    “Always”? Are you sure?

  10. 10
    sara says:

    Consider a child raised by an abusive mother and father. Is s/he better off being raised by two non-abusive men or women? Or not?