[Crossposted at Family Scholars Blog. This post is adapted from a comment I wrote a couple of months ago.]
In comments to an earlier post, Elizabeth wrote:
And, if not, if we finally strip away every last social and legal norm and channeling mechanism that tries to say that heterosexuals should try *really* hard to be responsible for the new life their sexual unions often produce — and often unintentionally produce — then what do you propose to do with all those children whose parents we have now freed from obligation? Leave the children all to be raised by their mothers alone, trusting that something special in women makes them generally stick by their kids? Give them all to nice gay couples to raise instead? What?
If we define — in law and social norms — marriage as something that has nothing to do, at its core (yes Fannie there’s that word again), with trying to channel the frequently procreative effects of heterosexual sexuality, then what do we do about the resulting mess?
I don’t think we should “strip away every last social and legal norm and channeling mechanism that tries to say that heterosexuals should try *really* hard to be responsible for the new life their sexual unions often produce.”
However, it’s not the case that “stripping away every last norm” and “legally recognizing same-sex marriage” are the same thing.
The most rational-seeming of the arguments against same-sex marriage is that marriage equality, in some difficult-to-describe way, marginally erodes the commitment of heterosexual parents to raising their own children. This gives opponents of equality a plausible explanation for why the sky has not fallen on families in Massachusetts; the negative impact is real, but it’s not visible because it’s too small and gradual. Or the negative impact is real, but is swamped by other, more positive factors (such as Massachusetts’ relatively low divorce rate).
But Elizabeth’s argument suggests that the impact of marriage equality is not marginal, but catastrophic. But if that’s the case, then why hasn’t the sky fallen in Massachusetts? If “every last social and legal norm” has been stripped away in Massachusetts, shouldn’t we be able to measure that in some concrete way? More single motherhood, more divorce, more something?
Here’s the problem for opponents of equality. If their claim is that the impact of marriage equality will be catastrophic, then their view is already been disproven by events. Family formation has not catastrophically crashed in areas with marriage equality.
But if their claim is that the impact of marriage equality is impossible to measure because it is small, gradual, and swamped by other factors, then in fairness to lgbt people, they should stop opposing marriage equality.
There are a hundred things we can do to strengthen marriage culture. We could reform drug laws and stop sending hundreds of thousands of young men (aka potential eligible grooms) to prison. We could finance and encourage people to use marriage education programs, both pre-marriage and pre-divorce. We could use a lot of channels to encourage TV networks to include examples of healthy, successful, lower-and-working class marriages in their programming. We could try to educate people away from the idea that they shouldn’t marry until they have a home, a career, and enough money for a big wedding. We could do more to provide more people with traits that tend to be associated with more successful marriages (such as college educations and access to stable, family-wage careers).
Alongside those and other pro-marriage initiatives, there’s a lot we can do to support the idea that parents must be responsible for their children. We could make child-support laws, especially for higher-earning parents, stronger; social science evidence shows that states with strong child-support laws have lower rates of single motherhood. (Although we should also reform those laws to avoid creating perpetual debt among parents who genuinely have no money to give.) We could increase government support for parents living with their children — not only in the form of cash aid, but also in the form of childcare for parents seeking education or job training.
And alongside those policies, we could also act to protect the right of children to know their biological parents. We could pass laws for fully honest birth certificates (listing all known biological parents in addition to any adoptive parents). We could outlaw anonymous donation of sperm or egg. We could outlaw anonymous adoption.
The above list is far from comprehensive, and I don’t expect that everyone reading this will support every idea I’ve listed. But my point is that it’s self-evidently false to say that stopping marriage equality is the be-all and end-all of supporting connections between parents and children.
Out of all the proposals to strengthen marriage and make stronger connections, only one — banning same-sex marriage — singles out lgbt people and their kids for permanent second-class citizenship. This is a proposal that has no evidence to support it whatsoever. Yet this proposal receives far more attention and energy from the so-called “pro-family” movement than any other.
How is that fair?
Statistics show that, of all religious groups in American, Jews have the highest divorce rates. But no one would would propose forbidding Jewish marriage in order to lower divorce rates. Even if it would work on a practical level, and even if no one in the world had antisemitism in their heart, we’d still understand that it’s morally repulsive to demand that Jews, and Jews alone, bear the burden and the sacrifice.
Why can’t we extend that same understanding for LGBT people and their kids? How can it be right for LGBT people and their kids to be the only ones forced to sacrifice their dignity and well-being?
Here’s my question for opponents of marriage equality. There are a hundred ways you can pursue your stated goals of supporting marriage culture, parental responsibility, and connections between parents and children. 99 of those ways do not require institutionalizing discrimination and second-class citizenship for same-sex couples and their kids.
Why is pursuing 99 paths, rather than 100, so unthinkable to you?