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Blue The Nation | April 16, 2014

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Four Reasons Children Don’t Matter in the Gay Marriage Debate

Four Reasons Children Don’t Matter in the Gay Marriage Debate
Jonathan Nathan

Anti-gay-marriage groups and advocates know that faith-based opposition to marriage equality is a losing strategy. It’s more a sign of a nation moving farther and farther away from organized religion, and even from theism in general, than it is a sign of a nation growing more accepting of the LGBT community–although the nation is clearly growing in that direction too–but that doesn’t change the fact that it no longer works as a rhetorical tool against marriage equality.

So they’re shifting their tactics. They have been for awhile, actually, but opposition to marriage equality is now almost completely devoid of religious justifications, at least in the mainstream. If religion comes up at all, it’s usually in the context of the “religious freedom” bogeyman, the notion that if gay people can get married then no one will be allowed to practice or express religious beliefs that are anti-gay. “Biology, Not Bigotry” is a much more accurate representation of the mainstream anti-equality lobby’s message than Fred Phelps, these days.

The focus, in this paradigm, becomes children. The argument runs that because research supposedly shows that children are better off in a mom-and-dad household than a same-sex-parents household, this gives the government a compelling interest in promoting only heterosexual couplings. It gives the anti-equality lobby a false veneer of moderation to say that they’re not trying to ban homosexuality, they’re just trying to promote a socially beneficial civil arrangement.

Now let’s leave aside, for the purposes of this discussion, the fact that the “research” they cite has been debunked due to poor methodology and misinterpretation of the results. For the record, the research compared two groups: children living with a mother and a father, and children living in any other arrangement at all, such as foster care or a single-parent home. To say that this proved anything about same-sex parenting, given that there are far more single-parent households than there are same-sex-parent households, is obviously misleading if not outright deliberate deception.

And let’s also leave aside that much of the “new” anti-equality message is the same as the old one. Even in the above political ad, many tired, refuted-many-times-over tropes and canards get trotted out. People will be persecuted for being conservative Christians. Gay people can’t produce children. Blah blah blah.

No. Today, let’s ignore all that. For the sake of argument, let’s even grant, for the sake of argument, the completely debunked belief that same-sex parenting is not as good for the child as opposite-sex parenting. Now let’s focus on this question: Is that a compelling reason for the government to ban same-sex marriage? The answer is no. And here’s why.

1. We do not regulate marriages based on whether the couple will be suitable parents.

Research shows that alcoholics are less likely to be good parents. Research shows that drug addicts are less likely to be good parents. Research shows that 18-year-olds are less likely to be good parents. Research shows that domestic abusers are less likely to be good parents. Research doesn’t show that murderers are less likely to be good parents, but that’s only because no one’s bothered to do that study, because why would you.

Pictured: A couple that could legally get married if they were not
fictional characters, because children need a mother and a father.

And alcoholics, drug addicts, 18-year-olds (except in Nebraska and Mississippi, where you have to be 19 and 21, respectively), domestic abusers, and convicted murderers can all get married if they want to. Celebrities can get married, even though almost every child of a celebrity that you can think of is completely insane. Larry King can get married, and that dude can’t even get it up anymore (one assumes.)

Marriage to this guy should not have
more legal protection than gay marriage.

So is the anti-equality lobby really prepared to follow this line of argumentation all the way to its natural conclusion? Are we going to start having background checks for marriage licenses? Are marriage licenses going to be revoked, and children taken into state custody, because Mommy drinks too much or Daddy’s hooked on Vicodin? Where do we stop? What if it’s determined that, I don’t know, plumbers make bad parents, or investment bankers, or members of the military? Are we going to ban their marriages too? This argument is fundamentally absurd.

2. Trans people.

In 47 of the 50 states, you can legally change your gender. That’s kind of mindblowing. That means that in a way, we as a nation are more progressive on trans issues than we are on gay issues. But more to the point, that means that all these laws against gay marriage are on very strange moral ground. Let’s say I want to marry a dude, but I live in California, where I’m not allowed to do that. So I just have my gender legally changed to female. Done and done.

I’d make a hot lady.

Now let me just make it clear that I don’t use that example as a way of trivializing the very real issues of the transgender community. I’m not saying anybody is changing their gender so they can get gay-married. What I am saying, however, is that because of this odd quirk in the American legal system, there could be–and almost certainly are–children growing up in households with legally married parents, one a mother and one a father, but both of them might have been born male, both might have been born female, or they both might have been born as the opposite gender that they are now.

I have a friend, a cisgender female, who I’m quite sure is going to end up marrying a trans male. I don’t know if it’ll be the one she’s dating right now, but she makes no bones about the fact that she’s attracted to trans men. And she might have kids with a trans guy. So where is the anti-equality lobby on that? The kid will have a mother and father, but I’m quite sure they’re still opposed to such a union. This illustrates the silliness of the whole notion of gender-based restrictions on marriage. Gender is fluid both psychologically and legally. Your move, NOM.

3. Single-parent households/The divorce rate.

35% of American children live in single-parent households. This is not a surprise, given the very high rate of divorce in this country. Every year, there is one divorce for every two marriages. This has given rise to the faulty notion that half of all marriages end in divorce, which is not true, but what is true is that there is one divorce for every two marriages every year. And yet nobody is saying we should ban single-parent households, or ban divorces (well, some people are probably saying those things, but they aren’t very influential.)

On the other hand, instead of banning divorce, we could just eat the children of divorcing parents. Jonathan Swift took 3,000+ words to make that joke; Jonathan Nathan did it in a sentence.

4. Children are not the purpose of civil marriage.

Ultimately, this is the bottom line here. The point of marriage law is not and has never been to promote functional families. One purpose is to create legal guidelines for the effects marriage has on each spouse’s property, labor, and debts. One purpose is to establish who has various rights, such as visitation or power of attorney. Over time, American marriage law has incorporated various tax incentives and insurance-related elements and bits and pieces of the social safety net like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, all of which are interpreted as incentivizing marriage. And in some ways, they do. But the ultimate point is to simply eliminate the obvious financial and legal complications that arise when two people decided to share everything. It’s not about kids and it never was.