Sunday, September 28, 2008

Marriage Is For Children

It's a rainy Sunday morning in the Cranky household today. The D-man is upstairs sleeping in after a restless night of ear problems, Kid Dynamite is curled up on the couch and I'm a drinking some joe while reading this morning's Inky featuring an Op-Ed against Same Sex Marriage. While this piece has the same chorus and refrain it is, according to its author, different in that he is a liberal democrat which, ostensibly, means that it's OK for him to support something discriminatory because he's not a bigot. He is David Blankenhorn and since he studied the history and anthropology of marriage, his opinion matters even though he is disregarding the fact that, up until recently, religion was the dominating force in what would be acceptable with regard to marriage and sexuality (at least in public). The core of Blankenhorn's argument is this:

Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.

In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its next generation. Marriage (and only marriage) unites the three core dimensions of parenthood - biological, social and legal - into one pro-child form: the married couple. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other.

As I've said in the past (multiple times, in fact), this implies that a "traditional family" (defined as a family headed up by a married couple limited to that comprised by one man and one woman) is, by default, a superior family "form" just by the nature of the arrangement. While I, personally, do believe that the ideal family is comprised by a man and a woman in a stable, committed, monogamous relationship raising their children in a warm, secure, positive and nurturing environment, I am under no illusion that any marriage based on a "traditional" heterosexual relationship meets my definition of ideal (or even acceptable) purely based on the fact the family is headed up by a heterosexual couple. "Traditional" is no guarantee of appropriate involvement and support for a child from both his/her father and mother nor is is any more of a guarantee that a child's parents will really be there to love and support each other or the child or that, even in the event they don't stay together to support one another, they will do the right thing by all of their child(ren).

Blankenhorn makes all kinds of assumptions, about an institution he admits is evolving, that are not accurate today, have not been completely accurate for some time and may not have always been accurate in the good old days of yore. Unfortunately for Blankenhorn's argument (and society): children are born out of wedlock to parents who may or may not get married; marriages have a high divorce rate even when there are children involved; and "staying together" does not mean the marriage is by any means happy or healthy for the parents or their children. He also brings up this old chestnut:

In 2002 - just moments before it became highly unfashionable to say so - a team of researchers from Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center, reported that "family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage."

For these reasons, children have the right, insofar as society can make it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. The foundational human rights document in the world today regarding children, the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically guarantees children this right.

followed by an assertion that children of gay couples will be denied their birthright to know and have a relationship with their biological parents which are, by default (one can only assume based on the emphasis Blankenhorn places on this imperative), superior to adoptive parents who are merely poor surrogates raising someone else's child. He may take issue with my pointing out this error because he undermines his argument by bringing up adoption himself:
Do you think that every child deserves his mother and father, with adoption available for those children whose natural parents cannot care for them? Do you suspect that fathers and mothers are different from one another? Do you imagine that biological ties matter to children? How many parents per child is best? Be careful how you answer. In making the case for same-sex marriage, more than a few grown-ups will be quite willing to question your integrity and good will. Children, of course, are rarely consulted.
I have to be honest, I don't know where to start with the above. In my mind I envision these words coming out of the mouth of a well-intentioned but not really clear-minded adolescent girl (or Elisabeth Hasselback). First off, adoption doesn't appear to be available for all children whose "natural" parents can't/won't raise them - we've got lots of kids (healthy and not) in foster care here in the US. Blankenhorn also seems to go off on some sort of irrational tangent that, in voting to approve SSM, the next step is to encode opinions about how many children a couple should be allowed to have (heck, why not age difference between children while we're at it?). The only real importance of biological ties are that they provide "family medical history" which can be very helpful for a person. If you think that being raised by you biological parents routinely gives one a substantive edge in this matter, think again. From my own experience in clinical research, I can tell you that few people are really that aware of their family medical history, much of the time they become of that information after they've been diagnosed with a disorder.

Limiting marriage to one man and one woman has not increased the stability of marriage as an instution, nor does it have an impact on the sanctity or stability of individual marriages. What it does do is undermine the stability of families - families that include children both biological and adopted, who desire to have the same rights and protections under the law that are guaranteed by the US Consititution. Blankenhorn actually acknowledges this but then goes back to the injury to a child's birth-right. Children adopted in "traditional" marriages also would have this terrible denial to their birth-right, but Blankenhorn doesn't seem to mind that their adoption is celebrated as a good thing as he does for children of gay couples.

The only reason to enact or support legislation against SSM is because you really want to hurt gay people and put their families at undue risk. That is exactly what Blankenhorn proposes for the spurious reason of the mythological birth-right.

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