The XX Factor

Gay Men Don’t Breastfeed?

Among other things, the gay marriage trial unfolding in California has served as a referendum on the modern marriage and what it’s good for. The attorneys defending Proposition 8 have trotted out the usual reasons we should preserve it: procreation, the distinct roles of mothers and fathers, civil stability. Then last week they came up with a novel defense: “We can also agree that men can’t breastfeed, and breastfeeding clearly has benefits for children in that it provides sources of immunity that are beneficial to children.” In her dispatches on the trial, The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot dissects this comical logic.

Now, one of the things that happens when people are staking out positions in a culture-war trial like this is that they can end up sounding curiously like their opposite numbers-in this case, a conservative male upholder of traditional marriage sounds like a crunchy, feminist La Leche Leaguer. But this also strikes me as a rather problematic point-and not unlike the argument that marriage is for procreation. Plenty of mothers don’t breastfeed, despite the fact that they are physically equipped to do so, and no one would seriously contend that such a choice should disqualify them from parenthood.