Gay Marriage

Dear David,

       First, some minor points. I gather from your third posting that you have now entirely rescinded the primary thrust of your second. From “[Free to marry anyone?] Really? Including Oedipus?” we now read, “I’m happy to concede that homosexuality is quite different from bestiality and incest.” Well, that’s progress. I look forward to your public disavowal of those conservatives who continue to use this analogy.
       You claim there are two Andrew Sullivans, that in some respects I am angry at conventional moral standards, and in some respects I am not, and that this is confusing. But you still don’t get it, do you? I am not angry at conventional moral standards, and know of nowhere where I have so written. I do my human best, as I’m sure you do, to live up to them. I am angry when these conventional moral standards are not equally applied. I am not angry at the church’s call to fidelity and love and responsibility in marriage, even for those who cannot bear children. I am angry when our moral authorities dismiss a whole section of God’s creation from such a calling, for no discernibly good reason. In this case, it is rational to be angry. So there are not two of me. There is merely one person trying to make sense of centuries of incalculable damage to a part of humanity, damage that is no less profound for being wrought in the name of conventional moral standards. I do not question those standards in order to destroy them; I question them in order to make them live up to their promise. And I did not accuse people who support a “father-mother family” (by the way, who doesn’t support a father-mother marriage? I know I do) of being racists or inquisitors. I merely pointed out that I could see no logical difference between the analogies racists and inquisitors drew to defend their positions and the analogy you draw in preventing homosexuals from marrying. Now that you’ve withdrawn your incest point, it appears you agree with me. Rather than debating my anger, perhaps you would do better analyzing your own cognitive dissonance.
       So you return to your first theme, and elaborate upon it. Your real reason, you aver, for opposing same-sex marriage is for the sake of the children. You infer from my not dealing with this in my first two postings that I really couldn’t care less, like every other social revolutionary of the 1960s. You imply that my childlessness–and your fatherhood–is related to this strange omission. But I hope I can persuade you that this is not the case. As you know, my reader contains an entire chapter on same-sex marriage and parenting, bringing together the best materials I could find on the matter. You don’t have to be a father to care about kids. As an uncle, I care deeply about my nephew. As a child brought up in a mother-father family, I care deeply about it, and so do the vast majority of homosexuals. Gay men and women have had children for centuries; and they have long been closely involved in providing moral, educational, and religious guidance to children. The effect on children of such a reform as same-sex marriage is something we therefore all have an interest in. Indeed, the trial court in Hawaii devoted itself almost entirely to the question and found, in exhaustive detail, that there is no rational reason to connect same-sex marriage rights with any damage to children whatsoever. Allowing same-sex marriage is, in fact, precisely for the sake of children: for the children of lesbians and gay men, the children of heterosexual mothers and fathers, and for gay children as well. Let me take each of these in turn.
       Right now, as you know, many lesbians and gay men have children, and their status in law and society is an increasingly burning issue. Many of these children are inherited from previous marriages, entered into before one of the partners came to terms with the fact that he or she is gay. The question before us, as a practical matter, then, is: What is in the best interest of those children? If, as you and I believe, the mother should have custody, is it better for those children to find recourse in a stable, legal family or to be in an unstable, legally unrecognized partnership, at the whim of whatever fortune sends them? This is not an abstract question. Recently, in Florida, for example, a woman divorced her husband in part because she realized she was a lesbian, and took her daughter into her new relationship. The daughter was then removed from her mother and given back to her father, a man who, it so happened, had murdered his first wife. A judge deemed the custody of a wife-murderer inherently preferable to that of a lesbian mother, and the mother had no legal recourse. If you believe, as you claim to, in the rights of motherhood, you should be fighting alongside me for those children whose access to their own mothers is thus threatened. And only same-sex marriage will adequately defend them.
       Or let us take the other example of those homosexual parents, who start off in same-sex relationships and have children by artificial insemination or surrogate motherhood, a phenomenon that is increasingly common, especially among lesbians. The practical question before us is: If you are not actually going to make such things illegal, is it better for those children to be legitimate or illegitimate? Surely the proper conservative answer to that is that it is better for them to be legitimate. Surely, as Charles Murray might argue, children are best served by loving, stable homes, and marriage is the primary instrument of such homes. How can it be good social policy to exclude a whole section of the country’s children from such an environment? Or are gay men and women and their children, as the conservative Richard John Neuhaus has opined, really “aliens among us”?
       Your response to this is that you are not hostile to such children–or to homosexuals–but that, in general, children are best brought up in father-mother homes. To which I can only answer: Sure, but so what? Same-sex marriage will do nothing to undermine such homes. Indeed, I’m happy to concur that the father-mother relationship, all other things being equal, is the ideal environment for child rearing. (It was, after all, how I was brought up.) But I fail to see how banning same-sex marriage is relevant to that discussion. Where, exactly, is the trade-off here? Where are the children being wrested tearfully out of their natural father-mother homes and being placed in same-sex households? Where are the actual situations where the choice for a child is to be in one or another? The vast majority of cases are actually the opposite, where children of gay parents are wrested tearfully out of their mothers’ and fathers’ arms and given to heterosexual stepparents. The only possible counterexamples are those few adoption cases where same-sex couples might compete for different-sex couples for adopting a child unrelated to either. Now, there are some cogent arguments for supporting, in these cases, a different-sex couple over a same-sex couple, other things being equal. But they are arguments for enforcing a particular kind of adoption law, not for removing the same-sex couple’s right to a marriage license in the first place. Sure, some people could make a case for a same-sex couple over a different-sex one; and a marriage license–bestowing greater stability on the couple–would help their argument. But it would not be enough to mandate equivalence; and marriage and adoption are logically and legally separate issues.
       If you don’t see this, take the following analogies. There are legitimate arguments about whether a single mother or father should be allowed to adopt a child over a two-adult family. OK, let’s debate them. But no one ever suggests that this is a reason for denying such a single person the right to marry in the first place. There are also arguments about whether white couples should be allowed to adopt a black child. But no one ever conceives that such couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry to begin with to prevent such a possibility occurring! Your position on this is as tortured as your original position on incest. Somehow, your broad social concerns come down not to addressing the issue you profess to be concerned about, but to maintaining unfair and unique discrimination against homosexuals. One begins to suspect what is going on here. Is it legitimate social concern or simply prejudice? If your problem is children being brought up in homes where they are not biologically connected to both parents, then go about making a case for deterring adoption. (Good luck!) If your concern is that a child will not be brought up in an environment with two different-sex parents, then ban or deter adoption by a single father or mother. If your worry is that, in surrogate motherhood and sperm banks, children are being “bought and sold like prize heifers,” then ban surrogate motherhood and artificial insemination. If you’re concerned that children, given a choice, might be given to a gay couple over a straight couple, then ban same-sex adoption or write laws that will always give a preference to different-sex couples. But how on earth do these concerns get you to a position banning same-sex marriage?
       I guess it’s your “everything’s going to hell and we’ve got to draw the line somewhere” point. But that line should be a fair one. It should be one that addresses the real issues and doesn’t scapegoat. And it shouldn’t hold hostage one of the most fundamental civil rights imaginable, a civil right that our Supreme Court regards as more important than the right to vote. You are right to be concerned about the fate of our children. I am, too. But they are not served by perpetuating prejudice instead of sound social policy. Which brings me to my final point. Some of our children–probably around 3 percent–are homosexual. They also have a stake in this. Just because they are gay does not mean they are dispensable as far as social policy is concerned.
       Right now, in the United States, by our ban on equal marriage rights, we are sending a very profound message to every gay child. We are telling her that the love she may one day have for one other person has literally no future. It will never be accorded the place or respect of the love of her heterosexual brothers and sisters. Her relationship will never appear in her family album and her country will automatically accord to imprisoned rapists a right it deems above her capacity. If she falls in love and has children, those children will never be rightly hers and can be taken away by a government that accords her motherhood the flimsiest of protections. If her loved one is taken desperately ill, she may be denied access to her deathbed and be excluded from her funeral. And there is nothing she can do to change this–no rules she can live up to, no standards she can aspire to, that will accord her any greater respect or protection than a life of complete irresponsibility. Is it any wonder that these children disproportionately commit suicide, or take drugs, or engage in self-destructive behavior? Or that they find it hard in adulthood to construct the stable relationships that make most lives worthwhile? What the ban on marriage does to 3 percent of our children is to inflict the deepest of psychological wounds upon them at an early age, wounds that often take a lifetime to heal, if they ever do. To tell a child that she is unworthy of social respect and equality in this regard is to attack a human being’s dignity at its very core–the ability to love and be loved–and at an age when she is emotionally defenseless. It is precisely for the sake of that child that this reform is designed, and precisely for that child that you, too, should be concerned. After all, she could be your daughter, too.