Thursday, February 13, 2014

But the Children!

If you happened to listen to the testimony offered to the Senate Rules Committee on Monday by proponents of HRJ3 (the proposal to add a ban on same-sex marriage into Indiana’s Constitution), you might have thought that the issue before the Senate was whether to adopt laws to protect Hoosier children and/or encourage married Hoosiers to procreate rather than deciding whether to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage (and civil unions) into the Indiana Constitution. Speaker after speaker after speaker talked about the alleged harm to children from same-sex marriages or discussed the State’s interest in procreation. But these arguments are red herrings, shiny objects designed to catch the attention of those who haven’t paid close attention to the real issues or, perhaps, to offer a thin veneer of “reason” behind which to hide their bigotry.

Now, for the sake of argument (and only for the sake of argument!), I’m going to assume as true the proposition set forth by the proponents of HJR3 that children do better in two-parent heterosexual marriages. I don’t think that’s precisely what the empirical data or scientific literature demonstrates, but I’m going to accept it for purposes of this discussion. And I’m going to assume that the State does have an interest in procreation (though I don’t think that I agree with that proposition either). I want to analyze the proponents’ arguments as they relate to children assuming all of the facts (well, lies might be closer to the … um … truth…) that the proponents used to support their arguments. And I want to show why, even assuming the “truth” of those propositions, opposition to same-sex marriage on the basis of those arguments is wrong (let alone a desire simply to “double ban” what is already illegal and enshrine discrimination into the Constitution).

I can certainly see how the argument might, at least at first blush, sound appealing: We shouldn’t let homosexuals get married because their children won’t do as well as children raised in heterosexual “traditional” marriages. But let’s dig a bit deeper than that overly simplistic argument. For one thing, not all marriages are about children. Many couples marry and never have children. Other couples marry long after children have been raised and moved out to live their own lives (whether following divorce or the death of a first spouse). So the “concern” with how children will fare should have no bearing on deciding whether couples who don’t want or can’t have children should be permitted to marry. Obviously, HJR3 doesn’t include an exception for same-sex couples who don’t plan on having children, but if the motivating issue for proponents of HJR3 is “the children”, then shouldn’t such an exception exist? And doesn’t the omission of an exception for childless couples serve to demonstrate that the real goal has little to do with children and more to do, simply, with opposition to homosexuality?

Similarly, whether a same-sex couple can marry is completely divorced (sorry, pun intended) from whether an unmarried same-sex couple can adopt a child. Are proponents of HJR3 suggesting that homosexual couples be prohibited from adopting a child, too? Because if a primary reason to prohibit them marrying is the “adverse” effect on the child, then shouldn’t the adoption itself be prohibited? If not, then it would seem that the “concern” for the child’s well-being isn’t really all that sincere.

Moreover, what do proponents of HJR3 say about the natural child of one member of a same-sex relationship? Should that child be taken out of the home? Should the other member of the same-sex relationship be prohibited from adopting the child? Most importantly, are we expected to believe that the child will fare worse if the couple are married than if they simply cohabitate?

After all, what is the difference between a child raised in a household with same-sex parents and one raised in a household with same-sex married parents? I’d suggest that the stability of marriage would be better for the child. Moreover, I’d further suggest that children raised in same-sex households will be better off knowing that the state and its citizens are welcoming of that child’s family structure rather than denigrating the status of the child’s parents to the point of wanting to explicitly prohibit the recognition of the relationship of the child’s parents. I mean, just think about it. Will little Johnny do better in school if his same-sex parents are welcomed as a part of the community or if the community points fingers at them and says “you’re not wanted here?” Let there be no mistake: HJR3 is nothing more than the State of Indiana saying “fuck you” and “get out” to gay Hoosiers (and “don’t even think of coming here” to prospective new Hoosiers).

You know what, though? It’s not just same-sex marriages that are (allegedly) bad for children. If I’m not mistaken, studies also show that children raised in single-parent households fare less well than children raised in two-parent households (again, I think that is what the current research shows, and I don’t know if that research shows a causal effect or if it is the reasons for the existence of single-parent family that are the real factors determining the child’s well-being [such as poverty]). So why don’t we require unwed pregnant mothers to marry? Why don’t we require unwed women to be on birth control? Why don’t we require teenage males to obtain reversible vasectomies (reversible upon marriage, of course)? After all, those sorts of requirements might help alleviate the “problem” of having children raised outside the optimal “traditional” family unit. Or I guess we could just have the state come along and take children away from single mothers and put them in “traditional” state foster care facilities (at least until the slut single woman marries).

I am, however, not sure what to do in the case of a two-parent family when one of the parents dies. It seems that forcing the surviving parent to immediately remarry would be a bit harsh (though, if the woman is the surviving parent and the deceased husband has brothers, than it would at least be a traditional Biblical arrangement…). Then again, forcing the surviving spouse to remarry would probably not be as harsh as taking the children away to “protect” them.

Which of course leads to the question of how to protect children from other sorts of situations that might prove detrimental to their upbringing. You, know, things like poverty, homelessness, lack of access to affordable, high quality medicine, and so forth. I’d certainly argue that all of those problems are going to be far, far worse for children that having two dads. Or what about things like interracial marriages or interreligious marriages? Obviously, those sorts of things may cause some degree of hardship for children (“are you white or black?” and “so do you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah?”). But we wouldn’t think of stopping those marriages because of any perceived harm to children, would we?

And, as I wrote just a few weeks ago:

We permit alcoholics to marry. We permit people who’ve been convicted of crimes, including spousal or child abuse, to marry. We permit people living in poverty to marry. We even allow some minors to marry if their parents consent. And we “allow” people to have children even if the environment into which those children are born is suboptimal. We don’t stop convicted abusers or felons from having children, we don’t stop alcoholics or those with multiple DUIs from having children, and we don’t stop the poor from having children. Ah, but gays… Oh, that sort of “suboptimal” environment is just too … um … icky?

The focus of many of the proponents was the well-being of children. And yet so little attention is being paid to other factors that have adverse impacts on families. When they’re not advocating to stop same-sex marriage, are the proponents of HJR3 also working to end childhood hunger, to help with housing and heat for children living in poverty, to ensure that all children have access to affordable, high quality medical care, to be sure that children attending unlicensed religious daycare facilities are safe, or any of the other things that our system demands for the well-being of our children? No. They’re not. In fact, some of them are the same people actively working against keeping children safe and who oppose efforts to simply provide needed help to our working poor.

Feeding hungry children, being sure that they have access to medicine, and just keeping them safe haven’t brought these “advocates” to the State House to demand action. Nope. But a pair of lesbians getting married? Now that is worth protesting. Constitutional amendments to provide access to healthcare? No, way! Constitutional amendments to discriminate against gays? For the children, of course!

And what about the State of Indiana’s alleged interest in procreation (and again, remember that I’m going to presume that the Indiana actually has such an interest…)? If we need to stop homosexual couples from getting married because allowing them to do so will somehow have an adverse effect upon the state’s interest in procreation, then don’t we need to stop the marriages of all couples who might marry but not procreate? Clearly infertile people ought not to be allowed to marry; their marriage does nothing to advance the state’s interest in procreation. And I suppose that, in order to advance the state’s interest in procreation, those seeking a marriage license should probably have to both provide medical evidence of the capacity to procreate and sign a certification of intent to procreate (do we jail those who expressed an interest in procreation but who later change their minds?). Seems reasonable, no? After all, if the State wants to keep some people from marrying because of the interest in procreation, then shouldn’t that interest apply to all Hoosiers whose marriages might not advance the interest of procreation? Or should we be discriminating against just some Hoosiers who might not procreate?

Now obviously, given the state’s interest in procreation, we should ban all forms of birth control as well as vasectomies. Oops. Access to birth control is a right under the United States Constitution. But we should still probably be able to ban vasectomies, right? Or at least highly regulate doctors performing vasectomies (admitting privileges and tight controls on facilities) and require men seeking a vasectomy to undergo a waiting period, get a penile ultrasound, and look at an ultrasound of a fetus. Of course things get a bit more complicated when we think about post-menopausal women. I mean, just think of all the viable sperm still swimming around in men married to women who can no longer conceive. How does the continuation of that marriage further the Indiana’s interest in procreation? I don’t know if we should require couples to divorce so that the man can marry a woman still capable of ovulating. Perhaps we should simply require the man to donate sperm regularly.

And what do we do with people who don’t want to have children? They are making a decision not to act in a way that advances the interests of the State of Indiana (sort of like rooting for Kentucky, perhaps). I mean, think about it. We have some people who want to get married and who might even want to have children (or at least adopt), but the State of Indiana wants to crawl into their bedroom and say, “no, no, no” just because the people are gay. In other words, with HJR3, some Hoosiers have no problem letting straight people decide not to have kids and say, “fuck you” to the State of Indiana and its interest in procreation while not giving gay Hoosiers who might want children the right to act in accordance with the so-called procreation interest of the state.

Which of course brings me to nuns, monks, and priests. I mean, seriously, how can a state with an interest in procreation, tolerate a whole class of people who choose to never marry and never procreate on the basis of religion?

Allow me to quote something I wrote on this same topic just a few weeks ago:

So tell me why allowing two men who love each other to marry (instead of just “living in sin”) will cause birthrates to go down? … Are gay men currently having babies but if the Constitution isn’t amended, they’ll stop? And I’ve read about plenty of lesbians who do have babies. Are we to believe that if they can get married to one another, they’ll stop having those babies? Um, why? [Do HJR3 proponents] have empirical evidence from any of the states that presently allow same-sex marriage to show that birth rates have declined (and that such decline can be fairly attributable to same-sex marriages)? And why would allowing a same-sex marriage have any impact on whether children will be raised by their natural parents? Will the Child Catcher come around and demand that children be ripped from their homes and given to gay couples. Seems farfetched. If we presume that homosexuals aren’t procreating (which seems to be one of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage), then how will marriage impact the procreation in “traditional” families? If the concern is that some children might be raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship, isn’t that child still being raised by a natural parent? No, not by both natural parents, but then how many children are raised by both natural parents when one of them is gay anyway?

OK. Deep breath.

How does the interest in procreation really have any bearing on same-sex marriages? Do proponents of HJR3 really think that there will be fewer children born in Indiana if gay couples are allowed to marry? Really? What do they expect to happen? Masses of closeted gays will suddenly divorce their straight partners in order to have a same-sex marriage? And even that sort of nonsense presumes that same-sex marriages won’t produce children or won’t provide homes for children via adoption. For that matter, why is it that marriage is so critical to the issue of procreation? First, how many children are being born out of wedlock anyway? And how many children are being born to (or adopted) by same-sex couples who cohabitate (and who just might get married, if permitted)?

There may be reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. However, neither “for the children” nor procreation are viable reasons to keep two people who want to be treated the same as all others from marrying.

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