Name me that child
September 17th, 2012
In the global quest for equality, we regularly hear this (Sydney Morning Herald):
Senator Pratt’s West Australian Labor colleague Mark Bishop said very few of his constituents had raised the issue with him. He said he supported gay couples being allowed to form civil unions but did not support same sex marriage because he believed it impinged on the rights of children.
Nationals Senator Ron Boswell, also speaking against the bill, said all children had a right to both a mother and a father.
“Two mothers or two fathers cannot raise a child properly,” Senator Boswell said.
Though this time presented in Australia, it is the prime objection across the planet. But despite its ubiquity, it suffers from a fatal flaw: they never ever clarify the identity of the recipient of their sympathy and benefactor of their protection.
“Think of the children” is a poor excuse for denying rights in general. But usually there is at least a child to think of.
Even the miscegenists who trotted out their dubious concern about “society being cruel to the poor little mulatto children”, had going for them that some children would be born directly as a result of legalizing mixed-race marriage. And, considering the social climate in which they plead their case, it was true that more mixed-race children would be born from allowing mixed race marriage than without (though their fears about the poor children didn’t really pan out).
But for all those who missed school on sex-ed day, children are not the natural bi-product of a same-sex marriage. There is no “honey guess what” conversation. The stork doesn’t have Mr. and Mr. Jones in its address book.
So I’m confused. In these “think of the children” objections, exactly what children am I supposed to be thinking of? What child, exactly, is being deprived of a mother and a father?
Same-sex couples get children in one of three ways; either they are raising a child when its parents (presumably an opposite sex couple) are not able to, they are jointly raising a child that one parent conceived in an opposite-sex relationship, or they are raising a child that they planned and took extraordinary measures to conceive.
Now on the face of it, there is no causal relationship between same-sex marriage and the first two scenarios. But that is not what anti-gays mean when they bring up this objection. Though they never articulate this, what they really mean is that the increase in acceptance for gay people (of which marriage is only the latest issue) will result in more children being raised by same-sex couples.
And that is true.
In countries in which gay people are executed or imprisoned, very few same-sex couple raise children. In countries in which there is some miserly measure of tolerance, confirmed bachelors or spinster librarians might set up house together “to share expenses”, but they seldom jointly parent children.
Social disapproval and reprisals against gay people would result in fewer children “being deprived of either a mother and a father” (as would banning divorce, revoking all spousal rights, and putting an end to military service or any other occupation that could result in death of a parent, and a number of other things that are not proposed). But that argument presumes that these are the two choices: either marriage equality or fierce reprisals against gay people.
But that is not the situation. No nations are trying to decide whether tis best to allow same-sex couples to marry or to throw them in jail. No legislators are pondering, “Hmmmm. I just can’t decide. Is it treacly songs and bridesmaids in peach taffeta for you, or off to the executioner’s block?”
But, to be fair, it could be that for each incremental degree to which gay people are afforded human dignity, there is an incremental increase in same-sex couples raising children. That’s probably the case. But with each scenario of added dignity, the children impacted are unique and that need to be evaluated in that context.
So, Senator Boswell, you need to be clear. What child are you talking about?
In the first of the above methods through which same-sex couples become parents, the children already have been deprived of a mother or a father. They have been deprived of both. So the choice is not between their parents and a gay couple, and very seldom is it between a straight couple and a gay couple. Considering the minuscule number of people lining up to raise other people’s children and the degree to which gay couples readily welcome children with limitations or difficulties, for this kid it is generally either gay parents or no parents at all.
So if it is this child of whom you speak, please explain how your assertion that that child’s “right to both a mother and a father” is to claimed. Unless you are proposing that the government foist this child upon some hapless heterosexual couple that doesn’t want it, it’s difficult to see how your principle comes into play. (And if that is your proposal, please do let the people know).
I don’t believe that children have a significant advantage in being raised by opposite sex parents. But that issue is irrelevant to the marriage question. If there is some assumption that for each child that would otherwise be raised by a same-sex couple, a happy healthy heterosexual family is waiting (an assumption that seems not to be shared by child welfare professionals, incidentally), then adoption law is the place where you resolve that matter.
If that is your belief, then you can see if you can get public support (and pass constitutional muster in your nation) and ban same-sex couples from adopting. But that has no bearing on whether or not they be allowed to marry.
And if you are going to allow them to adopt, surely for those children who have already been “deprived of a father or a mother” by being placed in a same-sex family it is not preferable or advantageous for those “deficient parent” to be disallowed such tools as could make better of a bad thing.
But perhaps you are speaking of the second method by which a child is raised by a same-sex couple. Perhaps it is either by divorce or separation that one partner acquired a child which they brought into the relationship.
But generally the child’s non-custodial parent is still in the picture (though they might have abdicated their role in the child’s life, or perhaps the died, or maybe they were captured and hauled away by space aliens). And I’m not sure what the solution might be nor how marriage law would complicate matters.
At the present, in most countries in which there is not strong bias against gay people, the courts will assign custody to the parent that is in the best interest of the child. And, I suppose, the laws could be changed such that the best interest of the child is disregarded and sexual orientation be the singular criterion (as some would like), but that would result in the child being raised by a less competent parent and still would not fulfill that child’s “right to both a mother and a father”.
I suppose that in a mixed-orientation divorce, it could be argued that the heterosexual parent has more potential to meet that child’s claim on a mother and a father, provided that step-parents count. But that is not at all related to the matter of whether the homosexual parent should be allowed to subsequently marry a person of the same sex.
If one prioritizes a child’s “right to both a mother and a father” over the best interest of the child, either allowing or preventing same-sex marriage will have no impact. That is a matter for family law courts, not a matter of allowing or disallowing same-sex marriage.
So, Senator Boswell, you must be speaking of the third entry method for children in a same-sex headed family.
You must be talking about those children who are brought into an existing same-sex families. Your concern must be about parents who went through a great deal of planning and considerable expense to bring this child into being.
Now we have nothing to suggest that these parents are any more or less likely to bring children into the world if they can marry. We do know that they take considerable steps to protect their children and to make sure that they have are not legally disadvantaged, to the extent possible. We know that such a decision is seldom hasty and never the result of a momentary passionate night of optimism.
But you may be correct: it is possible that marriage protections would encourage more same-sex couples to have children. The increased stability that comes from marriage’s legal rights and social support might be the determining factor in the decision of whether this couple will kids.
But it’s time to be specific, Senator. If the child about which you are concerned, the one who is being deprived of their right to a father and a mother, is the one brought into the world after careful planning and significant effort, say so. In fact, Senator, let’s not be vague and generic. Give me the name of a child that is in the scenario you are trying to prevent, one that is deprived of a mother and a father, and lets go talk to that child.
Because I want to be right there in the room with you when you look that kid in the face and tell her that she – and the society as a whole – would be better off if she had never been born.