I read Chad Felix Greene’s recent Federalist article with interest because it addressed the institution of marriage and gay people, both of which are very close to my heart. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the distinct influence of my mother, who has been with her female partner for more than 30 years. I love Greene’s effort to close the distance between conservatives who continue to support traditional marriage and our gay brothers and sisters.
The good news is there’s not much ground to cover, because the vast majority of conservatives recognize the value and dignity of those who identify as gay. Nearly every single one of us has close LGBT family and friends.
Despite the popular narrative, our opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with hatred, phobia, or distance from the LGBT community. It is grounded in the understanding that we can’t redefine an institution that nearly every religion and culture has supported throughout history without society-wide consequences.
Marriage Isn’t Only About Adult Feelings
Greene wrote, “It became important to me that creating a new legal right did not infringe on the rights of others.” On that we should all agree. He went on to address the group he believed was most at risk of this infringement—religious Americans. Indeed, the threat to religious liberty arrived about five minutes after the Obergefell ruling was delivered.
I’m grateful that Greene and other gay conservatives are fighting against the religious bigotry being imposed on people of faith this era of “tolerance.” However, gay marriage presents a separate and much more significant threat to the fundamental rights of another vulnerable group, and it’s a threat that goes far beyond photo-taking and cake-baking.
Greene wondered if “those who view marriage as a good for society also see the good it has offered myself and Jacob.” I’m glad his marriage has benefited him; my marriage has done the same for me. But the state does not hand out marriage licenses so it can put a stamp of approval on anyone’s love life.
No, government’s concern with marriage is not nearly as sentimental. Rather, the state’s interest stems from a biological reality that judicial fiat is powerless to change—the reality that heterosexual sex produces babies. When Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, they made that interest abundantly clear: “At bottom, civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing. Simply put, government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children.”
Legal expert Austin R. Nimocks puts it this way: “Marriage laws stem from the fact that children are the natural product of sexual relationships between men and women, and that both fathers and mothers are viewed to be necessary and important for children. Thus, throughout history, diverse cultures and faiths have recognized marriage between one man and one woman as the best way to promote healthy families and societies.”
Since DOMA, marriage law has radically changed. But the facts that 1) children are the natural product of sexual relationships between men and women, 2) both fathers and mothers are necessary and important for children, and 3) marriage between one man and woman is the best way to promote healthy families and societies certainly have not. In fact, out-of-wedlock births have risen sharply since 1996, so the need for marriage as an incentive to encourage men to commit to the mother of their children has only increased.
Unfortunately, we now have a brand of marriage that officially considers those men “optional.” It’s as if all those religious types carrying on about traditional marriage were on to something.
The Real Victims Aren’t Grownups
As many of us forecasted, gay marriage did not simply “create a new legal right” for our same-sex-attracted countrymen. The effects of same-sex marriage are diametrically opposed to a much more primal and ancient right: a child’s rights to his or her mother and father. No matter what the uber-woke bumper sticker says, these two rights cannot COEXIST.
The problem stems from the law equating two very different things. While there may be no difference between the commitment Greene and I have for our husbands, there is a stark difference in what our two pairings provide to children. But because the law now demands that the two couplings be treated equally in matters of parenthood, that same law must now codify what biology prohibits — namely, making two adults of the same sex the parents of a child.
Historically, marriage has always been about babies, so when you redefine marriage, you redefine parenthood as well. Globally, wherever gay marriage goes, the rights of children are weakened. In the wake of the SCOTUS decision to impose gay marriage on the entire nation, state after state is now scrubbing parenthood laws of references to “mother” and “father” in the name of “non-discrimination.” Last year the sponsor of the child-commodifying Uniform Parentage Act here in Washington State plainly said that laws recognizing mothers and fathers were “unconstitutional” in the wake of Obergefell.
Let me pause and clarify: I am not saying that gays and lesbians cannot be good parents. Most of what I do well as a mom I do because that’s how my mother parented me. What I am saying is that neither my mother nor her partner could be a father to me. Thankfully neither tried to be, and I benefited from my father’s love and involvement in my life until he passed away three years ago.
Because of Obergefell, my mom and her partner can now marry if they choose to. But because of that same ruling, my father and mother are now considered legally optional to my health, development, and identity. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth; both have been crucial to me, and are to all children.
When children are included in the “constellation of benefits” that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy promised gay couples, it means adults have a “right” to parenthood, even if one or both of the child’s natural parents must be cut out of the equation. Historically, parenthood has been recognized on a biological basis or upon completion of the adoption process. But new “non-discrimination” parenthood laws deem any adult the parent of a child created via reproductive technologies if they “intend” to parent, even if the “intended” parent has no genetic connection to the child.
“Intent-based” parenthood laws omit the extensive screening, vetting, and training required in the adoption process. That’s a problem because statistically, non-biological parents are less protective of, attached to, and invested in children. Studies show that children living with an unrelated adult male are the most likely to suffer abuse. These parenthood laws place children in high-risk households in the name of progress.
All of these changes to parenthood functionally turns children into commodities the state can award to whichever adults have the money and means to acquire them. In the words of Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, gay marriage has transformed children into “objects of rights, rather than subjects of rights.”
Some Stories You Might Not Have Heard
Gay marriage was pushed and passed because LGBT adults did a great job of doing what Greene did in his Federalist article—telling their stories of loss and longing. But other stories were not told in the run-up to the SCOTUS decision because many of these storytellers were afraid to come out of the closet. Stories of loss and longing like these will only grow in the wake of this new “civil right.”
“I yearned for the affection that my friends received from their dads. I wanted to know what it was like to be held and cherished by a man… As far as I was concerned, I already had one mother; I did not need another… My grandfathers and uncles did the best they could when it came to spending time with me and doing all the daddy-daughter stuff, but it was not the same as having a full-time father, and I knew it. It always felt secondhand. Growing up without the presence of a man in my home damaged me personally,” says Brandi Walton.
Samantha, raised by her father and his partner, talks about the moment she realized she didn’t have a mother: “At the end of Kindergarten, we had a free day at school. We got to watch a movie in the gym, The Land Before Time. It is a classic movie. But for me it was a traumatic experience. I watched, eyes glued, as Littlefoot lost his Mother. Littlefoot had a ‘Mother’ and she died saving his life. Littlefoot spent the entire movie mourning the loss of his ‘Mother.’ It was in that moment, as a five year old girl, that I realized there was such a thing as a mother. It was also in that moment that I realized that I did not have one. I spent the rest of our free day at the gym crying into the arms of a teacher I would never see again for a mother that I never knew I never had.”
Millie Fontana speaks about feeling guilty for wanting her missing father, even though she had two mothers: “You would see every other child embracing who they are on Mother and Father’s Day. They would be rejoicing and celebrating with their parents and their family members, and there I was sitting back wondering what is wrong with me and why don’t I have that connection with my father… the lies went on, you know, ‘You don’t have a father’… and ‘You have another mother’, as though that statement was enough to conceal the emotions inside me and offer me stability. I suffered guilt, because who was I to reject this other parent? And, oh my gosh, if she is really what is supposed to fulfill me, how horrible must I be to reject that notion?”
Greene suggests that supporters of traditional marriage should “reach out a hand” so we can battle together in areas where our passion overlaps. I will gladly extend a hand of friendship to him (I am already one of your Twitter fans, Chad, and I hope that you look me up the next time you come to Seattle).
I believe Greene when he says he does not want his ability to marry Jacob to infringe on the rights of others, so I also want to extend to them a hand of partnership in the fight for children’s rights—their right to be known and loved by their mother and father. Children have a right to the two people who are statistically the most likely to protect them, invest in them, and provide for them. They have a right to the two people from whom they inherited their biological identity. They have a right to the two people who automatically furnish them with both the maternal and paternal love that children crave.
In the 2019 culture of intersectionality, the reality that we all come from a man and woman, and long to be known and loved by that man and woman, is one of the few universal experiences that we all share. That’s why we are building a global coalition of children’s rights activists that spans the spectrum of religious and sexual identities. Greene and his husband would be welcome additions.