Thursday, May 09, 2013

Being against gay marriage = declaring war on adoption?

Ramesh Ponnuru has an article entitled "Marriage and Adoption" in the latest National Review. Last time I looked, however, you had to pay to read it. But the whole thing can be found at the AEI website.

In it he takes note of a "novel thesis" put forth by Esquire's Tom Junod, who argued in that magazine's pages that "opposition to same-sex marriage has become a 'war on adoption,' which he takes personally as an adoptive father (married to a woman)."
The opponents, he accurately notes, routinely hold up the biological family — a mother and father raising the children they conceived together — as an ideal. In doing so they insult and even threaten his own family. Ross Douthat, of all people, is cited as one of the anti-adoption warriors, specifically called out for writing that "the share of children living in married households with both their biological parents" is a "meaningful indicator of family solidity." A view like that one, writes Junod, "dooms our marriage and our family to second-class status."

He quotes another writer and same-sex marriage advocate, a Walter Olson, who called Junod's essay "powerful."
The campaign against same-sex marriage, Olson wrote, "is resulting in the belittlement of non-biologically-based family forms — and among the targets to suffer collateral damage are adoptive families whether straight or gay. . . . Any parental structure other than a married biological mother and father, it is now argued, should be presumed to inflict damage on kids."
Well, okay, maybe, but I doubt it. When I make arguments against the gay marriage mirage, I'm not thinking of heterosexual adoptive couples at all. I'm thinking of the absolute necessity of male and female to a definition of the words 'marriage' and 'parents.' It sounds to me as if Junod and Olson are trying to sneak in another victim-set with which they can accuse conservatives of wishing to persecute. And, as Ponnuru points out,
...Yet there is an important sense, is there not, in which adoptive families are not ideal? Unlike the raising of children by biological parents, adoption is always a response to less-than-ideal circumstances, for example to the unreadiness, unfitness, or death of the biological parents. You do not have to have any desire to belittle adoptive parents to say that where such conditions do not exist we should not favor adoption...[Douhat] is not only right, but obviously right, to think that the percentage of children living with their biological parents tells us something about a society’s health. If 50 percent of children in a society were living with adoptive parents, for example, we would conclude that that society was recovering from some deep trauma... If more children were being raised by biological parents who were married to each other, more of them would have a better shot at a good life. Most of the time, when people say or think such things, they do not have in mind same-sex couples or adoption: They are thinking instead about single parenthood and divorce.
Exactly. But then, as I feared he might, Ponnuru begins to lose me, exhibiting a trait I've seen on prominent display more often lately among conservative writers: the desire to be seen as fair-minded, and to avoid being seen as insensitive:
The social science is much clearer that children tend to do worse when raised by single parents than that they do worse when raised by same-sex couples.
Whoa. Has the phenomenon of children being raised by same-sex couples gathered sufficient longevity and frequency in our society that such a comparison can even be made? No, it has not. His sentence tell us so, that the social science is not clear on this latter thing, because the arrangement is so new, that of open homosexuals openly raising children who are the fruit not of this liason, but of some other. He does not even mention what no one needs a social scientist to tell him: that children shouldn't be raised in a household governed by two practicing homosexuals. This is a moral matter in its own right, unlike the case of a child being raised by its mother alone.
That doesn’t mean that we should think of single parents, or divorced parents, or their families as having "second-class status."
Whoa again. Why not? If you said this about adoptive parents I would understand. But single parenthood and divorce represent a culpably personal failure on some level. The mother who has her children out of wedlock is doing something different than the mother who has them with her husband. Husbands and wives who fight the good fight to keep their wedding vows are doing something different than those who don't. If single and divorced parents are not of "second-class status," then they are first-class. That's über fair, to be sure, but it doesn't sound right. Perhaps he meant only that there is a degree of condemnation to which we should not subject such people, whose unfortunate circumstances are sometimes beyond their control, but I doubt it. He seems all in for a very modern notion of fairness, and his next two paragraphs confirm it:

The following three propositions are logically compatible with one another: 1) Society has an interest in raising the proportion of children in intact biological families. 2) Adoption should be encouraged. And 3) the government should recognize long-term same-sex unions as marriages. The way to reconcile the first and second views should be obvious: It’s better for kids to be adopted than to languish in foster care or in overseas orphanages, or suffer unfit biological parents.

The first and third could be reconciled by arguing that official recognition of same-sex marriage won’t actually reduce the proportion of children being raised by their biological parents but will confer benefits on the children who are being raised by same-sex couples. This isn’t a convoluted position: Every supporter of same-sex marriage I have ever met believes it will have exactly these effects. For similar reasons, someone who thinks that the intact biological family should remain our social model, and be strengthened as such, could favor letting gay couples adopt and even encouraging them to.

Do you get a sense of the center not holding, of Ponnuru's gradual caving on the issue of the gay marriage mirage? Frankly, I'm not quite sure how those paragraphs fit into an article whose primary subject is the charge that to oppose gay marriage is to declare war on adoption. He answered that charge before he ever got to this point. Then comes another strange paragraph, which amounts to more caving on the social pathologies of our time:
It may even be that there is nothing that we can or should do to raise the proportion of kids in intact biological families. Nobody has advanced policies that would clearly reduce the rate of unwed childbirth at an acceptable cost. It’s not clear how the culture can be changed to encourage heterosexuals to marry before having children. Pessimism on this front, however, does not invalidate the goal.
"Policies," in our current climate, usually come in the form of incentives: "oh, you poor thing, you bore a child out of wedlock? Well, here's some food stamps to help you along and some AFDC to help you even more and right over there is a rent-controlled apartment with your name on it."

But there's another kind of policy, the kind that imposes a penalty rather than a perk for engaging in reprehensible behavior. For example, it could be written into law that if a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, she is ineligible for welfare, and that the man who got her pregnant is required to help support the child. If such a law were enforced, it would work. Not only do we not enforce it, we don't have the law and probably never will. Divorce is a lot more complicated, but surely we can do better than divorce-on-demand. If I'm a judge and you two tell me your differences are "irreconcilable," I'm going to say no, you can't have the divorce (children cheering in the gallery), and that if I do grant it, you lose the tax deduction for your children.

Sometimes a man's a wife-beater and sometimes the woman turns into Lizzie Borden. But most marriages dissolve because of much lesser things: adultery or boredom or a one-time heart-dissolving love that for some reason has turned into intense dissatisfaction, dislike or hatred. I've seen it happen a hundred times to the people next door, round the corner or up the street. "Well, it's better for the kids." They always say that. But an awful lot of divorces happen after the kids are gone. I saw it happen to one young college fellow and he didn't handle it any better than if he were twelve years old.

In any case, Ponnuru can't see "how the culture can be changed to encourage heterosexuals to marry before having children" because he, and we, are not willing to do anything about it. We're always hoping persuasion will work, but spoiled, wilfull, narcissistic children are very hard to persuade. If you provide an incentive to behave badly, people will do it. If you are willing to punish the bad behavior, people will avoid it. It's called human nature. Now, it's one thing to be realistic about the possibility of such punishments being instituted in our current culture, but it's quite another to admit that you can't think of anything, anything, that might be done about it.

He concludes:
I take the core concern of thoughtful opponents of same-sex marriage to be that it makes it harder to explain, to a culture that has lost sight of the fact, that kids generally do better with their biological mother and father raising them; that it makes it harder to advance cultural or political proposals that just might strengthen that family structure without being treated as a bigot; that it formally repudiates the biological-family ideal. A thoughtful supporter of same-sex marriage, it seems to me, should not want the triumph of his cause to have that social meaning.
"A thoughtful supporter." It's highly civilized of him always to impute to his opponents the best of intentions but, Junod and Olson aside, quite a number of them do not have such intentions. Many take the position of Masha Gessen, who frankly admits that the push for "equality of rights" for homosexuals requires of its advocates an unscrupulous propensity for lying, since she thinks the institution of marriage should not even exist, confirming what Stanley Kurtz wrote at NR a long time ago: the redefinition of marriage will result, not in its expansion, but in its abolition. Ponnuru should look up those back issues.


2 Responses to Being against gay marriage = declaring war on adoption?

Lydia says:
May 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm (Edit)
It’s just like the left to try to co-opt some other group in order to maintain the victim status of the desired group–in this case, trying to make adoptive parents feel defensive to cover for homosexual “marriage” and homosexual adoption. I bet they’d do the same with sperm donor conception as well: “What? You’re making a big deal about biological children? How insensitive to people who have adopted.”

Yes, I definitely see Ponnuru gradually caving. And I notice a weakness here in making it all about results. “Long-term-ness” is taken to be what it’s all about, so then the idea is that somehow if we could improve homosexual relationships to make them more long-term, they would be okay venues for raising children. No way. Yet I’ve seen this expressed elsewhere as well. In a post recently I was saying that this problem might be exacerbated if conservatives started pushing to repeal no-fault divorce in states that already have homosexual “marriage.” Since I see some conservatives (like Ponnuru) already hinting that if only we could _strengthen_ homosexual unions we wouldn’t mind them so much (or something), I can _easily_ see the conservatives pushing for those reforms after SS”M” is recognized as saying nonsense like, “We want to strength all marriages!” and meaning by this that they want to strengthen homosexual “marriages” as well, rather than realizing that we should be looking to _break up_ those relationships, encourage people to leave them.

A note on the use of the term “single parent.” I began to notice this a long time ago: The word “widow” has disappeared. Now everybody raising children without a spouse is a “single parent.” This means that if you say something about “not wanting single parents to have second-class status,” people may think of some nice widow they know and agree. Of course, there’s a big difference. The whole question, “Whose fault is it?” is one we don’t want to address. We don’t want to make tiers: “You are a widow. Obviously, this is not your fault. There is nothing moral going on here. You and your children have simply suffered a tragedy.” “You are a single mother because your husband deserted you against your wishes. This is terribly unfortunate, but all the moral blame is on his side.” “You are a single mother because you were raped. By the way, why didn’t you place the baby for adoption? But never mind, the existence of the child is not the result of any fault on your side.” “You are a single mother because you had willing sex out of wedlock. That’s a problem. And by the way, why didn’t you place the baby for adoption?”

That’s all so darned judgemental.

William Luse says:
May 12, 2013 at 8:26 am (Edit)
That’s a good comment. I don’t have anything to add, except to reassert my disgust for the soft moral underbelly of modern so-called conservatism. Poke it sharply often enough and it will begin to behave the way it’s supposed to.

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