There’s been a lot of fussing over this statement, written by some LGBT activists, which calls for a broader debate over what kind of families will be recognized by the government. Here’s a sample:
To have our government define as “legitimate families” only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families, kinship networks, households, and relationships. For example, who among us seriously will argue that the following kinds of households are less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy?
· Senior citizens living together, serving as each other’s caregivers, partners, and/or constructed families
· Adult children living with and caring for their parents
· Grandparents and other family members raising their children’s (and/or a relative’s) children
· Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner
· Blended families
· Single parent households
· Extended families (especially in particular immigrant populations) living under one roof, whose members care for one another
· Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households
· Close friends and siblings who live together in long-term, committed, non-conjugal relationships, serving as each other’s primary support and caregivers
· Care-giving and partnership relationships that have been developed to provide support systems to those living with HIV/AIDS
Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. While we honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal – for some, also a deeply spiritual – choice, we believe that many other kinds of kinship relationship, households, and families must also be accorded recognition.
I’m pretty much in agreement with this entire statement. The world isn’t limited to two-person couples who want to get married; there are other kinds of families, and they are also deserving of legal and economic support. Frankly, to me this seems like a no-brainer.
But obviously not everyone feels that way. Anti-gay-rights activists – from relatively moderate opponents of equal rights, like Elizabeth Marquardt, to full-on anti-gay extremists, like the folks at the American Family Association, are claiming that this statement shows the “real agenda” of “tak[ing marriage] apart.” Here’s Elizabeth’s take:
What do I find both amusing and infuriating about all this? The dance. The same people who want to extend marriage to same-sex couples are quite often the same people who want to take the thing apart, redefining and inflating it in ways that attempt to cover all sorts of human needs with virtually no regard for one of the most basic: the need for children, whenever possible, to be raised by the mom and dad who made them. For a while, the “take the thing apart” folks have been operating full steam ahead in academia and fringe advocacy but getting little attention elsewhere.
But what the “Beyond Marriage” statement calls for is not an expansion of marriage (although it leaves open the question of expanding marriage to same-sex couples), but for legal recognition of non-marital families, in ways other than marriage.
How is saying “forms of family other than marriage deserve recognition” anti-marriage? This is a consistent (although not universal) logical flaw in the so-called “marriage movement”; they see family as a zero-sum game, and believe that if any family form other than their own is given any respect or recognition, that will cause dire harm to their own families.
It’s true, as Elizabeth says, that most children will be best off being raised by their own parents. But nothing in the “Beyond Marriage” statement denies that. Once again, Elizabeth sees a zero-sum game where none exists: recognizing and caring about support systems for children raised by same-sex parents, or in shared households, does not require in any way that we stop caring about or stop providing legal and economic support for children being raised in conventional nuclear families.
It’s also notable that Elizabeth herself supports “civil unions” for same-sex couples (although she rarely mentions this support except when she’s arguing against marriage equality). So when the Beyond Marriage folks propose that family forms other than marriage be given legal recognition, that’s “taking the thing apart” and bad; but when Elizabeth proposes that family forms other than marriage be given legal definition, why is that any different?
The American Family Association statement is, as you’d expect, a good deal less intelligent and sophisticated:
Pro-Homosexual Marriage Proponents Go Public With Their Agenda
We have repeatedly said the agenda of those pushing homosexual marriage will lead to polygamy and a total devaluation of marriage. Not content with “the narrow terms of the marriage debate,” the pro-homosexual advocates are now declaring, “Legal recognition for a wide rage of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.” They also demand, “Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs, including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance, and welfare assistance.”
In short, they want to totally redefine our society by eliminating the very concepts of marriage and family, and the battle to redefine traditional marriage is just the beginning. The proponents of homosexual “marriage” admit it and they have posted their manifesto online.
The big error the AFA makes, that Elizabeth doesn’t, is to implicitly assume that all homosexuals share an “agenda.” This is, of course, a common view of bigots. A non-bigoted person, when seeing that queer group X produces a statement which in some ways disagrees with the statements put out by queer group Y, would come to the conclusion that queer group Y and queer group X disagree on some issues. In contrast, a bigot like the AFA writer assumes that all queer groups agree on everything, and any apparent disagreement indicates that there is a unified “real agenda,” and that statements from queer groups that don’t agree with this “real agenda” are lies. (Oh, those tricksy trisksy queer groups!)
But note also what Elizabeth and the AFA share in common: the zero-sum mentality, which falsely assumes that the very act of recognizing or respecting “alternative” family arrangements will do terrible harm to “conventional” families.
UPDATE: Check out this response to the AFA and other hard-right anti-gay groups at Good As You.
UPDATE 2: Amanda at Pandagon comments:
Naturally, conservatives are claiming that this is evidence that progressives are trying to tear down traditional marriage. But what I noticed about the family types that conservatives are giving the hairy eye to and claiming shouldn’t have full rights as bona fide families is that they are often family arrangements that are made by people who are not WASPs and/or people who don’t have the financial means to divide up into households based around a straight couple, a gaggle of kids, and a white picket fence.
In other words, conservatives oppose opening up the meaning of the word “family” for reasons other than strict sexism, but in fact have very classist motivations. They want special rights for family living arrangements that are often only available to people of means. The fetishizing of the housewife is the biggest clue that this is about proclaiming that people of means are morally superior to people without, but beyond that, everything about the culture wars starts with the assumption that middle class WASP culture is morally superior to all others and that everyone else should aspire (or be forced to aspire) to the lifestyle of our social superiors.
Now I’m not saying that people who do have nuclear families are morally inferior by any means. Just that they are not morally superior to other people, and yet it’s still largely assumed that the nuclear family is the morally superior option, even though the expense and burden of it is too much for some of us. It’s the 21st century and it’s still so widely assumed that male-dominated nuclear families are so morally superior to the rabble that it’s still traditional for politicians to trot out the wife and kids in front of the camera to assure Americans that they are morally strong enough to be leaders. Single mothers, people who live with friends, people who live with extended families all need not apply.
[Crossposted at Creative Destruction, where the moderation is lighter and all the children are above average.]
- New M. V. Lee Badgett paper: Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage?
- Two Questions for Same-Sex Marriage Opponents
- Same-sex marriage: that's what it's all about
- Marriage Equality Opponents on Civil Unions, Then and Now
- Washington: Second court rules for marriage equality.