Saturday, December 13, 2008
Gay Equality, Childlessness, and Single People: related, though not identical, issues
Yesterday I took another look at my “instance” on an older book, by Elinor Burkett, “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless,” published back in 2000 by the Free Press. I had reviewed in on my books blog in March 2006.
I notice a startling passage on p 113, written by an upper-class married woman (Michelle Gaboury) and feminist. It goes like this:
“Children are an investment in the future…There are a lot of risks for people who have kids. Having a family is outrageously expensive. Maybe the childless take the brunt in some ways, but this isn’t about justice. It’s about living in a community.”
Burkett goes on to discuss the paradox of a newer economic consciousness within feminism: that women give up other economic alternatives to have families. But so do men.
A couple pages later, Burkett mentions an economist at Florida A&M who wants to implement a “personal sovereignty tax” (my term) on adults (particularly the childless, I think) to divert some income back to their parents as payback for raising them, or perhaps a lead in to filial responsibility for parents in old age. (28 states have filial responsibility laws, also called poor laws, which so far have been rarely enforced, but that’s likely to change given today’s demographics.) Other measures with similar ultimate effects would be to greatly increase tax credits for dependents, especially minor children.
By and large, although this has changed somewhat in recent years (even with surrogate parenting) gay men in particular have remained childless (although some were married with kids and then divorces). The equality argument, often made to sound like a matter of ideology purity, sometimes gives way to practical considerations about retaining democracy and freedom, especially when it is challenged by external instabilities (like now).
Then there exists that other ideological buttress for gay rights, immutability, or non-choice. Intellectually, as I’ve said, this is unsatisfying for comparative reasons. With gay men, there are several factors that occur in various combinations. One is (sometimes) a disinclination to compete well in the “manly” skills that would enable one to provide preferentially for women and children. A more common factor is a dislike of the gratuitous emotional pampering (at least that it is perceived as coddling) that underlies the social supports of the traditional family (and marriage), and the perceived loss of self and of “personal sovereignty”. A third, more positive factor, is a desire for a “creative” relationship with another adult outside of the realm of social supports (the “polarities” theory).
Along those lines, Gaboury’s idea of “living in a community” sounds scary but it rings true (even coming from an apparent political liberal). The gay person sees this as a warrant to give the parents heading a nuclear family authority to create responsibilities for their kids even into adulthood in order to fit them into a “community” that will protect everyone when individualism “fails” because of external challenges.
And we come back to “gay marriage”. While all the usual arguments (for it) are valid from a social justice point of view, regarding gay couples and their dependents (when they do have them), the practical problem is more fundamental: people who do not marry and/or have their own children (preferably both together) are often called upon to sacrifice for the sake of those who do, and remain silent about it (particularly in the workplace, where the matter is a terrible issue for some employers). The practical solution for many single people is to do well enough in life so that it isn’t a problem to take care of others even when the “burdens” weren’t create by one’s own choices. But that certainly isn’t equality, although it may fit into “living in a community.” We could return to a time when children really become “assets”.