Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gay marriage and gay parenting: how would the debate go in a world where participation in parenting is almost "mandatory"?

I’ve noticed an increase of “chatter”, particularly on the web but also in some books published on both the Left and Right, to the effect that parenting and eldercare are experiences that should be expected of everyone, regardless of a particular choice to marry and/or have children. The prevalence of this view has increased particularly in the past five or six years, and certainly since 9/11. But, really, the Vatican's teaching (not often followed by its own clergy) that sexuality should occur only in the context of openness to the risks and responsibilities of procreation (from marriage) is a way of expressing this "requirement."

Yesterday, I posted a story about this on my “issues” blog and speculated about the connection to the gay marriage and gay parenting legal debates (not just Proposition 8 in California but all over the country), and I also posted a story on this blog about the connection between the gay marriage debate and “respect for autonomy” of those who don’t marry or parent.

True, I did grow up in an environment, back in the 50s, post World War II and somewhat influenced by the Cold War and McCarthyism, where the possibility that “less competitive men” (like me) then might “get out of things” was a major part of the “moral climate”, much more so then than even twenty years later, by the late 1970s. This had been a time (until 1973) when there had existed a military draft (note, link to the debate today on “don’t ask don’t tell” and even security clearances), and when the possibility of student deferments had reigned as a major source of social class tensions.

For the most part, the mainstream moral rhetoric of the late 80s and 90s, through the 9/11 period, has stressed the responsibility that comes when people do have children because of their own acts. (I remember a speech to that effect by Barbara Bush at the 1992 Republican Convention.) More recently, the debate has stressed the long term sustainability (and frankly political) risk of lower birth rates (especially among more affluent populations), partly driven by a society that offers expressive career opportunities (especially for women, as well as gay men) that trump parenting (or at least cause it to be postponed) and partly by the extreme cost of raising kids, as well as emphasis on absolute responsibility. The right wing claims that social security and Medicare also reduce the obligation for families to take care of themselves (for children to take care of their parents), but the right wing seems to ignore the fact that social security is set up as a forced annuity, where your benefits depend on your own and your spouse’s earnings (and, yes, gay spouses have yet to be included). The right wing especially wants to construct tax policy to penalize people for deliberately remaining childless to avoid the “risk” and “responsibility”. The Left sometimes gets on the idea that richer people “get out of”(or buy their way out of) the hands on experience of personal eldercare, which may fall more on people who never had their own children. Both the Left and Right may start urging budget-strapped states to enforce filial responsibility laws, which may hit the childless particularly hard.

It’s clear that this development belongs in the debate on gay marriage and gay parenting. How does surrogate parenting (for gay couples) fit into the idea of a “responsibility” to create and provide a next generation? Will states like Florida finally end their opposition to gay adoption? Will it become an expectation?

Twenty or so years ago, most gay men looked at their lives as somewhat their own and separated from the world of “families”, which was seen often through the libertarian lens of making and following through on strictly personal, private choices (having or not having children). But that seems to be changing.

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