Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The marriage argument: children confer power: at least, that's the psychological reality
One of David Lynch’s films was called something like “Fire walk with me” and some of these “existential” discussions about personal values get to the same material from different “vantage points”. So it is today. I walk the reader through a few points that seem critical to me at the time. But my point is to make “the visitor” – and the politician – aware of “how other people think” before making simplistic arguments to win rights – even “my rights.” Later, probably in another posting, I’ll come back again to “what can I do about it.”
Point 1: In our “modern world” of the 21st Century, all the more post 9/11, most of us expect to have the freedom to establish and implement our own personal life goals. That idea seems like the heart of modern individualism. Yet, at the same time, we want our expressions to benefit other people. Beyond the mechanisms of the marketplace that get us to do that, many of us have a sense of obligation to family or to some community that help make us who we are. Societies expect a certain amount of sharing and emotional loyalty within various communities (especially nuclear families) in order to raise children, take care of generations, and provide some meaning and life context for those who, in the global world’s measure, remain “less competitive.” Within any person, there is a natural tension between these two sets of values.
Point 2: Within families, adult people without their own children (who disproportionately may be LGBT) are often called upon to take care of other people in their families. This may include especially eldercare for parents or disabled siblings, and sometimes can involve radical sacrifice and life-changing events, the willingness of which can have a real impact on parents' longevity. A number of films and television series (such as TheWB’s “Summerland”) have presented the situation where an unmarried and childless adult is asked to take over raising a sibling’s children after a family tragedy. NBC soap opera “Days of our Lives” had a curious sequence in with the single bookwork character Nick is goaded into temporarily becoming the “father” of another woman’s children/ In practice, family responsibility doesn’t wait for conception to incur. Sometimes it seems like it’s the other way around.
The media, in the past few years, has widely reported the need for adoptive and foster parents, for teachers; the number of jobs involving intimate personal care has increased relative to the market as a whole. And there may be new legal muscle: some states, fearing increase in Medicaid nursing home expenses, could start enforcing filial responsibility laws with respect to caring for parents and even sometimes blood or adoptive siblings.
Point 3: When people have children, they do create responsibility for themselves that they must fulfill. But they also create responsibility for others. That is why the act of sexual intercourse expresses a certain amount of power, and that is one reason why society wants to regulate it (with marriage), and one reason why, throughout history (especially with monarchy) it is considered a way to pass down power and property. Of course, in modern liberal democracy we expect to “do better.” Nevertheless, children could become the responsibilities of siblings. Parents could become the responsibilities of their adult children. This seems to give heterosexuals power over non-heterosexuals, and in a sense that’s inevitable. In the workplace (and in some other sensitive situations) the childless (and often the single) are often expected to defer to those with “more responsibility.” There is a call for “personal involvement” and “attachment” even from the “unattached” that seems unprecedented.
There is a way to level the playing field a bit, adjust the starting places on the concentric racetrack. Adopt. When heterosexual couples do this, they take on and create responsibilities comparable to giving birth themselves. But so can single people in most states. And in many states, so can gays (usually as singles, but sometimes as couples). A couple states do ban gay adoption.
The political case for gay adoption would depend on the willingness of heterosexual couples to step up and meet the “need”. So far, it seems as though the need is about four times as great as the supply. In practice, children raised by committed gay parents do as well as those by committed married straight parents. So this does sound like a “win-win” argument for gay marriage, like that advocated by Jonathan Rauch. But you have to get past the “birthright” argument, that every child is entitled to a parent of each sex. That sounds like a perfect-world wish and not a reality.
Point 4: This gets to be the most difficult part. Social conservatives make nebulous arguments about the “meaning” of complementary and institutionalized marital love as in the Song of Solomon. Part of this seems to have to do with the “power” that this love has by procreation and social approbation. They want to keep that power (over the less “mature” or competitive in the family, who remain tethered) as the “payoff” for “growing up.” But much of it seems to have to do with the idea that marital love transcends adolescence, with a fundamental change in heart that enables the married person to “perform” as expected in the family bed with his or her legal spouse for a lifetime. That "transcendental transition" into final adulthood seems to be a necessary condition for being a successful parent. Maybe. But some gay couples (even gay male couples) do experience the same growth process and result. Earlier blogs have covered that in conjunction with psychological polarity.
Point 5: This is all a bit heavy, to say that people owe part of their lives to others – especially family – before, even as adults, they can do what they want with their lives. It sounds like the law of karma. Of course, it matters when parents “reject” their kids. All kinds of other arguments matter. Some parents believe that their kids owe them grandchildren as evidence of “respect for life”. They may argue (like the Vatican) that one, when intimate, must be open to transmitting life in order to share the unpredictable risk and challenge that new life can bring. Really, these kinds of arguments are familiar. They came to be articulated after Stonewall on the far Left in collective terms (sometimes with calls for forced redistribution of wealth), with an obsession with what individual people “deserved” if they were divorced from any inherited wealth or privilege and could prove they had earned what they had and could share the burdens of others. This sort of argument drives with the idea that there is an obligation to share the obligations of defending freedom, even if specific wars (like Vietnam or Iraq) were immorally started, and even if a pure draft or conscription would constitute involuntary servitude. This line of thinking favors national service, and sees the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military as saying gays do not deserve equal rights because they do not share equal responsibility. Nice circularity. In fact, the military's argument regarding "forced intimacy" in military units brings up the specter (perhaps a canard) that the "presence" of gays in such circumstances would interfere with the "socialization" that enables most men to start and keep families.
Related posting on main blog Monday, here.