The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
At the end of June, a majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court announced that the Fourteenth Amendment requires every state to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Following a line of cases from the 1960s codifying the principles of the sexual revolution, the Court announced that the Constitution “includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.” The Court’s previous cases, the majority continued, established that “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”
Arguments presented in defense of the challenged marriage laws had highlighted concerns about the impact of redefining marriage on children. The Court majority argued the converse would be true: “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.”
This passage requires some looking into. Notice the sleight of hand in phrases like “their children” or “their families” or “unmarried parents” or “children of same-sex couples.” The reality, of course, is that children in households headed by same-sex couples are not living with “their parents.” At least one of their parents has been excluded from the household. Every child has a mother and father. In a household headed by two men, a child necessarily lacks his or her own mother.
If propounding this elemental misstatement gives the majority any pause, they do not let on.
That this kind of thinking would go basically unremarked and unchallenged is the reality that prompted the essays collected by the editors of Jephthah’s Daughters. In his preface, Robert Oscar Lopez explains: “This book is not for or against gay marriage. It is rather an uncensored chronicle of everything other than gay marriage, which has gone wrong because of how marriage changed.”
Dr. Lopez posits that “same-sex marriage has been, and is, a social disaster.” From the preface:
It required changing laws, culture, and global relations in multiple bad directions. Sex and gender had to be uncoupled from one another, sometimes through dangerous surgery, sometimes through Orwellian language policing. Sexual choices and self-mastery had to be replaced by biological determinism and peer pressure. Free will itself was discredited in favor of being “born this way.” Self-determination was mandated (for transsexuals) or forbidden (to ex-gays), depending on how one’s urge to change oneself matched the identity politics of opinionated elites. . . . Ancient life cycles were overturned for fashionable social theories less than a decade old. Childhood had to be hyper-sexualized. Parenthood had to be totally de-sexualized and replaced with systems of buying and selling offspring. Science and academic research fell prey to groupthink, false assertions, and consensus by duress. Schools, courts, city halls and popular culture faced catastrophic reprisal if they did not agree to promote the fallacies used to justify the same-sex marriage movement.
In 50 short chapters, nearly half written by Dr. Lopez, each of these impacts are addressed. In a collection such as this, the quality of the chapters will necessarily be uneven; the book makes no claim to being a comprehensive treatise. At times, it is almost chaotic, but at its best it is a strong indictment of the willful blindness evident in most mainstream discussions of the campaign to redefine marriage.
The uniqueness of the book’s account stems from the fact that the primary authors and editors themselves grew up in homes with a parent in a same-sex relationship and have decided to share their experiences and reflections. Thus, many chapters are very personal, and at times, emotionally wrenching.
The lead editor, Robert Oscar Lopez, was raised by his mother and her partner after his mother and father divorced. In 2012, he read about a study by sociologist Mark Regnerus on adults who had lived for part or all of their childhoods in homes with a parent in a same-sex relationship. The study found these children faced significant deficits as compared to children raised by their own married mother and father. His own experience resonated with these findings, and he courageously began to speak out. For this, he has faced savage attacks, including a campaign to intimidate his employer.
Others with similar backgrounds began to share their experiences, and some who had done so previously began to receive attention. Eventually, some of these individuals submitted an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, which apparently had little effect.
While the essays cover a great deal of ground, the most compelling accounts and arguments relate to the effects of marriage’s deconstruction on children.
Changes in patterns of family formation, the rise of divorce, and most recently the effort to redefine marriage in the name of equality have all contributed to the tragic shift the book decries, and which is evident in the Supreme Court’s elision of natural parents in its recent marriage decision. Once there was a broadly accepted legal and social recognition that since all children have a mother and a father, it is incumbent on society to encourage the man and woman who create a child to take responsibility for that child and for one another, and to foster and protect those bonds.
As this recognition has faded, displaced by an exaggerated emphasis on adult interests in self-fulfillment, the sense of what is owed children has eroded. Rather than understanding marriage as a way of fostering the child’s entitlement to a real bond with his or her own married mother and father, marriage is increasingly understood as a vehicle for the government to confer dignity on and facilitate two (for now) individuals’ parallel projects of self-definition and self-expression.
The fatal pivot, endorsed by legal and cultural elites, is from a child’s entitlement to a mother and father to adults’ “right to a child.” The book points out that this process inevitably requires the acceptance of practices like surrogacy, which allow couples who would be unable to create a child together to acquire a child from another parent, often in a commercial transaction rife with exploitation. We now have another anomaly: a class of fathers—euphemistically labeled “donors”—who are relieved of their obligation to support the children they create.
With the imposition of “marriage equality,” the law will increasingly facilitate such arrangements by, as one contributor describes it, “granting parental dibs to real parents’ sexual partners.” It is not the mere access to the child being sought, but the legal status of “parent.” In order to ensure that marriages of couples who cannot provide a mother and father to a child are treated as precisely the same as those that can, the law will have to make further adjustments.
Indeed, just three weeks after the Supreme Court had announced the redefinition of marriage, a federal court ordered the state of Utah to place the names of two women on a child’s birth certificate as “parents.” The judge reportedly found this an easy case since, in the words of a reporter, he could see “no legitimate reason to treat a woman in a same-sex marriage differently than a man in an opposite-sex marriage.” Apparently, he had no concerns about treating a child differently by depriving her of any legal opportunity to be reared by a father.
In her very fine introduction to the book’s section on children, Alana Stewart gets to the heart of the problem: “the real enemy is selfishness and self-centeredness.” She notes that “pride and selfishness recur as the central conflict in all of our stories.” This stems from the reality that “the nuclear family of our popular imagination is not entirely natural—it requires sacrifice.” That sacrifice is something many of us adults are increasingly unwilling to make: “our parents’ greatest sin is that they worshipped pleasure above all other goods.”
Thus responding to the indictment of these authors will require far more than fixing laws. It will require a renaissance of a robust ethic of obligation—a moral imperative to do what must be done for the sake of others, especially our children, even if that means foregoing some options.
With the Supreme Court’s bald repudiation of this ethic in favor of vague promises of genderless self-creation, we have our work cut out for us.
William C. Duncan is the Director of the Marriage Law Foundation.