Friday, December 12, 2008

Gay Marriage and Why I am Sick of Talking About It

I have been absent from the blogosphere lately due to a number of reasons, including watching my (single, heterosexual) best friend have her baby and a recent conversation over at Opine Editorials and on my own blog.

I am attempting to sift through personal attacks and just plain mean-spirited, evasive responses to get to the real issues here in the gay marriage debate.

I am convinced now that the issue is much more complex than I originally thought and that many people can't see beyond their own prejudices on both sides of the issue.

The first, and most visible side to me (as a gay marriage advocate) is that of what we usually call "the homophobes." We see them in anonymous internet chat rooms, and as private citizens who vote against anything that has to do with giving gay people rights to form families, get married, or end job discrimination and hate crimes. Quite simply, they usually don't know any gay people, they have had a bad experience with one or two gay people, their religion tells them gay is wrong, or they just hate gay people because their parents and/or members of society taught them to and they never questioned it. Their reasons for wanting anti-gay measures to pass lie in the one fact that being gay is bad, sinful, perverse, or against the Bible or other major religious book.

These people are the reasons most of us LGBT folk (though not all) are fighting for equality. They are the ones we see in groups of 10 or so picketing gay pride parades and passing out Bible passages condemning homosexuality.

They enrage us, they incite us, and they often make us bitter.

Homophobes threaten our very existence. They would love for us to not exist, or at the very least, to be invisible to them and everyone else. They are oblivious to their own heterosexual privilege and see any attempt to normalize gay and lesbian relationships as a threat and "shoving sexuality in their faces." They see nothing wrong with making out with and groping their girlfriends or boyfriends in public while shunning a gay couple for walking down the sidewalk holding hands.

While these people are easy to counter and argue with, I don't believe they should be the sole reason to fight for gay marriage. In fact, I wish we could just ignore them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, because they rely so often on lies, defamation, and propaganda we can not ignore them. To ignore them would be giving up our voices to defend ourselves against their malicious attacks, as well as defending ourselves to the rest of society, to whom the homophobes are feeding misinformation.

Another set of anti gay marriage folks are the "gender integrationists." These folks are aplenty (or a couple) at Opine Editorials and elsewhere. They are the folks who insist on innate, immutable gender roles and the importance of a biological mommy and (most importantly) a daddy in every child's life regardless of circumstance. They often can not even acknowledge that sometimes (often, even) a biological mommy, daddy, baby situation just is not in the best interest of the child(ren) they claim to want to protect. They are also against gay couples adopting children on that same basis of them allegedly selfishly "intentionally depriving a child of a mother or father."

I would love to continue a discussion on gender roles. However, I am not inclined to discuss it with those who rely on knee-jerk reactions of "innate gender roles" without reputable evidence to back it up. Obviously, to me, gender is part biology/evolution and part social upbringing. Some things (like physical size and strength) are innate and biologically based, but many (like women belong in the home and only men should work) are not. Because there are biological differences in gender, I believe, is no reason to continue to perpetuate societal gender roles that have outgrown any evolutionary usefulness.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge that many boys may need a strong male role model in their lives, and girls a strong female role model. But I am not willing to discount gays and lesbians from adopting children on that basis alone, when role models can be people other than parents. I have seen the studies showing that adopted children of gay and lesbian families turn out just as "good" as those of heterosexual families.

I have also seen the many position statements that acknowledge this. Have our opponents?

Do they really attribute the entire body of scientific evidence regarding children raised by gay and lesbian parents to some vast liberal gay agenda?


I wonder why, if people claim to not be biased against gays and lesbians and not have ulterior motives, one would ignore all the most recent professional statements and research.

Sometimes it truly is hard to sift through the various agendas to get to what is really the heart of the matter. I am concerned that some of the fellas at Opine Editorials are either deceitful about their motives in the gay marriage debate, or not able to articulate what is important to them if they are so unwilling to concede what medical professionals and child welfare leagues are saying really is best for children.

That is where I misunderstand them a lot of the time.

It is true that our relationships demand the same respect as heterosexual relationships. Why? Because just as heterosexuals' romantic relationships and families are the epicenter of their lives, so are ours.

It is also true that gay marriage and federal, state, and local legal recognition of these relationships is one major step in the right direction towards true equality and lessening of discrimination, violence, and other unfair behaviors towards LGB (and sometimes T) people.

However, I now believe that one step in the fight for the end of discrimination is acknowledging that, on a basic level, gay couples will never be the same as straight couples in one major way: the ability to procreate.

Do I think this means that gay couples should be banned from marrying each other? No.

But I think if a change were to be made in the overall definition of marriage, there definitely needs to be a conversation regarding procreative rights, genetic engineering, and adoption.

Further because a change in the definition of marriage warrants discussion of these complex issues is NO reason to immediately deny the rights of gay people to get married on the basis of "it just being too complicated a discussion." I understand that many people are traditionalists and will automatically discount gay marriage on that basis alone. However, it just is not fair to continue to reward one type of romantic relationship legally and socially, while punishing another just as valid type. If one agrees that that type of relationship is valid and deserves respect. If one believes in human dignity.

Heterosexual couples, by their very nature, usually are able to biologically bear children that are genetically related to both parents. However, if they are not able to do so because of infertility, they can choose to undergo various fertility and/or family planning options, including artificial insemination, donor eggs, surrogate motherhood, adoption, and IVF treatment.

In that sense, a couple who undergoes any such treatment will usually only be biologically related to one parent. Or in the case of adoption, the child will not be related genetically to either parent. So it is my opinion that so long as heterosexual couples can legally pursue these methods of fertilization and family-planning, so should gay and lesbian couples be allowed. Regardless of whether their relationship is called "marriage," "domestic partnership," or "civil union."

As John Howard has brought up in previous blog comments, technology may be available in the future that allows same-sex conception of gametes that are genetically related (but we don't know how related) to both members of the couple.*

His major concerns with this technology appear to be that it is bad public health policy (resources diverted towards follow-up on children created this way, potential problems stemming from the new technology costing even more resources, poor segments of the population retaining the inheritable diseases while rich segments get to pick and choose their children's genetics, all that resulting in contempt for poor people and their natural diseases). As a public health person myself, I can acknowledge that these, finally, seem like real issues in the gay marriage debate.

If this truly is what many people fear with the passage of gay marriage, though, then why not shift the focus from defamation of gay people to one of a discussion on genetic engineering? Further, genetic engineering also does not only include gay and lesbian couples. Nor do I think that any of this should preclude a gay and lesbian couple from equal marriage rights. I think a compromise could be reached that banned gay couples from conceiving genetically engineered children together (until more is known on the topic) and still giving them legal benefits and protections, as well as adoption rights and the same rights to fertility treatments that heterosexual couples have.

I don't think many people have even thought that far ahead from their own knee-jerk disgust with gays and lesbians.

I would LOVE for the discussion to, for once, go beyond that. I would love to learn more about genetic engineering.

I guess I am just bored with arguing about and justifying my relationship to people who will never understand what being gay truly means.

But I would like this article to open a peaceful discussion on genetic engineering if anyone is interested.

[I am purposefully ignoring John Howard's sentence for the time being: "We also need to figure out how to produce fewer gay people who are unable to love someone they can have kids with."]


C. L. Hanson said...

The question of genetic engineering is potentially troubling, but I think it's a bit of a red herring in the gay marriage debate: I doubt anyone's position on gay marriage really rests on it.

I think your earlier point on gender roles is key. From my (straight-biased) perspective, I think that gay marriage is a symbolic issue for many voters as a referendum on traditional gender roles and on how families have evolved over the past few decades. (Actually, we had some interesting discussion on how families have evolved and on adaptive strategies on Rational Moms here.) Gay families unfortunately are bearing the brunt of the fear and hostility people feel towards change -- as a minority, gay people are the easiest target to hit, legally speaking. This is one reason why it's critical for all feminists to stand up for gay rights 110%.

Jane Know said...

thanks for stopping by.

I have been weighing the issue over and over in my head for the past couple weeks. And the more I read, the more convinced I am that it is actually a red herring in the gay marriage debate. Especially reading some of John Howard's recent statements over at that other blog: ( "And there are lots of reasons that people might be unable to love someone of the other sex to the point where it would be wrong for them to marry, by the way, not just because they have same-sex attraction. They could also be angry, neurotic, abusive, narcissistic, prone to cheating, a pedophile, a necromaniac, a zoophile, or just still fixated on their high school crush or an imaginary perfect person, etc."

The minute I'm compared to a necromaniac is usually the minute I stop listening. Though, for the record, I am trying to keep an open mind, despite the horrible analogies.

Like you, CLH, I am starting to believe that the REAL core resistance to gay marriage lies in sexism and gender roles, something that by default most gay and lesbian couples transcend or at least take no part in. I ventured over to the article you linked to, very interesting. While on break from school I may read it.

Fannie said...

I don't think many "marriage defenders" have thought about genetic engineering all that much. Honestly, I think you're being a bit more hospitable to John Howard than he warrants.

What is most threatening about the legalization of same-sex marriage, of course, is that it would send a loud and clear message that "gender roles" are out-dated, artificial social creations. These are often the same people who are opposed to Title IX because women are "inherently" not interested in sports. These are the same people who often want women to stay at home and raise the babies because women are "inherently" unfit for the public sphere.

Give me a break, these ideas are dying dinosaurs. You cite actual professionals, Jane, and that's good. But it's not likely to convince those for whom these ideas are very threatening. You'll notice, in comment threads, the apparent teeth-gnashing desperation of some of these "marriage defenders" to cling to their outdated notions of gender differences. They pretty much just close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and repeat "marriage requires a man and a woman" over and over again as though saying it often enough makes it true.

MrsWaltz said...

I think you've found the heart of this issue: I haven't seen/heard a single "pro-traditional marriage" blogger who has managed to hide his/her desperation to cling to the gender roles he/she holds dear. I didn't see it at first, myself, but then one of them posted some dreck about how feminism is "ruining" everything. If I hadn't already been convinced that this fight belonged to me - even though I'm "straight" (what the hell does that mean, anyway?) and already married - that would have done it. It's not that big a leap from "We can't have you gay people getting married and having people think that's okay" to "We can't have you working women calling yourselves 'mothers' when your kids are in daycare while you selfishly pursue a career." I, for one, am not letting their assertions get to their logical conclusion, where they get to vote on whether MY marriage should remain "privileged" because my husband mops the floors and I take out the garbage.
It makes me wonder if, at heart, we are dealing with groups of people who are so insecure in this changing world that they cannot bear the idea of a world in which their family structure is simply one of many valid choices, instead of being privileged and special.
For the record: in my opinion, you should walk away from Opine and never look back. Mr. Howard, whether he realizes it or not, is advocating eugenics. That puts him in some great company (um, not.) And although the rest of the OE team likes to claim that they are merely coming to the debate with objective, scientific perspectives, the fact that they will ONLY consider research that validates their stance is evidence enough of their prejudice. They're well aware of the fact that they are advocating to continue the marginalization of the GLBT community because they take such pains to legitimize their position as "objective." I know it's important to attempt to connect with people in order to change minds but you will NEVER connect with the OE team; they are simply using your thoughtful comments as a reason to trot out the same research over and over and bludgeon you with it.
The internet works as a medium for their side, because people who want to believe they are not bigots can point to OE's research and say "See, it's just not good for society." However, for those of us fighting for equality, the only people we're going to reach via internet are those who already agree with us. We need face-to-face connections, so that people can actually picture the face of someone they know when they step into the voting booth. This is where, in my opinion, your heteronormative allies need to step up their game. I, for one, am determined to stop censoring myself so as not to "offend" people. *I* am offended that the hegemony of America expects everyone else to be invisible and I won't contribute to that lack of visibility any longer.

Jane Know said...

thank you for the comment. I agree that perhaps I have given Mr. Howard a bit too much hospitality especially in light of his recent comments about gay people, and the insinuation that they should be, in essence, exterminated from society. I just don't see the point in continuing to be mean and negative to one another, I don't need that in my life. And it's not there, except during anonymous internet arguments with complete strangers.

Waltz, thank you so much for stopping by. Do you have a blog of your own? I would love to see it if so, however your profile doesn't show up when I click on your name. :-) You are correct, of course, that I should leave the OE guys alone and never look back. I think that is a very good idea. They, quite simply, are too negative towards me and LGBT people in general. They have said some pretty horrible things about people they don't even take the time to get to really know. And, as you say, they perpetuate the hatred and continuing marginalization of our entire community (though they often shriek that they are not, their articles say otherwise).

Anyway, thank you for stopping by.

Jane Know said...

Mrs. Waltz, forgive me. You've been here before and I just realized that. I emailed you back. Thanks!

Seda said...

You raise some great points. The direction you're talking about taking the discussion makes a lot of sense to me. Of course, I come from the basis of assuming all people are of equal value and share the same inherent dignity.

I do think, though, that the "T"s are subject to just as much violence as the rest of the LGB-. Sometimes it seems like it's specially focused on us, perhaps because we're so visible.

Ms. Waltz,
You may be right about the need for face-to-face connection. Certainly that is the place of greatest power. Yet I retain hopes for the power of the internet and the blogosphere, as well. I have made some surprising friends this way. :-)

Be well, all.

Jane Know said...

Seda, I put the "T's" in parentheses because gay marriage is something that more so affects (cis- or trans-gender) gay and lesbian couples than trans people who are heterosexual (who, once they legally change their gender can get married to their preferred sex).

I definitely agree that trans people, in general, suffer more violence than gays and lesbians. So I did not mean to imply that they don't. Though I may have still put my foot in my mouth. Marriage equality is probably a step in the right direction for ALL of us...

Ash said...

I would agree that equal marriage rights are of significant interest to most transpeople, straight-identified or not.

Lots of us would like to get married without having to wait until we have the money for surgery--some of us aren't going to transition surgically at all--and with few exceptions, that's a prerequisite for legally changing genders. Kansas requires a phalloplasty to recognize me as male--I'm not even allowed to choose the surgery I think makes the most sense!

Also, Texas is the frontrunner in the race to strip straight transfolk of the right to marry.

We are all in this together.

Jane Know said...

Ash, I agree. And in actuality, I don't know any transmen or transwomen who are not supportive of marriage equality, or who distance themselves from the issue. In light of your point about Texas wanting to strip straight trans people of their right to marry, I didn't know that.

You are right. We are definitely all in this together.

Thank you for stopping by and contributing your knowledge!

John Howard said...

Cool, Jane, you rock.

If this truly is what many people fear with the passage of gay marriage, though, then why not shift the focus from defamation of gay people to one of a discussion on genetic engineering?

I think people fear GE in a very abstract way, but they think it's too soon to voice that fear. It's still too science fictiony, so they keep that fear internalized and repressed and might not even realize they fear it. It just is a subconscious queesy feeling, which surfaces as irrational defamation. That's my guess. Also, people tend to follow the existing parameters of the debate.

Further, genetic engineering also does not only include gay and lesbian couples.

Right, but only same-sex couples would have to use it to conceive together. Male-female couples should be banned from GE too, but that wouldn't affect their right to conceive together with their unmodified genes.

Nor do I think that any of this should preclude a gay and lesbian couple from equal marriage rights.

That would change marriage, it would mean that it didn't protect the right to conceive together with the couples own genes. So far, every time couple has gotten married, they have been allowed to attempt to conceive together immediately.

I think a compromise could be reached that banned gay couples from conceiving genetically engineered children together (until more is known on the topic) and still giving them legal benefits and protections, as well as adoption rights and the same rights to fertility treatments that heterosexual couples have.

Right, but call the unions Civil Unions and define them as marriage minus conception rights. If we decided later to allow same-sex conception, then we'd change them all to marriages. But we shouldn't ever do that, for those public health reasons, and the more we consider the ban on GE permanent, the more we stand to gain from it.

Mr. Howard, whether he realizes it or not, is advocating eugenics.

How do you figure, Mrs Waltz? I am trying to preserve everyone's right to marry the person of their choice using their own genes, and to preserve that, we have to stop GE (and gamete donation, eventually).

And let me assure you that I'm not saying gays should be exterminated when I say society should minimize the number of people unable to love someone of the other sex. I don't advocate conversion therapy either. I'm talking about children growing up today and tomorrow, who should not be taught that it doesn't matter if they are gay or straight, because it does matter in the respect that only by being straight will they be able to have children with the person that they love. That is not something everyone has to do, but it should be something everyone is raised to be capable of doing, since it is a fundamental right. We can see that when people are gay, they still want to have children, and thus they push for technologies and methods that lead to eugenic practices like gamete selection and genetic engineering. It's only right that if we are going to curtail those options, then we should try to help people be straight, which I think is quite possible sometimes, especially if they aren't already gay. Not always, but that's why I say minimize.

Jane Know said...

"So far, every time couple has gotten married, they have been allowed to attempt to conceive together immediately."

And yet, it doesn't take a marriage license to legally concieve children together. Marriage doesn't give people that right, biology does.

That is why I think the concept of GE does not have to involve a discussion of gay marriage.

As of now, gay couples can neither procreate biologically nor with GE. So gay marriage has nothing to do with GE.

If the time comes that developments are made allowing gay couples to conceive children together, then we will deal with it then. But I don't think that something that, right now, is speculation and theory, should preclude allowing gays to get married.

John Howard said...

Nope, that's unacceptable, it strips me of my basic civil right to conceive, because it equates it with my right to do genetic engineering and says "maybe we'll let you maybe we won't". No, my right to conceive is not up in the air like that.

It's super important that no marriages are prohibited from conceiving children together using their own genes. Saying that we can still have same-sex marriages and not allow them to attempt to conceive children together is a huge, major change to marriage. It has nothing to do with whether or not people are allowed to conceive children outside of marriage (and I certainly don't think there is any such right, but that's a different discussion), what is important is that people have a right to conceive children WITHIN marriage. But you are saying that a married man and woman should have the same right to conceive children together that two women should have, which is ridiculous and scary. No, I should have a right to conceive with a wife, I shouldn't be subjected to risk assessments or qualifications, and I shouldn't be allowed to conceive with a man.

We should only allow people to conceive with someone of the other sex, and we should have Civil Unions now for same-sex couples that are defined as marriage minus conception rights. That way marriage still protects the right to conceive children together. And if we ever decide to allow same-sex conception, then we should allow marriage (and change CU's to marriages), so that marriage continues to allow the couple to conceive children together.

Why pretend that you have the same right - today - to conceive with a woman that you do with a man? This concession should be the basis on which to reach a compromise that gets CU's federally recognized and established in all 50 states. Isn't that more important than equal conception rights?

John Howard said...

Marriage doesn't give people that right, biology does.

Biology lets a brother and sister conceive, it lets a father and daughter conceive, etc. And if same-sex conception were to happen, it would be a biological process too. It's not a question of "can they conceive", it is a question of "can they conceive ethically".

Jane Know said...

"Nope, that's unacceptable, it strips me of my basic civil right to conceive, because it equates it with my right to do genetic engineering and says "maybe we'll let you maybe we won't". No, my right to conceive is not up in the air like that."

But gay marriage doesn't strip you of your right to concieve. I am worried that you are so lost in your obsession that you can't look at this very objectively. (especially in light of your comments that seem to advocate for the genocide of gay people).

Heterosexual couples in Massachussettes are still concieving children together, even with the advent of gay marriage. No one's rights are stripped.

Gay marriage does not change the definition of marriage to say "Heterosexual couples can not concieve children together."

That is a biological law that has nothing to do with marriage. Allowing gays to get married does not change anything about a biological law, nor does it change the legal rights that heterosexual couples already have.

If I were convinced that you truly cared about gay people, in fact also did not advocate for the end of all gay people as I have seen you do, it would be more believable that this (gay marriage) were not just a blind paranoid obsession of yours.

I see that you will never change your mind on the issue. That you are, as you have said, obsessed with a sperm and egg law. That's not gonna change.

I don't have much time in the next couple of days to be on the blogosphere, but I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.

John Howard said...

I'm sorry if I seem to be repeating myself, I am trying to adjust my phrasing each time to your questions or points, but yeah, I'm absolutely trying to express the same point.

Gay marriage does not change the definition of marriage to say "Heterosexual couples can not conceive children together."

That's because currently there is no law saying same-sex couples cannot conceive together, so marriage currently protects the right to conceive as much as it has always done. But if we enact a law that in effect forbids same-sex conception, as you seem to agree we should (right?), then that combination of laws would re-write the definition of marriage from its unwritten meaning of allowing the couple to use their own genes to conceive, to a new implied definition that a marriage can be prohibited from using their own genes to conceive.

So as you say, gay marriage wouldn't say that all marriages no longer had a right to conceive, but the combination of same-sex marriage and a ban on same-sex conception would mean a marriage can be prohibited from using their own genes.

As you seem to recognize, currently, that isn't true, all marriages are allowed to conceive, and only some relations are not allowed to marry or conceive together, even where biology would totally allow them to conceive together, like siblings, step-siblings, minors, etc. But as you seem to recognize, when a couple is allowed to marry, society never prohibits them from using their own genes to conceive children together. There aren't any laws that say people with genes for CF or Breast Cancer must substitute better genes or have their fixed, because we recognize it is a right of marriage to use their own genes. But after ten years of gay marriages not being allowed to use their own genes, people would forget that right used to exist, and we'd allow states to make eugenic laws like that.

Perhaps we'd make mandating that people that carry a CF gene must use donor gametes or have it "fixed" with GE if they need fertility services. Or people that are below an income threshold or IQ threshold cannot access IVF services, or that a law that promoted voluntary eugenics.

Why are you insisting on marriage when you have accepted that same-sex couples should not have equal rights? This is an opportunity to define CU's in such a way that can get them passed.