Monday, July 5, 2010

Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on Red vs. Blue Families: Same-Sex Marriage as a Model for Effective Marriage

I’m intrigued by Alternet’s synopsis of Naomi Cahn and June Carbone’s just-published book Red Families v. Blue Families (NY: Oxford UP, 2010).  The synopsis (and the book on which it focuses) intrigue me because, for the first time that I can remember, a major book on contemporary American families is suggesting that families headed by same-sex parents may be role models for traditional families.

At least, that’s how I’m reading the evidence.  Cahn and Carbone’s study focuses on the considerable stress that red-state families, in which the traditional model predominates, are now experiencing.  They’re experiencing stress for all kinds of reasons.  Economic downturn affects these traditional red-state families more than families in the blue states because red-state couples tend to marry younger and to offer their children fewer alternatives, when it comes to sex education and contraception. 

And so the model of child raising in these traditional families replicates the economic problems that have affected the parental generation, by assuring that yet another generation assumes the responsibility of family life at a younger age than is the norm in blue-state families.  At a young age in which it is far more difficult for a family to achieve economic stability and to receive strong education . . . .

Traditional red-state families also tend to adopt authoritarian postures to deal with children’s testing of boundaries, including in sexual areas.  They look to church and the legal system to reinforce parental authority, which prohibits sexual experimentation among the young and forces the young to bear the consequences of such experimentation by withholding contraceptives (and sexual education that goes beyond “just say no”) from sexually active teens.

When that authoritarian model breaks down within the family itself, due to divorce or the failure of one or both parents to parent effectively, or to lack of reinforcement from the church and the legal system, families fall apart.  Ironically, in the red states of the U.S., with their highly traditional and “religious” family structures, divorce and family fragmentation are more pronounced than in the “lax” and less “religious” blue states.

In the “lax” and less “religious” blue states in which gay unions and gay marriage are more widely accepted than in the traditional and “religious” red states . . . .

And so my conclusion: same-sex marriages are now becoming models for what successful marriage and family life are all about for those parts of the U.S. most adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and families on religious grounds.  As the traditional model of marriage falls apart in those parts of the U.S., the model of marriage and family that has been developed in the blue states—including same-sex marriage—may soon become the model that we all have to study, if we expect to sustain the institution of marriage and family in the U.S.

I doubt that this is a conclusion that many advocates of traditional marriage are going to be happy to reach.  At the same time, I think it is an increasingly necessary conclusion—and I believe Cahn and Carbone’s analysis points in this direction.