Monday, June 18, 2012

Mark Regnerus's New Study of "Gay" Parenting and Ross Douthat on Gay Marriage and Severing Marriage from Procreation

As he comments on Mark Regnerus's badly conceived and badly executed recent study of "gay" parenting, which isn't actually about gay parents at all and which was bought and paid for by two well-heeled right-wing foundations, one of them closely associated with the National Organization for Marriage, Ross Douthat writes,

And the near-universal liberal optimism on the subject notwithstanding, we don’t really know how straight culture will be influenced on the long run by the final, formal severing of marriage from procreation.

I have news for Douthat: the "final, formal severing of marriage from procreation" occurred quite some time ago in Western cultures.  And that severing had not a whit to do with the marriage of people of the same gender.  It took place prior to the advent of marriage equality, in fact.

Throughout the 20th century, birth rates were declining in almost all the developed sectors of the world, and they declined precipitously in the second half of the 20th century--in Catholic and non-Catholic cultures alike.  As people have acquired enhanced technological capability to control fertility, and as religious strictures against contraception vanished in almost all mainline Christian churches in the 20th century, people--heterosexual married people--took advantage of such technology to control the size of their families.  Families much smaller than those common before such technology was widely available then became the norm.  Look at your own family trees, and see how many couples within your extended family today are having children constantly throughout the wife's period of fertility--about every two years--as your ancestors up to the 20th century tended to do.

To repeat: heterosexual married people in the 20th century began restricting the size of their families and controlling their families with no assistance or effect at all from homosexual people or homosexual relationships.  This development--the "final, formal severing of marriage from procreation"--has occurred within families headed by heterosexual parents, and has been actively welcomed by most heterosexual couples throughout the developed parts of the globe.  

It is deeply unjust (and I find it curious that commentators with the educational attainments of a Ross Douthat appear unable to see this) to use gay and lesbian human beings and their relationships, including same-sex marriage, as a cautionary tale to warn us of the unknown consequences of severing marriage from procreation--when that severing is now a longstanding and well-accepted feature of life in the developed sector of the world, and has long had the blessing of mainline religious communities in the developed nations.  And when many of the very same commentators warning us of the unknown consequences of severing marriage from procreation themselves limit fertility in their own marital lives, or choose not to have children at all, with no eyebrows raised by anyone now that such choices have become commonplace throughout Western societies.

There is a profound question of justice at stake when people who themselves enjoy certain privileges (such as the right to marry without committing themselves to unrestricted procreation or to procreation at all) want to bar others from those same privileges, on the basis of a norm to which they themselves do not adhere.  The real moral question to be asked about the denial of marriage to same-sex couples today is, it seems to me, not the question of the supposedly unknown effects that marriage equality will have in our culture as it "finally" and "formally" severs the connection of marriage to procreation.

The significant moral question to be asked in these debates, which is seldom asked by people like Ross Douthat or Mark Regnerus or the many conservatives who buy into their arguments about the unknown effects of marriage equality on heterosexual marriage, is what unbridled, unreflective heterosexual power and privilege do to people.  To their minds, hearts, and souls.  And to a culture whose laws and practices unthinkingly enshrine discrimination grounded in the notion that some people are superior human beings simply because they are heterosexual.

And what lying about a minority excluded from power and privilege does to one's soul and one's claims to represent morally admirable positions.  And what using others in an instrumental way to create misleading moral narratives about behavior in which one is implicated oneself does to one's ability to distinguish right from wrong.

These are not the kind of questions I expect foundations of the ilk of Bradley or Witherspoon to pay anyone to research, but they deserve serious consideration if we want to look at the real moral issues inherent in the marriage equality debate.  And it bears mentioning that if these foundations or those touting the studies for which they pay are serious about wanting to protect the inseverable tie between marriage and procreation, they'll start turning their attention to the need for bans on contraceptives and will seek to outlaw all heterosexual marriages in which procreation is being restricted or is not even a couple's goal.

If their goal is, of course, to work against that "final" and "formal" severing of procreation from marriage that causes Douthat and others such concern--and not to spread denigrating, truth-stretching memes about gay and lesbian human beings, memes designed to foster prejudice and contribute to discrimination against this particular minority group . . . .

For those who want to read more about Regnerus's study, which was commissioned by the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute and has been hyped by conservative commentators like Douthat who appear to have been poised to promote the study from the moment it hit the presses, see the following:

1. Box Turtle Bulletin's ongoing coverage (and helpful and thorough) critique of the study at the site's page for the tag "Mark Regnerus"

3. Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches, "New Anti-Gay Snake Oil for Religious Right"

6. Amy Davidson at New Yorker, "A False 'Gay Parenting' Study"

7. American Psychological Association, "APA on Children Raised by Gay and Lesbian Parents"

8. Nathaniel Frank at Los Angeles Times, "Dad and Dad vs. Mom and Dad"

9. David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement, "NOM Founder and Mormon Church Tied to First Report of New Anti-Gay Parenting Paper"

And if you want to do something to show your concern about this study and its methodology, you may consider signing Truth Wins Out's petition to the University of Texas, at which Mark Regnerus is an associate professor of sociology, asking the university to launch an investigation into the question of whether the study was truly independent, or whether it was paid for by its funders "to manufacture a political club for use in an election year with marriage equality on the ballot in four states."

By the way, Regnerus, who was raised in the Dutch Reformed church, became Catholic along with his family in December 2011.

The graphic: the family of a first cousin of my great-grandfather Lindsey, William Marshall Hunter (1859-1935) and his wife Laura Jane Dupree (1863-1951) and their 14 children.  The photograph was taken about 1900 at Coushatta, Louisiana, where Marshall Hunter was a merchant and minister, and has appeared in a PBS program about Reconstruction as a photograph of a "typical" white middle-class Southern family of the Reconstruction period.  Though Hunter's mother was a Lindsey and the latter family has long Methodist roots, he married the granddaughter of a pioneer Baptist minister in northwest Louisiana, Rev. John Dupree, and then became a Baptist minister himself.

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