Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The What-About-the-Children?! Proposal: Engaging Arguments Against Marriage Equality

Another non-argument (I'm building here on what I just posted) that people fighting for marriage equality and human rights need to keep engaging as the religious right continues to advance it: this is the what-about-the-children?! argument. In her classic anthropological study of middle-class American suburban life entitled Belonging in America: Reading Between the Lines (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin, 1988), Constance Perin notes that the claim that new sociological developments will harm children is a typical line of defense of middle-class Americans confronted with changes in the world around them that threaten their sense of security and control.

Perin notes that suburban communities in the U.S. expend a great deal of energy construing various groups as threats to their own stability and harmony. They expend a great deal of energy keeping targeted outsiders at bay. And one of their typical arguments as they engage in this behavior is to propose that a change they're combatting will harm the children in their community. 

But as Perin notes,

"For the children’s good" is likely to be as much for adults' "good" (p. 169).

The what-about-the-children?! argument is likely, that is to say, to be a smokescreen argument, in which children are actually being used as weapons in adult wars. As I noted recently, the group National Organization for Marriage has been busy lately exploiting an 11-year-old girl in Minnesota, Gracie Evans, in the battle against marriage equality. NOM and its allies want us to believe that permitting same-sex couples to marry will somehow present heterosexual couples with a tragic choice: to remove either a mother or a father from the family, thereby causing harm to children in households headed by opposite-sex parents.

As counterfactual and downright untrue as this argument is, it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. If you don't believe me, have a look at what Jennifer Marshall posted yesterday at the Heritage Foundation website: it begins,

Earlier this month, 11-year-old Grace Evans appeared before a panel of Minnesota lawmakers considering a redefinition of marriage in that state. She testified to the significance of her mother and father and the different contributions each makes to her life. 
Then she ended with a simple question: “Which parent do I not need, my mom, or my dad? 
It’s a question proponents of same-sex marriage cannot answer.

Proponents of same-sex marriage can't possibly answer this question, of course, because there has never been a proposal among those advocating for marriage equality to remove a parent from a heterosexual household. Marriage equality is not about overturning or destroying marriage and family: it's about extending these to couples and families who do not now enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage enjoyed by other couples and families--a situation that causes real, discernible harm to children being raised by same-sex couples.

If NOM and its allies are really concerned about harming children, perhaps their primary concern ought to be to examine what happens to children being used as weapons in adult wars that are all about harming, stigmatizing, and demeaning targeted minority groups--or about using children as human shields in violent demonstrations against marriage equality in which the police are attacked, tear gas is deployed, and weapons are lobbed at the police (see John Aravosis on this story here, here, here, and here).

In this behavior, I think we can find some real what-about-the-children?! concerns to occupy our minds.  (On how the French demonstrations against marriage equality have NOM's fingerprints all over them, see this previous posting of mine.)

The graphic is from the first of John Aravosis's postings linked above.

No comments: