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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
This article was first published July 9, 2015, at The Federalist.
Some same-sex marriage supporters say redefining marriage will strengthen it. Others say it will destroy marriage. They can’t both be right.
Some who support same-sex marriage argue it will strengthen the family. For example, President Obama said this on June 26, 2015 regarding the SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the United States: “This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land… It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other.”
Others take a very different view. Masha Gessen, for example, is an author who is perhaps most well-known as being an expert on Vladimir Putin. She was honored at the State Department in June 2014 for her gay-rights activism in Russia. She is a same-sex marriage supporter who believes the institution of marriage should not exist. She had this to say about marriage in 2012 at a writer’s conference in Sydney:
Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist….
I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.
Obama’s view is not compatible with Gessen’s view. How do we know which is correct?
If somebody wants to destroy marriage, would they support a policy initiative that strengthened marriage? Of course not. Thus, Gessen really does believe that same-sex marriage will harm if not destroy marriage.
Second, Gessen’s goals are coming to pass as a result of same-sex marriage. Here are two examples. In response to a lesbian marriage and custody dispute, California enacted a bill that allows a child to have more than two legal parents. Gessen correctly argued that man-woman marriage is not compatible with her desire for an unlimited number of legal parents for children. Same-sex marriage has accomplished this goal in California. The state of Alabama tried to abolish marriage licenses as a response to same-sex marriage. Gessen wants to abolish marriage, and abolishing marriage licenses is a step towards abolishing marriage.
Remember Gessen’s desire for five legal parents for her children? Let’s examine how much damage to the family is already possible before same-sex marriage came along. The following diagram is not hypothetical. This is a real-life situation.
Locate the oval that says, “Older half-sister.” This diagram is based on her experience. She has her mom (Wife 1) and dad—those two are her legal parents. She also has three step-parents: one step-dad and two step-moms (who are labeled Wife 2 and Wife 3). This looks quite fractured, doesn’t it? But consider that several popular cultural ideas made this possible:
Gessen advocates that all of the adults should be legal parents, not just the natural mother and father. So instead of the older half-sister living between (only!) two homes from the time she was three years old, she would live between three or more homes. Would adults ever choose to spend years living like that? Of course not. That is one example of the new kind of family breakdown.
Another example: after what he has said about his father’s absence from his life, would President Obama choose to be raised as a child in a lesbian marriage? I can’t see how he would, since he has spoken about how painful it has been to live without his father. He has made remarks about the importance of fathers on more than one occasion. In 2013, for example, he said: “I was raised by two wonderful grandparents. But I still wish that I had a dad who was not only around, but involved, another role model… That’s why I try to be, for Michelle and my girls, what my father was not for my mother and me.”
I commend President Obama for being that kind of man for his family. When a child is raised in an intact home with his married biological parents, it’s like winning the lottery. But fewer and fewer kids have access to that kind of life. Why? One reason is that kind of life creates demands that may go against the adults’ sexual identities and sexual desires. That’s what marriage is about now: to affirm adults in their identities and their choices. What happens to kids is an afterthought.
Gessen was raised with her own married parents, and I’ve never seen her state that she wished it were otherwise. She wants to destroy marriage as an ideal, not only for her own children but for everybody’s children. President Obama was not raised with his married parents. He has lamented the absence of his father and he wishes to strengthen marriage.
Gessen is correct about same-sex marriage and Obama is not. When will same-sex marriage supporters realize they’ve been naive?