Thursday, February 4, 2010

Parenthood by Choice

Heather MacDonald in the National Review:
Parental identity and responsibility for children in a homosexual family do not flow from biology; they result from choice and intent. . . . This division of genetic and parental responsibility has been present throughout human history, of course. Orphans and abandoned children are raised by non-biological adoptive parents; divorce alienates one biological parent from the child’s household and sometimes replaces that parent with another adult. But these arrangements were considered outliers to the normal practice of conceiving and raising children, forced on the parties by sad necessity.
I don't think that's right at all. Many societies have practiced fostering even when both biological parents of the child were alive. Among the Celtic nobility of ancient Ireland sons were often sent away to be raised by distant kinsmen, or by their parents' overlords. Some may have considered this a "sad necessity," but to others it was a canny move to enhance the future prospects of both the child and his family. And what about those matrilineal societies in which the biological father was considered to have only a tenuous relationship with the child?

Humans have used a remarkable variety of different family and childrearing strategies over the course of our history, so to think that gay parenting is doomed to cause some kind of awful crisis is silly.

MacDonald tries to relate gay parenting to the ongoing problems we have in the US with absent fathers:
If parental status is a matter of intent, however, not of genes, absent fathers can say: “I never intended to take on the role of that child’s parent; therefore I’m not morally bound to act as a parent.” . . . Gay child-rearing undercuts another understanding of why fathers should stay with their children: that mothers and fathers bring complementary attributes to child-rearing.
I think this is also silly. To suppose that preventing gay people from raising children will somehow bring back the whole intense structure of Victorian society, and the huge pressure it put on parents to get married and stay married, defies sense. That world is gone, swept away by our cult of freedom, and it is not coming back. I think that we need to forget about the old notion of parenthood as an obligation and emphasize the very thing that is central to gay parenthood: choice. We need to get beyond parenthood as an obligation that falls like a rock on the foolish, leading to shotgun weddings and so many awful marriages, and make it something done willingly, joyfully, by people with every intention of following through.We need better birth control, better economic opportunities for poor women, more support for poor fathers who want to participate. Above all, we need parents who are willing to do whatever it takes to have children, like the gay couples MacDonald thinks are such a threat.

1 comment:

David said...

Yes, extremely silly. I particularly like the line, "If parental status is a matter of intent, however, not of genes, absent fathers can say: “I never intended to take on the role of that child’s parent; therefore I’m not morally bound to act as a parent.” "

This implies a) that absent fathers haven't been saying this in self-justification for decades, if not since forever; and b) that an unwilling father is going to hear about gay adoption, suddenly clap his hand to his forehead and exclaim in joy, "Wow, parental status is a matter of intention! I'm free!"

We've seen this kind of argument before, that a certain law shouldn't be passed or a certain right granted because of some logical deduction that someone might draw from it. It's clearly a rationalization of prejudice. ("Gee, I think we better go back to having everyone keep kosher. Otherwise they might conclude they could eat anything, even each other!")