Family Values Magic

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of the imperfect parallel between same-sex marriage and anti-miscegenation laws:

[T]he comparison with interracial marriage actually understates the evil of reserving marriage rights for certain classes of people. Banning interracial marriage meant that most black people could not marry outside of their race. This was morally indefensible, but very different than a total exclusion of gays from the institution of marriage. Throughout much of America, gays are effectively banned from marrying, not simply certain types of people, but.. another compatible partner period.

As usual, the rest is worth reading, but this stood out, because the word “compatible” is doing an awful lot of work. Conservatives and liberals are further from one another here than they may be willing to admit.

Perhaps a bit obviously, the conservative claim is that a man can never be a compatible partner for another man, or a woman for a woman. Men are the only compatible partners for women, and vice versa, and thus gay men and lesbians don’t really lack for compatible partners after all. They just need to admit where true compatibility lies. To conservatives, gays and lesbians are asking to leave behind all possible compatible partners. One might as well ask to marry The Critique of Pure Reason, or the Pont Neuf, or “Rhapsody in Blue.”

That’s why when I mentioned to a group of conservatives the circumstances of my partner and I adopting our daughter, they were, to my surprise, not at a loss for words.

We had not been assigned our daughter by some do-good liberal adoption court, as the usual conservative scare story about gay adoption runs. No, we knew the birth mother. She knew very well who we were. She picked us to raise her child while she was still pregnant. We were in the waiting room when our daughter was born, and we took her home as soon as the doctors allowed it. The law merely made sure that nothing coercive or exploitative was going on, which was obviously proper. Other than that, our story was one of three willing adults making a considered choice about the best interests of a child.

All of this sounded to me sounded like a real clincher — you couldn’t say that our family was merely stapled together by the state, or that we were just putting on some kind of an act to get welfare benefits. We were a fully real family, based just as much on deliberate, loving intention as the straightest of straight families. (A bit more than some, truth be told.)

The response I got from these conservatives was incredible: Why didn’t one of you marry the birth mother? She had two potential husbands in you guys, and both of you failed. If you wanted to raise her child, you had a responsibility to marry her, and you let her down. This was to say nothing of the birth father, of course, who was no longer in the picture at all. Why didn’t one of you “man up”?

Now, in Maryland this probably would have been bigamy, but let’s set that aside. A promise and a commitment of ten years’ time to another man counts for nothing. The presence of a vagina apparently counts for everything. (But if so, why don’t they go marry all the single mothers they happen to know?)

Anyway, I’m forced to conclude that even though our child’s birth mother has no desire to live with either of us, whether romantically, or as parents, or on any other terms, the magic vagina makes it all okay. Obligatory, even. That’s what social conservatives mean by “compatible.” It’s far removed from liberal notions of compatibility, but then… is it any wonder about those red-state divorce rates?

Update: Robert Stacy McCain has a word for two people getting married even though they don’t, and can’t, love one another. That word is transcendence. Apparently he recommends it. “Ideas,” he huffs, “have consequences.” (Remember when that phrase wasn’t just a pseudo-intellectual way of saying “I’m all out of words, folks”? I do. I miss those days.)

Anyway, I guess if you already know that your arguments make no sense whatsoever, you might as well reach for metaphysics. You’ve got nothing to lose at that point.

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12 thoughts on “Family Values Magic

  1. As I may have mentioned in the past, my father died when I was around 10 years old. He was 39. He left behind a wife and two kids.

    One of the things my mother was told in the wake of her widowhood was (this is a paraphrase but not much of one) “I don’t know what secret sin you both must have had in your lives.”

    So maybe that’s one of the reasons someone might have for not marrying a single mother. God only knows what secret sins one might be shackling oneself to.


  2. My goodness, the League is on fire right now. Abortion, gay marriage, race relations.

    TNC’s cited post though was a thundering good one. Really different spin on it to me.


  3. One thing that this debate has in common for me with the abortion/slavery debate is something like this:

    It’s not that inter-racial (what an ugly term) marriage is particularly like same-sex marriage, it’s that the arguments used by those most opposed to SSM contain the echoes of those who argued against inter-racial marriage.

    Let’s go back to Virginia v. Loving, the case that got called up to the Supreme Court. Per Wikipedia, Leon M. Bazile’s ruling contained the following:

    Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

    My goodness.

    The arguments given against the institution of SSM remind me very much of Leon’s opinion. There seems to be quite the uncanny familiarity with the Mind of God and the unquestioning willingness to ensure that God’s Thoughts are enshrined in The Majesty Of The Law.

    I reckon we’ll look back at the fight over SSM the way we now look at Leon. I hope.


  4. Liberals believe there is more than enough evidence to prove there is such a thing as conditional homosexuality and therefore gays exist. Conservatives believe the idea of conditional homosexuality is simply a means by which gays rationalize immoral behavior. There is just no way to bridge this gap.


  5. One difference between SSM and interracial marriage is the way in which
    the dispute has been caught up in the ongoing dispute between liberal and conservative Christians. So long as conservative Christians see acceptance of SSM as a conclusive victory for their liberal Christian enemies they will continue the fight against it regardless of the consequences.


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