Comment Rescue: The Question of Interchangeability
In Kazzy’s Fathers aren’t Mothers post, dauntless commenter Michael Drew notes:
This is not going to be a popular comment, and I want to be clear that it is not an argument but merely something I have to confess that I have had to turn over in my head during the SSM debates.
I don’t know if I agree that a father can’t be a mother. But let’s say it’s true. We would generally say that a kid who grows up without a mother has gotten a tough shake in life, wouldn’t we? If a father can’t be a mother, does it (or does it not?) follow that a kid who grows up with two fathers gets a tough shake, or at least misses something, compared to a kid who grows up with a mother and a father does? Again, I don’t think it really does (though I’m not sure why exactly), but I have to confess that this is something I’ve had to think through in SSM debate, not something that was just blindingly obvious to me and a function of just managing not to be a horrible bigot.
This was the basic argument made by anti-SSM advocates in the Prop 8 case, and Judge Walker rejected it as without a rational basis if I am not mistaken. The evidence seems to support that kids aren’t materially harmed by having two parents of the same sex. Nevertheless, the thrust of this post would seem to suggest to me that, unless we think it’s irrelevant to a kid’s well-being whether she has does have a mother, that a kid with two fathers would seem to be missing something (namely a mother) as compared to a kid with a mother and a father. Unless maybe one father can’t be a mother, but between two fathers, somewhere in there there can be a mother. I don’t think this concern rises to a rational basis on which to disallow SSM that makes that policy not mainly motivated by animus. But I can see where, if you believe that a father, or two fathers, can never really be a mother, that might make you have to think for a moment about whether there’s really no affect on kids with two parents who don’t have a mother as compared to those who do.
So I guess in my view we want to be careful before we decide to say that father can’t be a mother and mean it. I tend to think that, for all intents and purposes, a father can be a a mother. I would be interested in a deeper reflection from this author (the mother), on just what it is that makes someone a mother, that allowed her husband to be one (as opposed to just being a father doing a great job being a father in absence of the mother [but then again there, why even should we think it’s good to view really good fathering as perhaps tantamount to mothering, as if fathering is normally just a luke-warm version of mothering? Is that what we think? Maybe we should, because it would definitely allow fathers to be mothers with enough effort. But I nevertheless don’t much like that formulation.])
In response to this, redoubtable commenter Zic pointed out:
Michael, I think the important thing here is that children generally do better with two parents. Those parents have backup for one another, can spell each other when one approaches exhaustion (the most dangerous time for a child; a tired parent is less in control of him/herself). Two parents also teaches some flexibility; they will never respond exactly the same to any given situation, so the child learns early on that things are not so concrete; this builds in resiliency from the get go.
Single parents don’t get a break, they’re on 24 hours a day. Though children also often do better then we give them credit for, and I suspect there’s some benefit for children who spend time it two loving homes; again, building in flexibility and resiliency.
Michael Drew responds:
Zic, I agree that is th largest part of the concern. You want kids to have two parents, and as long they do, I think at least 95% of the conern with missing either a mother or a father is taken care of. That’s why I’ absolutely for SSM and same-sex parenting (because so much good come from allowing all those families to be created that otherwise wouldn’t exist at all, or from sanctioning them through marriage).
It’s just that I’m not sure that in that last <5% or <1%, I’m not sure there doesn’t remain some difference, among cases of kids who do have two parents, between having a mother and not having a mother, or having a father and not having a father, between the cases where. I’m not sure, which is to say, I’m not at all sure there is any difference that matters to the kid, either. I’m just not sure. And as I say, I’m also not sure that it’s not the case that kids who have two parents of the same sex don’t in every important way in fact have a mother and a father. That seems like it likely depends on the quality of the people doing the parenting, as, indeed, does the majority of all difference kids experience among their upbringings.
I.e., in this discussion I’ve neglected to make explicit the certeris paribus assumption, where I’m comparing parents of similar “quality” to be sort of vulgar about it. I haven’t for one second meant to suggest that many kids who have two parents of the same sex aren’t going to be miles better off than lots of kids with two parents just because their parents are far better parents than lots of opposite-sex parents. indeed, that’s anther reason I’m so pro-SSM, because I think that as a matter of how things actually are on the ground, I think (and this is really just a hunch, but a strong one) SS parents are (or, do) tend to be, on average, better parents (regardless of whether they somehow constitute a mother and a father or are just two really good fathers, even if I think that might matter a tiny bit, again, certeris paribus) than opposite-sex parents. The reason for this seems pretty obvious: opposite-sex parents are so much more likely to find themselves in that situation at least somewhat unintentionally, while it seems to me the SS parents, like adoptive parents basically have to be very intentional about becoming parents in order for it to happen at all.
My wondering about the mother/father thing is really almost idle speculation in light of those larger determinants of difference in upbringings, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to make that clear, because I didn’t. This is not significant enough to cause me to doubt for a second support for SSM or think it’s not good for kids or something. At some level, while considering SSM I did have to think about the having a mother/having a father versus not thing, that’s all I’m saying. I had the thoughts, and put them to bed as described above. But I did want to make this process that I went through known, for whatever reason.
(Many of the comments to our posts here at the league deserve to go off in a direction all their own. If you ever see a comment that you think needs to, call out for a Comment Rescue!)