By Ben Kaufman
My sparring partner means to argue this week that a recent Stanford Daily ad in search of a “genius” egg donor is so abhorrent as to embody the breakdown of the American family. Indeed, lest we support a loving couple struck with infertility as they fight to still have kids and as they begin their work of offering this future child every possible advantage even before he or she is born.
To argue that this potentially off-putting request that the donor be a high achiever was made possible by our rising acceptance of marriage equality, though, is absurd. Indeed, there is no doubt that a change in the family dynamic and in the ties between parent and child is present when adults talk about their kids with such utilitarian undertones. But the inspiration for the ad’s stipulation that the donor be high-achieving is much more likely to be found in the potential parent’s desire for his/her children to get ahead in our free market for labor than in growing acceptance of homosexuals. Gay people aren’t what make you demand that your egg come from a girl who is “top in her class, [with] several awards in high school and university;” the knowledge that your child will one day compete with such prodigies for a job does.
Of course, this isn’t meant as an indictment of capitalism. It’s meant as an assertion that conservatives in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, especially when those stones are aimed at a group that has faced such drastic persecution for so long by the American right, and especially when the present conservative has previously argued on these very pages that the government should prioritize heterosexual couples on the utilitarian basis of their ability to procreate. Embrace optimization within the free market and accept its consequences (e.g., neurotic parents), or reject both. Don’t do the former and use the latter as a tool to substantiate ulterior discomfort with gay marriage.
But fine, let’s address this question of whether gay marriage diminishes the importance of marriage as a whole, of whether marriage equality will bulldoze the American family unit and whether polygamy or, as Bill O’Reilly predicted, bestiality, will inevitably follow. Marriage, of course, is a social construct; it is something humans invented, and we are collectively free to define what it is and what it means. Most would likely agree that it exists, in its purest form, to unite people in love, and, in its crudest form, as a purely practical commitment between two people centered around cohabitation and child-rearing.
My only question is why gay people can’t fit into that and why their marriages necessarily take away from the validity of heterosexuals’. Their love is surely every ounce as emotionally valid as anyone else’s, the portion of them choosing to adopt from among the nation’s nearly 400,000 parentless children has doubled in recent years and recent research has shown not just that the children of homosexuals fare just as well as their peers, but that they tend to be wholly happier and healthier. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us; with Millennials showing ever less interest in tying the knot and overall marriage rates continuing to reach historic lows, it seems that the only people enthusiastic about marriage are homosexual.
Further, there is little doubt that “traditional” families are statistically on the decline. But research shows that that has much more to do with financial constraints, flighty fathers, the prioritization of married people’s careers and changes in spousal roles than with gays somehow making heterosexuals feel that marriage is less valuable. My own parents, for example, will have been married for 27 years in June, during which time about 390,000 gay couples will have gotten married while 600,000 will have entered domestic partnerships. And while I didn’t ask, I can say confidently that neither my mom nor my dad has ever remarked that their marriage has become less valuable over time because of those 990,000 cumulative now-united homosexuals.
As to the “slippery slope” argument that gay marriage opens the gates for the normalization of other arrangements (polyamory, etc.), I simply say, says who? Again, marriage is something we have the power to define. It is not an independently extant facet of the universe. If we take religion as its foundation, then we necessarily must allow for polyamory, slavery and child brides. And if we don’t, then we, the people, are left with the right to decide what we think is okay, and a huge majority of Americans think gay marriage is exactly that. If there is a slope, it’s one that began when marriage itself became a concept. But there isn’t. We simply live in a world where denials by those in power of the rights of the marginalized can only last for so long. If that one day comes to include people interested in polyamory, frankly, who cares? The notion that such unions delegitimize those of heterosexuals would, at that point, be seen as ridiculous in the same way that gays do so is now.
For readers who wonder why this issue is even being taken up in The Daily when it seems like such a peripheral view, I remind you that such stories of gay marriage diminishing marriage as a whole, ruining the family unit or otherwise being a boogeyman remain pervasive, even among certain groups on campus (the opposing column, for example). But I also remind you that the Supreme Court is widely expected to rule in favor of gay marriage this summer and that hate can only reign for so long.
Contact Ben Kaufman at ben bkauf614 ‘at ‘stanford.edu.
Americans are, by and large, a private and respectful people who enjoy their personal rights. We also tend to be somewhat shortsighted and see only as far as the next election cycle. So it’s not that we don’t care about the current Supreme Court case on homosexual marriage, it’s just that we don’t care enough to hold strong opinions on it. What our friends and neighbors do behind closed doors we may only rarely agree with, but far be it from us to impose any kind of forcible penalty on them for such behavior.
This extends even more to legislated intervention. We despise the government’s intrusions in our personal affairs nearly as much as the occasions it dips its sticky fingers into our bank books. In our eyes, its job is to look after our physical well-being (only physical) and provide us a stable environment, and once it stretches outside of these boundaries we make a ruckus and vote out the swine and the next cycle hurriedly rethinks its agenda.
However, now that this case has reached the halls of the highest court in the room, government must provide us with an answer. Because this question will finally be settled for good afterwards, the Supreme Court must be satisfied with the effects either decision has. So here are a few predictions I make if Justice Kennedy decides to overturn the state ban altogether.
1. The legalization of polygamy – 3 to 5 years
If the definition of marriage from the perspective of government no longer includes any mandate for the people involved to be of opposing sexes, then it’s one more step to eliminate the additional requirement for the involvement of two and only two persons. In legalizing homosexual marriage the justices will have shown their disregard for the importance of biological bonds between parent and offspring, so that particular reason can’t be trotted out. In fact, the lawyers in this case may go one step further and suggest that, with three or more parents in a single household, a child has even better guidance.
The Problem: Polygamy asks for the absolute devotion of marriage, but equally to multiple people. That’s a difficult task on from both an emotional and physical standpoint; emotionally because absolute devotion is by its nature singular in object and creation, and physically because of a well-known hormone called oxytocin. Known as the “love hormone,” it creates strong feelings of attachment and trust and is released during different processes that include physical contact: hugging, kissing and sexual intimacy. However, physical contact with many other partners ends up reducing oxytocin’s effectiveness by spreading this bond amongst a wider crowd (it’s one reason why premarital sex is a detriment to long-term marriages).
2. More precise child-selection – 10 to 15 years
By this procedure parents, who for any number of reasons cannot complete a biological creation, specifically select their future offspring, through adoption or egg/sperm donation by way of a surrogate. They thus are able to pick their child’s traits before making the commitment to raise it. It’s not a new phenomenon (as last week’s “Genius Egg Donor” request in The Daily pointed out), but as the number of alternate marriages increase a greater need for the service it provides will be seen.
The Problem: Love of this type is conditional. It was formed on the basis of a qualification that the child met in some way—by appearance, by skill or talent, by heritage—and so attaches strings to the initial offering of love the parents extend to the child. For instance, picking one particular egg over another because her mother won a Nobel Prize. It’s a far cry from the unconditional love that birth parents bear towards their children, a brand of love formed without condition and so sustained without return. Imagine a couple looking to adopt walking into an orphanage with their eyes closed and pointing out a name at random on the roster sheet to choose their child. Such is required for unconditional love.
3. An increase in divorce rates – 12 to 18 years
Divorce rates are already high, but it’s not hard to imagine them going higher. Currently the same-sex divorce rate is lower than that of heterosexual marriages, because only people who really, really want something will circumvent the law to get it. However, the rates of homosexual marriage and, therefore, divorce, should vastly increase as a consequence of SCOTUS’ decision.
Another less obvious consequence may present itself. When the availability of anything goes up, its exclusivity and (as an extension) the unique respect it garners shrinks. The same will happen with the institution of marriage. It’ll take a generation at the very least. But there are legalistic benefits to being married, and weighing these reasons with the other undocumented ones that reinforce the idea of living with another human in close proximity as a positive one will result in many more heterosexual marriages made for the wrong reasons. The result is more divorce.
The Problem: Divorce is almost never a good thing.
4. The elevation of normal marriage – 30+ years
Once “marriage” becomes only an additional condition existing between a group of people and thus as insignificant as a flawed stone, the pure diamond of normal marriage—marriage between a man and a woman, created for the right reasons that include family and a life-long bond—will once again rise to the surface. Against it will be sacked all the other hybrid forms of state-recognized partnerships, forms that create caricatures of families based on conditional love and confused desires. No doubt a few others besides those above will be invented along the way.
But this form will once again stand alone, secure in its stability and longevity. It embraces both biological necessity and the emotional comfort men and women provide each other. Its love between parents and the child made from them is a love without strings. And it need not fear any threat from the imitations it has outlived for millennia.
Contact Wyatt Smitherman at wtsmith ‘at’ stanford.edu.