By: Mary Fielding Summerhays March 25, 2013
Their decision, which is expected in June, will have an enormous impact on our future, the stability of family and religious freedom.
The oft-repeated and oft-unanswered question “How does gay marriage affect you personally?” seems to be a rhetorical trump card. Talking heads in the media rarely have the time in our sound-byte driven news cycle to give a thorough answer to that question. Here I will explore why gay marriage, or the more legal terms of “genderless” or “equal” marriage, affects everybody. It has potential to redefine what it means to be a mother, a father, and a child. It places the rights of natural parents at risk. Genderless marriage may actually affect heterosexuals more than homosexuals, for it dismantles traditional family law and replaces it with a new paradigm of genderless union.
Savvy legal minds once insisted that gendered marriage and genderless marriage could co-exist, that everybody could enjoy their rights without interruption or impedance. It is now obvious that such a utopia doesn’t exist. A loss of rights is already taking place. “Equal” marriage is not so equal after all.
Defining Gendered Family
Marriage as an entity is designed to protect those made vulnerable by procreation. First on that list are the infants that are born to women. As Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, has stated, “The child is entitled to a relationship with and care from both of the people who brought him into being. Therefore, the child has a legitimate interest in the stability of his parents’ union. But no child can defend these entitlements himself. Nor is it adequate to make restitution after these rights have been violated. The child’s rights to care and relationship must be supported proactively, before harm is done, for those rights to be protected at all.” (Hearings from the Minnesota state legislature,)
Besides children, women who carry the burden of pregnancy are obviously at greater risk than men in the childbearing process. Historically, gendered marriage has tied men to their children and to the mothers who sacrifice to create them. This arrangement not only overcomes but also compliments the biological differences of men and women.
Finally, gendered marriage addresses the rights of fathers. Fatherhood is the most fragile biological relationship in the father-mother-child triangle. The bond between mother and child is obvious. The father less so. Marriage closes this gap by legally binding a father to a mother and child, giving him both rights and responsibilities in a relationship that, by the way, dramatically affects the successful socialization of children.
I interviewed a lawyer once and asked her to imagine a world without legal marriage. She abruptly responded: “It would be chaos. Women and children would be chattel. They could be abandoned without the slightest thought. They would have no legal recourse.”
By traditional definition, marriage is the protective sanctuary that allows children to have a relationship with both father and mother. That relationship provides them with the stable and long-term care and nurturance they deserve. “Without this public purpose,” Dr. Morse explains, “marriage would cease to exist as a distinct social institution.”
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Thus, the invention of genderless marriage has the potential to affect the nature of traditional relationships more than the nature of gay relationships. According to this new definition of equality, court judgments are already being handed down that strip biological distinctions and hence ignore biological rights.
States that have ratified homosexual marriage have done so by removing gender from the law, stripping rights from children and fathers and, in some cases, from biological mothers. For example, Illinois effectively instituted gay marriage by removing any reference to gender from their marriage laws. Likewise, Massachusetts’ marriage certificates recognize not bride and groom, but Party A and Party B.
Whose Rights are Threatened by Genderless Marriage?
The first casualty in the gender battle is the primary and essential purpose of marriage, which is, according to Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, “to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another.”
In order to justify genderless marriage, the courts have redefined marriage, eliminating the above obligation. For example, Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California's Prop 8 by broadly pronouncing: “Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another and to form a household based on their feelings about one another and to join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents.” (Finding of Fact #34, page 67, as quoted in remarks of Dr. Morse to the Illinois State Legislature hearings on SB 10.)
Dr. Morse comments: “Under this definition, marriage doesn’t have anything at all to do with children, permanence, sexual exclusivity or even sex itself. Some college roommates could call themselves married under this definition. The essential public purpose of marriage has vanished, and has been replaced with inessential private purposes. Instead of being a bedrock social institution, marriage becomes nothing but a government registry of friendships, a pointless legal convention that frankly doesn’t deserve any government benefits or recognition at all.”
Once we change the essential public purpose of marriage, genderless marriage effectually goes on to legally declare the following: (1) that marriage is about meeting the private emotional and romantic needs of adults; (2) that contrary to nature and science alike, children do not need or deserve the protection, service, and socialization of both a male and female parent; and (3) that government, rather than biology and the procreative act, will determine the roles in relationships.
This legislation retires mothers and fathers, at best leaving only de facto agents of the state, who are, in the words of Judge Vaughn Walker, “joined in an economic partnership” to “support one another and any dependents” in their custody, as long as their “feelings about one another” motivate that action.
This type of definition undermines familial relationships, whether in divorce court or just over the dinner table. “After all,” the Catholic theologian Bishop Paprocki explains, “if marriage is an emotional union meant for adult satisfactions, why should it be sexually exclusive? Or limited to two? Or pledged to permanence? If children don’t need both their mother and father, why should fathers stick around when romance fades?” And why should there be legal recourse to mother and child when that father abandons them? He’s only a romantic attachment. It’s only about feelings, right?
Obviously, after removing the rights that for millennia have protected procreation in order to “equalize” marriage, procreation will not end. But children brought into the world will be left without claim on their legitimate needs from both parents.
Indeed, genderless marriage affects every member of the human family, especially the most vulnerable.
The Attack on Fathers
Children have long been protected by what the law terms “the presumption of paternity.” This simply means that since marriage by definition presumes sexual exclusivity, children (and the courts) know who the father is—it’s the man listed on the marriage and birth certificates. But in genderless marriage the presumption of paternity must be retired.
While proponents laud the advancements of “equal marriage” in Canada, they often do not realize that every Canadian father is at risk of losing rights to his biological child. Dr. Morse points out that “in Canada, where same sex unions have been legal since 2005, birth certificates reflect this marginalization of fathers. Each birth certificate in British Columbia has a place to mention the biological mother, but the official must check off whether the “other parent” is the “father” or “co-parent.” Hence the father’s equality is stripped by virtue of “equal marriage.”
Dr. Morse also describes how the paternity question played out recently in a U.S. court: “A little girl known as MC was born to a woman in a same-sex union in California during the window before Proposition 8 was passed. When one woman was incarcerated and the other was hospitalized, MC could not be placed with her biological father, even though he was willing and a . . . fit parent. Why? The woman’s same-sex union required the court to do a gender neutral reading of the Uniform Parent Parentage Act, and presume that the second woman in the union was the little girl’s other parent.” MC was placed in foster care, instead of with her father. Ironically, this brand of “equality” reaches a level of legal sexism on par with the Middle Ages. Rather than attaching children to their biological parents, same-sex marriage is often “the vehicle that separates children from a parent.”
In a similar recent case, a Florida court created a birth certificate listing not two, but three parents who were homosexual, because the biological father insisted on parental rights. He was awarded limited involvement. With genderless marriage, such contrived rulings are unavoidable when legislation contradicts natural and biological realities.
Because homosexual marriages cannot create children, adoption by at least one partner becomes a necessary part of genderless law. If genderless marriage becomes the law of the land, then all types of parents may be defined by de facto or adoptive relationships, rather than biological ones. Several inequities toward children arise in genderless adoption, as well as disadvantages to biological parents.
Adoptive parents used to go through a rigorous examination as to their “fitness” to raise children. Any mother giving up a child for adoption had assurances that the baby would be placed in a home with a committed mother and father, along with the attendant social and economic protections of a stable home. The mother understood that the adoption agency’s first priority was to protect the interest of the helpless party—her child.
In all genderless marriages, says Dr. Morse, the “law treats [a lesbian’s] legal relationship with another woman as tacit consent for her to become in effect, the child’s adoptive parent.” In other words, by law the state cannot make an effort to prescreen the suitability of the adoptive parent. Adoption, once involving months of careful scrutiny of potential parents, now happens automatically. Is this equal?—because heterosexual couples never had adoptions this easy. More concerning, however, is that we now have a new legal priority. The main question no longer is What is best for the child? The main question now is what are the rights of homosexual adults who want a baby? The legally enforced focus has turned from the needs of helpless children to the private desires of adults.
Conclusion and Call to Action
Families with three homosexual parents; a loss of fathers’ rights; children without the right to a mother and a father; adoption policy protecting homosexual adults over defenseless children; and heterosexual marriage being redefined—this all sounds so implausible, but it is now historical fact. These events are the first tremblings of a tidal wave of familial case-law chaos—that is, if genderless marriage continues unabated. The Family Proclamation states, “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
On Tuesday, March 26, at 11:30 a.m., the U.S. Supreme Court convenes to hear oral arguments in a case that will define the future of marriage. Rather than just watching on the sidelines, Americans everywhere are joining the March for Marriage, originating in Washington DC.
The Celebration of Marriage is Utah’s way to participate in that national movement. Join a host of entertainers, legislators, families, and religious leaders from many faiths, to celebrate “marriage, religious liberty, and the right of every child to have a mom and a dad.”
Will you join the celebration?