Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Boiling frogs: attacks on single and lesbian motherhood

Should society allow single women or lesbian couples to bear and raise children? The announcement that Mary Cheney is pregnant by artificial insemination and intends to raise the child with her lesbian partner has set off alarm bells for allegedly pro-family conservatives. Andrew Sullivan cites Bill O’Reilly as saying husbands should be mandatory for single or lesbian moms. Mr. O’Reilly seems to think just any old guy as a father is preferable to the alternative (such as a child raised in a loving home by a single mother or by two parents of the same sex).

People are free to believe whatever they wish and why they believe what they do is the business of no one but when it comes to the exertion of political power then what people believe and why suddenly become important. Are the words and actions of social conservatives really geared toward improving society for all of us or are they geared to inflict pain on certain categories of people they disapprove of? It is obviously the latter.

The social conservative tendency to use the power of the state to intervene in and attempt to control the private lives of the public is at best annoying and at worst frightening. We have no better example of that than the recent passage of an amendment to the Virginia constitution banning same sex marriage and civil unions and restricting the rights of unmarried couples. In the Virginia General Assembly the chief proponent of the Marriage Amendment was Delegate Bob Marshall who also, coincidently, is a proponent of barring unmarried women from access to artificial insemination.

Bart Hinkle wrote a good column on these issues published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch yesterday:
Ms. Cheney is in a committed relationship with her partner of roughly 15 years, Heather Poe. Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe moved to Virginia a year ago -- right around the time Marshall was introducing a bill to prevent unmarried women from having children through medically assisted means. Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe consider themselves married. Virginia doesn't.

The bill didn't pass, but Marshall is giving it another shot: See HB 412, a watered-down version that forbids only the use of sperm from anonymous donors for artificial insemination. Marshall is a practitioner of the frog-boiling school of politics. (Put a frog in boiling water and it will hop out. So, to boil a frog, place it in a cool pan and raise the temperature slowly.)

BUT THEN, the frog-boiling approach works for Marshall. He sponsored HB 751, the legislative precursor to the marriage amendment approved by the voters last month. Then he sponsored the marriage amendment. No telling what he'll do to top that. The vice president might believe consenting adults "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to," but Marshall led the charge to take a less liberal view.

As a result, a Virginia blogger noted the other day concerning Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe, "only one of them will be legally permitted to have any rights to the child and the other will be treated by the state as if she were a total stranger. Way to go, Virginia -- you've screwed over a pair of total strangers and potentially created life-threatening problems for a little kid."

The justification for the marriage amendment is, ostensibly, to protect the institution of marriage. That certainly was the putative emphasis of the Family Foundation of Virginia, the foremost advocate of the amendment this past fall.

Having won that round, one would think the Family Foundation would be ramping up to take on other threats to traditional marriage. Nope. Its 2007 Lobby Day at the General Assembly will focus on "Religious Liberty in the Public Square." Visit the group's Web site and look at its policy concerns under the "Marriage" heading and you will find, in addition to a mention of the amendment . . . pornography. And then? Nothing.

Nothing about divorce. Nothing about deadbeat dads. Nothing about spousal abuse. Nothing about drug addiction, alcoholism, financial insecurity, or any of the other menaces that can rip a marriage apart. As far as the Family Foundation is concerned, such problems pale in significance against the backdrop of Mary Cheney or men's magazines.

Maybe the point of making a political issue of marriage is not to defend the institution per se, but simply to use it as a bludgeon against stuff the Family Foundation doesn't like.

The ability of social conservatives to miss the point sometimes reaches breathtaking heights. Janise Crouse of Concerned Women for America denounced Ms. Cheney's choice to bear a child as "unconscionable" and "appalling." Contemplate the arrogance required to denounce such a choice in such a way. Robert Knight, of the Media Research Center, calls it "tragic that a child has been conceived with the express purpose of denying it a father." Yes, that is exactly why Ms. Cheney decided to get pregnant: to deny a child a father. She must hate children very much.

The startling absurdity of such bilious outrage stands in stark contrast to the dignity and grace of the person it is aimed at. And it is precisely the dignity and grace of people such as Ms. Cheney who are not trying to destroy the family but to create one -- that could, over time, be a powerful argument on their own behalf…
You can read the entire column here. (Also, Mr. Hinkle’s blogger alias is Barticles and can be found in the blogroll on the right side of this page.)

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