When Unions Divide

This paper was written by a very close friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. If you are looking to get married, hetero or homo sexual, consider why you are deciding to do this and look realistically into the future and consider your children’s feelings.

When Unions Divide

The legalization of same-sex marriage which barely registered a blip on the political radar a quarter of a century ago has reached a fever pitch in recent months. With President Barack Obama’s historical announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, the issue is bound to take front stage in elections this fall. As Washington State voters gear up to take to the polls this September, many will be pondering both sides of the same-sex marriage issue.

In addition to the presidential race for the White House, Washingtonians will also be voting on two measures dealing specifically with the future of same-sex marriage in Washington. Initiative I-1192 seeks to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Referendum 74 will give the voters an opportunity to vote on Senate Bill 6239, which seeks to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.

Proponents of same-sex marriage contend that homosexual’s rights are violated when they are not allowed to marry their same-sex partners. In addition to arguing for equality, supporters have several other reasons for fighting for same-sex marriages. Many supporters feel that same-sex marriage will be beneficial for society as it may encourage monogamous behavior.

Gay couples would also be afforded the advantage of both legal and fiscal benefits which marriage provides. However, opponents to same-sex marriage claim that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage. They also point out that marriage in America has always been exclusive between a man and a woman. Advocates argue that marriage itself is an inherently religious institution, and all the principal world religions disapprove of homosexuality.

While I wholly feel that homosexuals deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity, I am not yet ready to fully endorse same-sex marriage. While well-disposed to the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, there are two aspects that give me pause. In American society, there have always been restrictions placed upon marriage. Marriage has never been available to simply any man and any woman. Therefore, I am hesitant to support unbinding marriage from its traditional meaning, when the institution of marriage is weaker than ever. Also, I fear that legalization of same-sex marriage sets a dangerous precedent that the desires of adults, trumps the needs of children.

Contrary to popular belief, marriage has never been a universal right in America. In fact, marriage has always been a privilege bestowed upon individuals who fall within the guidelines. In addition to outlawing same-sex marriage, laws have long been established which clearly place other restrictions upon the institution of marriage. In Washington State, siblings and close relatives are never allowed to marry. Individuals who are already married may not take another spouse. Both individuals must also be adults. If a would-be spouse is only seventeen years of age, he or she must receive parental permission. If under seventeen, individuals must have the restriction waived by a Superior Court judge.

According to the abcnews.com article, “Santorum Met by Large NH Crowds, Not All Supportive”, in early 2012 former conservative presidential candidate Rick Santorum reiterated this position on the campaign trail. According to Santorum, “Marriage is not a right,” he said. “Not everybody can marry everybody else. I mean, it’s not an unalienable right. It’s a privilege that is given to society, by society for a reason, because there is an intrinsic benefit to society to hold up men and women to come together….We want to encourage what is the best for children.” The proponent’s argument that marriage should be legal for any two consenting adults is compelling, and it most certainly pulls upon my heartstrings. However, one cannot argue the fact that restrictions upon marriage have always existed in this culture. No one has ever been able to marry absolutely anyone they chose, merely because they loved them. American society has long had restrictions upon marriage. Many would argue the restrictions upon marriage are in place because marriage is not about individual love; instead, it is a social institution which is promoted to encourage strong families.

In her article, “Interracial Marriage: Slippery Slope?”, La Shawn Barber claims that marriage serves two distinct purposes in our society: “Providing structure for family formation and rearing children, and acting as a stabilizing influence that benefits the whole society” (par. 9). Former President George W. Bush echoed this sentiment in a speech from early 2004 when he stated:

The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.

The institution of marriage is weaker than ever in America. David Popenoe, who is a professor emeritus and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, states in the 2007 report The Future of Marriage in America:

There can be no doubt that the institution of marriage has continued to weaken in recent years. Whereas marriage was once the dominant and single acceptable form of living arrangement for couples and children, it is no longer. Today, there is more “family diversity.” Fewer adults are married, more are divorced or remaining single, and more are living together outside of marriage or living alone. Today, more children are born out-of-wedlock (now almost four out of ten), and more are living in stepfamilies, with cohabiting but unmarried adults, or with a single parent. (Popenoe 6)

According to the National Marriage Project’s 2011 report, the amount of children born in America has steadily declined since the 1960s. The report claims that:

…this decline in children has reduced the child-centeredness of our nation and contributed to the weakening of the institution of marriage. Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to his children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage…. In a cross-national comparison of industrialized nations, the United States ranked virtually at the top in the percentage of those disagreeing with this statement:

“The main purpose of marriage is having children.”

Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the main purpose of marriage is something else compared, for example, to 51 percent of Norwegians and 45 percent of Italians. (Bradford and Marquardt 82)

Clearly the present state of marriage in America is precarious at best. The very nature of marriage in the US seems to be changing, from a child-centered institution, to an adult-centered one. I feel society ought to be extremely cautious if contemplating any fundamental changes to the institution of marriage. Furthermore, in 1956 distinguished Harvard sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, researched different cultures spanning millennia, and discovered that virtually every society which did not strictly define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman survived (77-105).

My second concern with legalizing same-sex marriage is that it prioritizes the desires of adults, above the needs of children. Society does not legislate other types of relationships, such as friendship or business partners. As a result, one can infer there is something inherently different about a marital relationship. In my opinion, the reason society regulates marriage is that the marital relationship has the unique ability to produce children. This does not mean that all marriages must or should produce children. I feel marriage has less to do with adult wants and desires, but instead is society’s way of endorsing a relationship, and bestowing upon them the right to procreate. The benefits married couples are granted are simply economic incentives sanctioned to encourage stable family units conducive to child rearing.

I am concerned that if we as a society legalize same-sex marriage, we are essentially granting same-sex couples the right to create children. Since homosexual couples cannot conceive a child naturally, I fear that this would lead to an increase of children born through alternative methods. This would encompass conception using donated sperm, eggs, or utilizing surrogate mothers. As a result of being born through alternative methods, children of same-sex couples may be deprived of a vital family connection, a biological mother or father. Eighteen year old Katrina Clark, wrote a poignant article for the Washington Post titled, “My Father Was an Anonymous Sperm Donor”. In the article, Clark discusses her anger at the business of cryobanks and donor conception. Clark laments on how donor conception focuses solely on the adults. Clark states, “The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his “donation.” As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?” (par. 8). Clark bravely tells the story of the hurt and confusion she feels as a child born from donor conception. Clark gives an account of her feelings:

I’m here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn’t ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It’s hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won’t matter to the “products” of the cryobanks’ service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place. We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth — the right to know who both our parents are. (Clark 1)

Another child born via sperm donor, Jo Rose, also publicly advocates for the rights of children born via sperm donation. In her article, “I Could Have 300 Siblings” published in The Guardian, Rose reiterates the hypocritical double standard of donor conception. “One of the most upsetting things for me about the way I was brought into the world is the blatant double standard involved. My mother’s need to have a genetic link to her child was valued, while my need to know, love and understand the father with whom I have a genetic link was not” (par. 20).

Brian C., a 17 year old child born via a surrogate mother, writes of his heart wrenching struggles to come to terms with his birth. He writes painfully on his blog sonofasurrogate.tripod.com:

How do you think we feel about being created specifically to be given away? You should all know that kids form their own opinions. I don’t care why my parents or my mother did this. It looks to me like I was bought and sold….You can pretend these are not your children. You can say it is a gift or you donated your egg to the [intended mother]. But the fact is that someone has contracted you to make a child, give up your parental rights and hand over your flesh and blood child. I don’t care if you think I am not your child, what about what I think! Maybe I know I am your child. When you exchange something for money it is called a commodity. Babies are not commodities. Babies are human beings. How do you think this makes us feel to know that there was money exchanged for us?

In all honesty, this topic is particularly painful for me. My mother was exceedingly vocal about the sadness and loss she felt growing up never knowing her biological father. She spoke often about the genealogical bewilderment she felt, as if a part of her were missing. Why my Grandmother refused to confide in her about her biological father, remains a mystery. My mother always assumed her mother would eventually gather the courage to tell her the details of her birth. Unfortunately, my Grandmother passed away suddenly and never divulged the information. After my Grandmother’s untimely death, my mother slipped further and further into the depths of despair. I watched as she faded away before my eyes, giving up all will to live. My mother passed away in 2007, due to alcoholism. Granted my mother certainly suffered from mental illness and acute alcoholism, so all her problems cannot be blamed on a missing father. However, one cannot argue that my mother suffered from severe emotional distress, due to unfulfilled longing to have a connection to her biological father.

In all fairness, I certainly realize that not all same-sex couples have a desire to create their own children. Many couples may choose to have no children, or some may already have children from previous heterosexual relationships. Also, some may employ reproductive technologies, but allow the children to have a relationship with the other biological parent.

However, I hope that some of these difficult topics regarding children’s rights are confronted during the debate over gay marriage. According to Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, “Children…have the right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents.” Article 9 also states, “Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them.”

The debate over same-sex marriage is exceptionally polarizing. Individuals from both sides of the spectrum often get heated and toss around nasty accusations such as homophobic bigotry, ignorance, judicial activism and arrogant elitist. These insults are neither helpful nor accurate in the majority of cases. As the debate grows ever larger, I hope both sides remember that there are decent, caring people on each side of this debate. Not every proponent is a homosexual or liberal bent on engineering social change through judicial activism. Likewise, not every opponent is a religious bigot. I sincerely hope that each side can reach an acceptable compromise, so that America can solve this divisive issue.

As the fall elections approach, and campaigns from both sides espouse their views across Washington State, I hope some of my concerns will be addressed. Is marriage an inherent right or a privilege? Should the desires of adults, outweigh the needs of children? How will children’s rights be protected if same-sex marriage is passed? Most importantly, what do these answers mean for the voters of Washington? I look forward to hearing how each side addresses these concerns and other arguments over the next several months. I hope by November I will have learned enough on this topic to register informed votes at the polls, on both Referendum 74, and Initiative 1192. I hope to make my voice be heard.

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