Romantic Love and Double Standards

Out of all the arguments I see against same-sex marriage, the “kids need a mother and a father” argument seems to me to be one of the most specious, because it’s grounded in a massive double standard. We don’t force divorcees, or widows to marry again “for the sake of the children.” We don’t require it of single parents. There are plenty more examples—people in long-distance relationships with no specific plans to move in together, people with dangerous jobs or serious illnesses that make it more likely that any kids they have will lose a parent. Those people are absolutely allowed to get married. For that matter, people who are serving life sentences in jail are allowed to get married and could conceivably have children. Conjugal visits are only permitted in about six states, but if you live in one of those states, no one is going to prevent you from marrying and having a child with someone who’s extremely unlikely to be in that child’s life. (And in the other 44, prison doesn’t necessarily rule out artificial insemination.)

To my knowledge, there aren’t any campaigns to require single parents to marry or remarry, or to prevent people who can’t be around for their kids from having any. If they do exist, they certainly don’t have the same fervor, or the same financial backing, as campaigns working against same-sex marriage. That’s the double standard I’m talking about. If one of you has an M on your driver’s license and the other has an F, and you’re legal adults, not married to anyone else or related to each other, your freedom to marry is largely unrestricted. But if you’re a same-sex couple, suddenly we have to ask more questions. Suddenly we’re so worried about the children not being raised in “ideal” families.

Today, I read an Examiner article that took the “kids need a mother and a father” argument a little further. (The article was written by someone I’ve known online for more than a decade, and a good guy, so I’m going to shoot for very respectful criticism. Not that that isn’t *always* a good goal—I think “pretend the person you’re arguing with online is someone you actually like” would cut down the amount of vitriol on the internet substantially.)

Anyway, the central premise is that girls need a father figure to form a romantic attachment to a man. There’s a study mentioned (though not cited or described in enough detail to make it easy to find):

A recent study of women has made a connection between romantic love and the relationships they had with their fathers. There is a tendency for women to have this attractive reaction to men who exhibit personality traits consistent with those of their fathers, whether or not they had good relationships with those fathers, and in fact for women with bad father relationships to fall into bad relationships of a very similar sort.

The argument from this is that, without a father as a template for the kind of man she’s supposed to be attracted to, a woman won’t be able to form romantic attachments, or at least will have that ability somewhat hampered. The exact phrasing is “It suggests that for women to have a romantic attraction of that sort toward a man, she has to have had a male father figure in her life.”

But that’s not what the study actually says. For a study to show something of that nature, the logical thing to do would be to compare the romantic relationships of women who grew up with a father in their life and those who didn’t and see if the women who didn’t had weaker attractions or were less likely to have romantic relationships. If I were designing that study, I’d want to try for a good sample of children of divorce, children of single parents, women whose fathers had passed away, and children of lesbians to try to eliminate any confounding variables related to family upheaval. I’d also want to track whether the women whose fathers were absent had any other paternal figures, like an uncle or grandfather, they were close to. There’s no indication that the study even looked at women without a father or father figure, so it’s really stretching to attribute the idea that women need a father figure to form romantic attachments to it.

What it does say is that we get our ideas of what makes a good partner—and what’s normal in relationships—from our parents’ relationships. As the summary puts it:

“There is a tendency for women to have this attractive reaction to men who exhibit personality traits consistent with those of their fathers, whether or not they had good relationships with those fathers, and in fact for women with bad father relationships to fall into bad relationships of a very similar sort.”

To me, this absolutely does not say that any male-female relationship is automatically a better place to raise children than a same-sex relationship. How could it, when it doesn’t even address same sex relationships? What it does say is that women are frequently attracted to men with similar personality traits to their fathers. To me, this suggests that if a woman marries a jerk and has kids with him, her daughter is likely to view “jerk” as the male default and (if she’s straight) probably end up with a jerk herself.

As another issue, if we’re assuming male-female relationships are the ideal, we’re hoping, as our ideal, that gay people will marry members of the opposite sex. Since reparative therapy hasn’t shown any indication of being able to change people’s orientation, this means that a marriage where one partner has no attraction to the other and the relationship is based on a lie is viewed as a good thing, because no matter how dysfunctional or dishonest it might be, it fits the ideal family structure. (I know people who’ve been in mixed orientation marriages, and it’s not anything like an ideal. In one woman’s case, it shredded her self-confidence horribly, which is about what you’d expect for anyone who found out their partner had never been attracted to them.)

But I get the impression that the anti-gay-marriage argument isn’t terribly concerned with whether any of these individual relationships are happy. After all, if it’s for the good of the children, that outweighs any concerns like whether their parents love each other. However, the study itself suggests potential fallout for the children of those relationships. It would indicate that women whose parents were in a mixed orientation marriage will pick partners with traits like “lies to me about really important things” or “isn’t attracted to me at all, but wants me to fix him.” The one thing the study does indicate is that girls whose parents have bad relationships are likely to have relationships that go off the rails in a similar way themselves. So in light of this study, the absolute *last* thing to encourage is that any male-female pair, regardless of the quality of the relationship, is inherently a better place to raise children than a same-sex one.

Since I made a pretty strong statement about “don’t marry a jerk” a few paragraphs back, I don’t want to imply that I think a gay person who marries someone of the opposite sex, even dishonestly, is automatically a bad person. It’s a harmful decision, I don’t think there’s any question about that, but it’s also a decision with a huge amount of social pressure behind it. That’s not to let someone who lies, cheats, or emotionally abuses their partner off the hook for their own actions either—just to say that there are multiple victims and plenty of blame to go around.

But all of that is just assuming that the study was well designed, well controlled, and that it’s findings were significant. Depending on which personality traits you use and how you’re measuring them, you might get very different results. Since I don’t have the study itself, I have no idea if they did a good job of that or not.

There’s also a huge amount of gender essentialism in the article (no surprise, since the “traditional marriage” argument is all about gender roles):

We might suppose that such a girl attaches to one of her two female parents and identifies that one as the putative “father”. That would mean that her romantic baseline would be looking for a man who had the qualities which attracted her to a female parent. It is not even clear at this point that a young girl could make such an identification of a female parent as the surrogate father. Nor is it clear what kind of man might have those qualities.

The implication is that men and women are such completely different sorts of people that marrying a guy with a similar personality to your mom is about as likely as getting a dog with a similar personality to your first cat. And yet, while trying to find the referenced study (with no success), I found several articles about the idea that women are attracted to men like their fathers (or vice versa with men and their mothers). (One from CNN, one from the Daily Mail, and one from The Telegraph.)

These studies talked about either facial similarities or about pretty general aspects of personality that apply to both men and women. The CNN article, for example, describes one woman whose husband shared her father’s “emotional distance” and his angry temper, another whose husband and father are both interested in politics and the stock market, and a third who has a very similar sense of humor to her mother-in-law. None of these are sex-specific traits, so not having a parent of the opposite sex doesn’t necessarily prevent looking for a parent’s traits in an opposite-sex partner. If the study had actually included same-sex families, there might have been some data to see how or if that happens.

For that matter, I don’t know if the study controlled for the *mother’s* personality at all, and people do often marry similar people. You would need to demonstrate that women are attracted to men who have characteristics of their fathers that are *not* shared by their mothers to demonstrate that women go for men who are like their dads, rather than women choose partners who remind them in some way of one or both parents.

Another quibble I have with this article is the way it talks about same-sex families with a lot of “We might suppose” language, as though there aren’t actual same-sex families on which sociological research could be (and has been) done, rather than making assumptions based on opposite-sex parents. That level of supposition implies that there isn’t any research out there on children of same-sex couples, and we have no idea whatsoever how they might be affected. That ties right into the conclusion, which has some pretty dramatic rhetoric: “We do not know what kind of impact a different model will have on children. Is it worth the price to our children to change to another model without examining it more carefully first?”

First off, the default for child-raising is still very likely to be opposite sex couples, both because straight people outnumber gay people by 9 to 1 or more, and because having a child “the old-fashioned way” is a lot easier and less expensive than anything involving artificial insemination. If Wikipedia is accurate, same-sex marriages make up about 4% of the total marriages in Massachusetts, a pretty tiny minority. The idea of “changing to another model” totally ignores those demographics. At 4%, same-sex couples are likely even a minority of couples without a parent of each sex in the home, once you take divorce, death, and single parenthood into account.

Secondly, there’s again the implication that same-sex couples aren’t already raising children, that this is some new thing that has never been done, something with completely unknown consequences. Vermont has had civil unions since 2000, and Massachusetts has had same-sex marriage for more than a decade, and it was the sixth jurisdiction to allow it, not the first. (That distinction goes to the Netherlands, in 2001.) Not to mention that raising children and being legally married aren’t the same thing. The first gay couples who petitioned for the right to marry in the US did so in the *1970s*, and I seriously doubt that none of them raised kids. There are a number of studies on children of same-sex couples, and the only one that found anything negative, the Regnerus study, was dodgy to say the least.

And again, even if outcomes *were* better for children in opposite-sex families than in same-sex ones, those couples are still the only ones expected to “prove” that their relationship is “ideal” before they’re allowed to get married. The chance of divorce is higher for young couples and lower for college graduates, but that doesn’t mean the legal marriage age should be 25, or that people should be required to finish college before getting married. No one is pushing to ban any less-than-ideal opposite-sex marriages. In a free country, individuals should be able to make personal decisions based on what they want for their own lives, even if it doesn’t meet someone else’s ideal.

Advertisements

Why I’m in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

I posted on Facebook why I don’t eat at Chik-Fil-A (i.e., because of this), and I got slammed, snarked, and condescended to by one person. My first thought was to reply in kind, my second was to inform them of the location of the useful little X button on Facebook posts and suggest that if they don’t like what I have to say, they avail themselves of it. But then I decided to try for something more like Amp’s approach here. I’m not sure I was successful, because I wrote a huge essay that I doubt the other person will do more than skim through, and because I didn’t really do enough to tie it to the other person’s experiences (though I tied it to mine), but I can hope.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

Now that that’s* out of the way, I don’t think they’re bigots for believing, in good faith, that homosexuality is a sin. I think they’re bigots for actively fighting against marriage equality and for denying LGBT people the use of their facility.

I think that even if you are fully convinced that homosexuality is a sin, it’s still wrong (and unChristian) to try to continue denying gay people equality under the law. It means real tangible harm and cruelty, like not letting people visit their sick or dying partner in the hospital, or taking kids away from people who’ve raised them. This happens even when the couples in question have seen a lawyer and spent the tons of time and money to get the legal documents that were supposed to be “just as good” as legal marriage. It also means letting kids languish in foster care or group situations when there are adoptive parents who would give them a loving home, but happen to be gay.

The second reason I’m in favor of SSM is that America is not and was never meant to be a theocracy. I also don’t see anything in the Bible to suggest that it’s the job of American Christians to try to make it one. This isn’t Old Testament Israel, where our nation’s laws came straight from God, and nowhere in the New Testament do I find a word about how we’re supposed to force our non-Christian neighbors to live by our beliefs. There’s a lot of turning the other cheek and shaking the dust off your feet and showing love.

And if America wasn’t meant to be a theocracy in 1776, when it was inhabited mostly by Christians and a handful of Jews, how much more wrong would it be to make it a theocracy now when it’s a country of people of every religion and no religion. We’ve been effectively a theocracy in a lot of ways because of a Christian majority and because of some deep-seated prejudices toward people who aren’t Christian, but that’s changing. As a Christian, it makes me happy, not sad, to see that change, because I believe that matters of faith are between an individual and God, not something to be shoved down their throat by whatever majority happens to have power.

I also find it telling which beliefs we feel we have the right, even the imperative, to make others live by. Tons of marriages happen every day that many Christians would define as not Biblical for one reason or another. But we’re not rushing to invalidate the marriages of the divorcees, or the people marrying outside their faith, or the people who have had premarital sex with someone other than the person they’re marrying. Heck, if we want to give all of Paul’s directives about marriage legal force, my marriage to [my husband]** should be just as illegal as the marriage of any two men or two women, because it’s an egalitarian one–I promised to love and honor, but not obey. And on the flip side, there are plenty of Christian denominations that have no problem with same-sex marriage. Even if we were to be a Christian theocracy, whose brand of Christianity gets to be in charge?

Finally, I never said that Chik-Fil-A deserves to go bankrupt and frankly***, if the few bucks I might spend on fast food is going to do in my local chain, they’ve got bigger problems. But I don’t think I’m somehow obligated to have my money go toward things I think are wrong. If it’s okay for Christians who are against homosexuality to boycott Disney for having gay pride days, how is it not okay for me to do the same based on my deeply held beliefs?

I *like* the fact that Chik-Fil-A is closed on Sundays. I like the fact that a lot of the restaurants play Christian music. I would love to be able to support them, but this is an issue that’s important enough to me that I would not feel right eating there.

*”That” was telling him that I didn’t appreciate his sarcasm or condescension. Just because I’m trying to have a better conversation doesn’t mean I won’t tell the other person when they need to knock off the rudeness.

** Hubby’s full name redacted, since this is a public blog and not my “some vague semblance of privacy” Facebook page, where everything I posted is limited to my two-hundred-and-ninety-something “friends”

**He said, among other things, that I was arguing that Chik-Fil-A’s owners are horrible people and deserve to go bankrupt for “acting on what [they] know to be true.”

Names and Identity, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

In a nutshell, the issue with a woman taking a man’s name is the way it folds her identity into his. We’ve mostly gotten past the idea that women are the property of their father, until he hands them over to their husbands. (I say mostly because of the “giving away” tradition at weddings, and please don’t get me started on Purity Balls.) So, we should maybe *not* have the default be that her name reflects that handing over from one guy to another, with the idea that a woman’s only identity is in terms of the man she belongs to.

At the same time, your identity does change when you’re married, so having a name change reflect that isn’t wholly a bad thing. It’s just that the husband’s identity should, presumably, change too, rather than the wife’s identity just being subsumed. In the more or less egalitarian society we’re supposed to have, he’s made a major life change and commitment, not acquired a new piece of property. And yet, most of the time, the wife’s name is the one that changes.

There are times when one partner’s identity is subordinate to the other’s. Like, when I go to a work picnic with my hubby, I’m Mrs. Matt–anyone there who knows me knows me in relation to him. That’s not a bad thing. When he goes to my cousin’s wedding, he’s basically Mr. Kelly.* In that context, people know him in relation to me. And when we have kids, their friends and teachers will know us first and foremost as “Billy’s mom” or “Susie’s dad.” Identity is complicated and multifaceted, and the people you have connections to–particularly your spouse, the person you share your life with–do define facets of your identity.

Ideally, there’s a balance there. My identity isn’t wholly subordinate to Matt’s–there are times when my role is “Matt’s wife” and I’m in a certain place doing a certain thing to support him. And the reverse is also true. But for most people, the name change pretty much only works one way (though in fairness to Matt, I should point out that he offered to take my name if I wanted him to).

There’s really no way your name can incorporate every part of your identity, because no one has the time or inclination to string all the facets of identity into a person’s name. I can’t very well introduce myself as Kelly, daughter of M and C, wife of Matt, sister to A and sister-by-marriage** to D, M, and B, daughter-by-marriage** to T and K. And that’s just the close family portion of the identity. Start the whole thing off with a dozen key things about me, like where I’m from or where I live now, where I went to school, what I do for a living, or the fact that I’m a Christian or a writer or a sci-fi geek, and it gets supremely ridiculous.

And I don’t really expect that a name should encompass every piece of your identity. That’s not really what names are for. They’re there to give the people who know you something distinct to call you that’s unique, or close to it, in the circle of people they associate with, so they can distinguish you from everybody else. But how names are formed, and when and how they’re changed, does say something about what we define as distinguishing one person from another. And it’s problematic for the first thing that distinguishes one woman from another is “who her husband is.”

*I will say, by the way, that I love the trend among feminist bloggers who are married to casually refer to their spouses as Mr. [Theirbloghandle]. It’s so perfectly appropriate, because as their readers, we know about these husbands only in relation to the wives whose work we’re reading.

**If it were feasible to incorporate all your familial relationships into your name, I like “sister/daughter-by-marriage” better than “in-law” because it better conveys my relationship with my husband’s family, all of whom are awesome. “In-law” has a connotation of people who aren’t real family, but you’re legally stuck with because of who you or they married.

Names and Identity, Part 1

When I read Against the Name Change: A Polemic, it gave me second thoughts about my decision to take my husband’s name. This wasn’t an ill-thought-out or hasty decision, but this post made me wonder how many of my reasons were justifications for simply following tradition because it’s easier.

Let me say first off that I have a very egalitarian marriage. We both cook, we both clean, we both try to support each other in that whole “working outside the home” thing and fairly juggle errands and taking care of the fuzzy children.*

And when Mr. Thinkstoomuch and I were engaged, I had examples of all sorts of not changing your name. A friend who was going to keep her name, with no hyphenation, another set of friends where the man was taking the woman’s name. (I actually know *two* guys who’ve done this–it’s a tiny minority, but it is becoming more common.) I knew a number of people who hyphenated, but I’ve never been a fan of hyphenation. If either original name is longer than two syllables, it gets really clunky.

My reasons for name change were personal and idiosyncratic, but I don’t think invalid. I like the assonance and alliteration of my first name with the new last name. And after two years of teaching and a lifetime of answering calls from telemarketers, I was sick of hearing my last name mangled. So, the idea of a shorter and more easily pronounced name was really appealing. (Though I totally underestimated the number of people who can get a simple, but uncommon, name wrong or need it spelled for them.)

There were also identity-based reasons. When Mr. Thinkstoomuch graduated from college and I left my teaching job several hundred miles away, his parents let us stay with them until we got jobs and got settled in our own place. I felt very much a part of his family and wanted to honor that too.

And yet, if I had it to do over again, I might choose differently. The paperwork is a ginormous pain. I still don’t have my bank account stuff straight, because the times I’ve gone, there’s been some requirement they’ve neglected to mention the last time. Sorry, you need to bring your spouse with you. Oh, no, we need a copy of the marriage license.

But the point where I felt a real pang of regret was at my brother’s wedding. He was talking about how many [Last Name]s were there (not many) and described me as “one who left.” Dude, I didn’t leave, I’m right here.

This is getting long, so I think I’ll break it into two posts, with the primary point for this post being that the “easy” choice where the woman changes her name is not, in fact, easy. It’s *traditional* which makes it easy in some respects. And as much as I like having a name that ties me to my in-laws, my new family, it feels as though I’ve some how replaced my family by giving up the name that ties me to them. In reality, of course, I haven’t, but names are symbols and symbols are important.

*No, we’re not goofy people who treat our pets like kids. But like children, they’re cute and dependent, and need a lot of looking after. And it’s a term of endearment.