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February 26, 2004

Mothers Can Like Sports, Too

[Gabriel Rosenberg made a comment to this post that I thought sufficiently important to put my reply in the main body of the blog. (It also didn't hurt that it took me so long to write it.)]

He talks about a Dad making it to more baseball games. In my family, it was my Mom who was the big baseball fan. My Dad preferred football. If he thinks it is important for his children to have a parent of each gender, he should marry someone of the opposite gender. In our society we generally allow parents to decide what is best for their own children.

— I'll admit that this is an attractive argument. The catch is that the well-being of young Gabriel Rosenberg isn't, of itself, a tremendously "compelling state interest." Let's leave aside that these examples, such as the sports reference, are meant to capture much more intricate arguments about much more subtle relationships. If your mother truly was a baseball enthusiast and wasn't just supporting her son's endeavors, she was unique in that respect.

But again, the sports reference is only emblematic. Allow me to quote our friend Andrew Sullivan in a New York Times Magazine piece on testosterone:

And the difference is a real one. This is so obvious a point that we sometimes miss it. But without that difference, it would be hard to justify separate sports leagues for men and women, just as it would be hard not to suspect judicial bias behind the fact that of the 98 people executed last year in the United States, 100 percent came from a group that composes a little less than 50 percent of the population; that is, men. When the discrepancy is racial, we wring our hands. That it is sexual raises no red flags. Similarly, it is not surprising that 55 percent of everyone arrested in 1998 was under the age of 25 -- the years when male testosterone levels are at their natural peak.

Of course, Sullivan's example isn't a shining one for the male parent (although he elsewhere notes that testosterone levels drop in men in stable marriages); his point throughout is that testosterone affects a person in every way, and "an average woman has 40 to 60 nanograms of testosterone in a deciliter of blood plasma. An average man has 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter." My point, because I am most definitely not a biology-is-destiny type, is that, no matter how you approach the question, men and woman are different in significant ways. To argue that they are not is, resurrecting a metaphor, akin to arguing that triangles and rectangles are not different in significant ways when it comes to skyscraper construction.

This doesn't quite reach your point. Even so, you'll say, it is a matter of opinion whether those differences, however significant they may be, are crucial contributors to the proper development of a child. That they are indeed strikes me as obvious, and I believe recent sociological research backs up what just about everybody believes to be true anyway. At the very least, we can say that your proposal is entirely untested on a societal scale (a scale at which no individual can possibly comprehend every relevant factor), and that the stakes gambled to test it are cataclysmically high.

The entire point of encouraging marriage in any civic form is to address society-wide realities. When it comes to civil marriage, that is, your individualistic point, as emotionally compelling as it may be, is either irrelevant or subversive of the civil institution. Now, you can argue to the public that men and women are not, on average, significantly different when it comes to childrearing. Or you can argue that civil marriage ought to be abolished. But you can't argue that parents have a right to receive public endorsements for every choice that they make in contravention of public belief.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 26, 2004 7:38 PM
Marriage & Family
Comments

First of all, my Mom was (and still is) a genuine baseball fan and had been long before I was born. It may have to do with growing up in St. Louis, a definite baseball city. In any case I agree there are genuine differences between men and women, but I think there are also general differences between New Yorkers and Calfifornians, between college educated and those that aren't, etc. My point was that gender is only one part of who we are, and its importance will vary to different people.

Even so, you'll say, it is a matter of opinion whether those differences, however significant they may be, are crucial contributors to the proper development of a child. That they are indeed strikes me as obvious, and I believe recent sociological research backs up what just about everybody believes to be true anyway. At the very least, we can say that your proposal is entirely untested on a societal scale (a scale at which no individual can possibly comprehend every relevant factor), and that the stakes gambled to test it are cataclysmically high.

I'm curious as to the sociological research since as you've said (and I agree) it is untested on a large scale. It is being tested now, though, regardless of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry. So the question in my mind is do we try to help those families by providing them the protections of marriage, or do we tell them they shouldn't be raising kids in the first place, so they don't get the same help we give other couples? People are also having children these days much later in life, but we don't refuse them public benefits because some people might think it is a bad idea.

The entire point of encouraging marriage in any civic form is to address society-wide realities.

We provide one society-wide set of rules and try to adjust those rules to cater to the majority, but within that framework we allow individuals to decide how to best decide things. For example, it used to be that the man was the public figure of the marriage, and the woman's role was domestic. In many families that is still the case, but we allow the couple to decide. Some couples are deciding to have the man stay-at-home and the woman bring in the income. This is also untested, but we recognize that it is their choice to make and we want the family to succeed regardless of what we think about the choice they made.

But you can't argue that parents have a right to receive public endorsements for every choice that they make in contravention of public belief.

I'm arguing that they have a right to live under the same legal scheme regardless of who one chooses for a spouse. Now we are back to arguments that have already been rejected in the context of interracial marraige. Those couples were making choices in contravention of public belief, yet the courts ruled they could not be denied the protection of marriage because of it. This despite the fact that one of the arguements against interracial marriage was that the children would have severe problems growing up in such a family.

You call marriage a public endorsement. What exactly is the public endorsing? The state has a monopoly on granting civil marriage. There is no judgement on how fit the couple is to raise children when a couple marries. Marriage is not reserved for ideal parents. Nevertheless, I do believe same-sex couples can be ideal parents. At the very least if they do raise children, they should be encouraged to marry.

Posted by: Gabriel Rosenberg at February 26, 2004 10:01 PM