Okay, so I never actually post 1000 words at a time. One picture instead of 400-600 words would be more accurate. And really, one picture and then a bunch of words, too.
I’ll assume you have gone and looked at the picture. What’s the most striking thing about it? Surely it’s all the kids. If you didn’t know and I showed you that and said it was a bill signing, wouldn’t you think it was a children’s health care bill, or maybe something about elementary education?
I think what this shows–and here I really do mean shows–is the degree to which the debate about access to marriage for same-sex couples has come to focus on parents and children. As I’ve observed before, this is true for both sides–those who support access to marriage and those who oppose it. In this case, supporters of lesbian and gay rights are reinforcing their message that children of lesbian and gay parents will be better off if their parents can be married or, failing that, domestically partnered. (Would that be the right term?)
Now only yesterday I wrote about the recent report about the rise in the proportion of births to unmarried (as opposed to married) mothers. I don’t think I said this very well, but part of my point was that the category “unmarried” may not really be what we want to get at. For instance, all lesbians who give birth in Washington are (at least for now) in that unmarried category, including those who have domestic partners. But there are obvious differences between two-parent lesbian families and one-parent lesbian families. The difference is not, however, whether the parent is married.
Is the critical question really number of parents–so we should distinguish between one-parent families, two-parent families, three-parent families, etc? Or perhaps it is number of households in which the child resides? (One parent in one household might have more in common with two parents in one household than with two parents in two households?)
I think the photograph from the bill signing is an effective piece of political theater. But it troubles me that it reinforces the equation between marriage (and other forms of legal commitment between adults) and child well-being. What does that mean for single lesbian mothers and their children? Or single non-lesbian mothers?
The evolution of lesbian and gay family law has created an interesting phenomena. There are many two-parent lesbian and gay families out there. (By this I mean families with two legal parents who are a lesbian or gay couple.) But I’d guess that it is still the case that most of those couples are unmarried couples.
Though I’ve seen no statistics, I’d expect to find that families structured around two cohabiting but unmarried legal parents are much more common for lesbian and gay men than they are for heterosexual people. Perhaps these families offer us another way to examine the relationship between marriage and children.