Many important things happened on Election Day. Among them, Washington State voters (as well as those in Maine and Maryland) approved measures giving same-sex couples access to marriage.
This is an important first–all the other states that allow same-sex couples to marry got there by court action or by legislation. Further, those opposed to access to marriage had won something like 30 straight state-wide referenda on the topic. (Most of those were adoptions of statutes or constitutional amendments restricting access to marriage.) Somehow winning access via a vote of the people–the purest measure of majority sentiment–seems noteworthy.
It’s clear that the path to marriage in these states–as in all the others–runs through parenthood. What I mean is that all the states that have granted marriage access for same-sex couples have recognized same-sex couples as parents for a long time. And the recognition of same-sex couples as parents became critical in the public discourse around marriage.
The logic (as I’ve commented before) is simple. It’s widely agreed that having married parents is good for children. (To be clear, I find the uncritical assumption problematic, but still, I have to conceed it is widely shared.) Lesbian and gay couples can be parents. Their children would benefit from having married parents, too. Therefore, it only seems sensible to allow lesbian and gay parents (and therefore all lesbian and gay couples) to marry.
From a political point of view, the power of this argument is clear. Parenthood for lesbian and gay couples is well-established. The benefits of marriage for parents is an article of faith for those with conservative views. Where, then, do you grab hold and say same sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry? (I sometimes wonder if conservatives regret not having put up more of a fight about parenthood issues.)
The centrality of parenthood and children was quite clear during the just-completed campaign here in Washington and, while I didn’t see the ads in the other states, I’ll bet it was on display there, too. Marriage is all about strengthening families.
At the same time, marriage legislation is also being considered in France. What’s striking is that there the order is reversed. By gaining access to marriage, lesbian and gay couples will gain access to adoption. This is important because it turns out the provisions allowing access to adoption are quite controversial. Objections to lesbians and gay parentage lie at the heart of objections to marriage. Further, proposed compromises to limit support for parentage (via ART) are offered to ensure passage of marriage legislation.
It’s just food for thought. Partly because of the nature of our courts (I’m thinking here of common-law courts, for those who know what that means) parenthood for lesbians and gay men came slowly, almost invisibly over a period of years if not decades. This meant that it was deeply embedded before marriage really heated up as an issue. And I think that turns out to have mattered a great deal.