I’ve written about the linkages drawn between lesbian and gay people as parents and lesbian and gay people having access to marriage a bunch of times here. For instance, in the trial court version of the marriage case now pending before the US Supreme Court, everyone agreed that marriage was good for children. From that premise, advocates for access to marriage argued that it was therefore only fair to the children of lesbians and gay men that their parents be allowed to marry. And the argument seemed to carry some weight, perhaps even with the critical swing voter, Justice Kennedy. By contrast, in France access to parentage for lesbians and gay men remains difficult and very controversial. And this has shaped the debate over marriage because some are concerned that if lesbians and gay couples can marry then they will be allowed to have children.
I’m reminded of this because Paul Ryan, lately the Republican candidate for vice-president, has decided he is okay with lesbian and gay couples become adoptive parents. At the same time, he maintains his opposition to access to marriage.
I have to wonder if he’s standing on solid ground.
Personally I am not persuaded that marriage is necessarily good for children. The studies that compare children of married and unmarried parents are often problematic, partly because unmarried parents come in so many varieties. The “unmarried” category includes teenage single mothers who never meant to be single mothers and women who have been abandoned by their husbands as well as some happily unmarried but stable couples–a disproportionate number of whom are same-sex couples. (That’s because the different sex couples who want to can and therefore presumably do get married–taking themselves out of the unmarried category.)
But the link between marriage and children–the idea that children should have married parents–is absolutely critical to conservative arguments in favor of keeping marriage exclusively heterosexual. Indeed, the idea that marriage is about children and it is the optimal setting for children is the pillar on which everything rests. I assume Ryan would agree with this. (After all, most people do. My skepticism is clearly a minority view.)
If Ryan is intent on preserving his generally conservative credentials, this means he’s now in a position where he is saying:
1. Lesbian and gay people should be allowed to adopt children but
2. We should deny those children the best possible families they can have by continuing to restrict access to marriage.
Is that really a tenable stance in the long term? I don’t think it is. The logical step from letting lesbians and gay men be parents AND thinking that it is best for children if their parents are married is to allow all parents–including lesbian and gay parents to marry.
I’ll be very interested in how well Ryan can maintain his footing here. Stay tuned.