Heather MacDonald’s latest piece at National Review explores some of the questions surrounding gay marriage, and the difficulties that arise when parental status and identity is established solely by intent, rather than by biology–as it is in the case of homosexual marriage.
The question, of course, that MacDonald has to answer is why this separation matters at all. She answers:
The institutionalized severing of biology from parenthood affirms a growing trend in our society, that of men abandoning their biological children. Too many men now act like sperm donors: they conceive a children then largely disappear, becoming at best intermittent presences in their children’s lives.
If parental status is a matter of intent, however, not of genes, absent fathers can say: “I never intended to take on the role of that child’s parent; therefore I’m not morally bound to act as a parent.”
The separation of biology and parenthood, then, has two problematic effects: on the one hand, it undercuts the argument that fathers have obligations to any offspring they do not conceive intentionally, further perpetuating the social problems absenteeism has caused. On the other hand, it undercuts the complementarity that men and women have in raising children, a complementarity that MacDonald thinks can be established even at a biological level.
MacDonald realizes the muted force of her argument, as she hedges her position on the final page. But it is still an interesting line of thought.
And if it’s right, it might have significant repercussions for younger evangelicals who want to claim that they are pro-life while still allowing homosexual marriage. The force of MacDonald’s piece is that she establishes a link between the technological subordination of procreation (as expressed through making procreation only valid when it is intentional) with marriage practices, arguing that, “The primary challenge to traditional notions of parenthood comes from gay conception, not gay marriage.”
The first line of argument indicates that intention alone is not the sole criterion for parenthood, a position that the pro-life community has vigorously asserted and that homosexual child-rearing has to deny. This, however, might call the coherence of simultaneously being pro-life and pro-gay marriage into question.
I say “might” because McDonald’s line of argument might also cause problems for the adoption movement, which also establishes child-rearing on a non-biological basis. But even on that front, it’s not clear that encouraging adoption and including adoptive children as regular, normal children on the same level as biological ones makes adoption normative in the way biological children might be. And it preserves (in most cases) the biological complementarity of a mother and father.
MacDonald’s piece is by no means conclusive, but it does move one up some important lines of inquiry that are worth reflecting on. At the least, it offers up a few more questions for proponents of gay marriage and explains the cautiousness of social conservatives to give weigh to libertarian ideals.