While I was away, I watched an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” His guests were Alec Baldwin, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, and AB Stoddard. One of the topics brought up was about Haggard and then, the gay marriage movement.
On the one hand, Jack Kingston just kept saying that it’s not right for marriage to include other than one man and one woman. And children need a mother and a father. And that almost a million children were born out of wedlock, and how sad that was. Then, Alec Baldwin had some angle where he said that if Republicans were against gay marriage because you needed a man and a woman to procreate, what did they have to say about heterosexual marriages where they couldn’t have a child and then adopted? Were their marriages and families just as unnatural and should they be unlawful?
Then Bill Maher said that just because there were almost a million unwed births that didn’t mean that the parents weren’t there to be parents. Maybe they didn’t want to formalize their union with a legal document, but still intended to be participating parents. And that he never married because he didn’t want the government in his bedroom or something like that.
This is where Maher’s libertarian streak just pisses me off. And then, I also felt that Alec was just making intellectual arguing points and missing the real issue. The real issue is that a high level of parental investment IS better for kids. Children do better when more adults invest in their futures – not just in terms of money, of course, but in concern, time, setting examples and so forth. And children born out of wedlock (which, incidentally has nothing to do with gay marriage – it was kind of hilarious, although understandable, that they were conflating these things – or rather, that Jack Kingston was) do tend to have less parental investment than children born to two committed parents. (I think Maher’s point, that the parents were committed, but not legally binding their union was sort of silly. If there are a million unwed births, a small percentage of them are in situations like the one that Maher was describing.)
Of course it makes no difference who those two committed parents are – and that they are even biological parents. In any case, marriage is good for a society in that it corrals, legally and publicly, the responsibility of two people towards offspring. I mean, the whole reason that natural selection selected for parental love was so that the child had better odds of making it. And while everyone knows there are lots of examples of shitty parents even though they’re married, in general, children are better off having two people to look out for them. And in that sense, Kingston is right, it’s just better for kids to have two parents and out of wedlock babies, in general, don’t have it as good. They do not do as well at school (in general), their home life is less secure and insulated from disaster, etc. Plus, if the parents are not legally committed to each other in terms of raising the child, the chance for other adults getting mixed into the family is higher – like new fathers, etc. And children raised by people other than their natural parents are at a higher risk for neglect. There are ways that nature can trick us (I mean, trick us in a good way) – like me, for example. I feel as attached and responsible for my daughter as if I were her biological mother.
So that’s when I thought all three of them were missing the real issue. The real issue is creating the best environment for children to grow up. (Peronsally I don't understand why people even get married unless it is for raising kids together -- or for insurance purposes, or because parties with special outfits are fun.) And anyway, the best environment for child-raising includes two or more committed adults to the welfare of that child or those children. And it means a family having enough money so that time can be devoted to that child. And that means that raising the minimum wage, and using tax laws to lessen the inequity between the rich and poor – laws like that (as opposed to opposing gay marriage) does MUCH more to create an environment that makes children better off and parents more likely to stay together. When families are terribly poor, father’s often, under the burden of being unable to provide for the family, have a greater incentive to just abandon it - or to have to travel far and wide to find a job, which can create further instability. And when families are very very rich, the ability of a father to leave and just start another family is higher too. Or for the mother to toss the father out because the greater income (from her OR him) allows for two independant households. So big differences in income in society is not good for keeping families intact, on both ends of the spectrum.
In that sense the Republican family values agenda is horrible. It penalizes the very people they are trying to protect, the children.
When I adopted my daughter, I was militant about the fact that I had the right to do so as an individual. And I think I’m doing a good job and blah blah blah. But now that I am truly in the trenches – even as a relatively high-income earner with a flexible job that allows me to be pretty full time in mothering Mulan – even though I am in that category – I think I was ridiculously naïve that I could handle this all myself. I think kids need – or rather, they are better off – having two parents and an extended family around them. I am now totally in favor of tribes. I want to be in a tribe! It’s so much better for everyone! Now I look at everything from the harsh, wide-eyed view of the vulnerabilities of our life – how everything can change in an instant. How easily people can die, for example. And having two parents who are hands on insures a child a little bit against that horrifying possibility. So in that sense, the Republican Representative is right – marriage, in so far that it’s two people committing to a child, makes the child better off. And that is something, that as a society, we should be pushing for, and certainly (like people opposed to gay marriage) not trying to legislate against.