Or, why conservatives should learn to stop worrying and love gay marriage. Dale Carpenter has a brilliant column about the many ways in which opposition to gay marriage actually undermines marriage in ways that the social conservatives think gay marriage itself does. He begins:
Conservative opposition to gay marriage is having unconservative effects, helping to push the boundaries of family law into new territory that challenges the primacy of marriage itself. By opposing gay marriage, conservatives are forcing gay families to seek refuge through untraditional means that could undermine marriage or destabilize family concepts in ways that gay marriage itself would not.
He offers several examples of how this is happening. For instance, second-parent adoptions:
When married couples adopt, both become the legal parents of the child. Traditionally, however, only one member of an unmarried couple could adopt a child. Among other things, this rule has encouraged the couple to get married because it would provide the child with two parents.
Gay couples, who can’t marry, must find other ways to protect their children. Starting in the early 1980s, the National Center for Lesbian Rights pioneered the concept of “second-parent” adoptions by which two unmarried people could both be a child’s legal parents. Over time, the concept has been embraced by courts or by statute in about half the states.
Here’s the kicker. Second-parent adoptions have also become available to unmarried heterosexual couples. Thus, a legal reform intended to compensate for the unavailability of same-sex marriage has been seized by those who can marry but choose not to. It reduces the incentive to marry and means more children will be raised out-of-wedlock.
Another example – parental visitation by non-custodial parents:
In Minnesota, the state supreme court recently upheld an order allowing a woman parent-like visitation with the two adopted children she raised with her lesbian partner of 22 years. Because the women weren’t married, only one of them formally adopted the kids. When they split, the legal parent barred her ex from seeing them. If they’d been married, both parents would have been entitled to see the children.
The non-parent sued to get some access to the children based on a Minnesota statute allowing a person “reasonable” visitation if the person lived with the children at least two years. The court ordered that the non-parent be given the right to visit the children on a schedule exactly like what a divorced parent would get (weekends, alternate holidays, long summer vacations) — all without having to pay child support.
The Minnesota decision was correct under state law and was perfectly justified given that the lesbian couple could not marry and that both women raised the children. But it does set a precedent by which an unmarried heterosexual partner could likewise claim full parental visitation rights without accompanying support obligations. Another incentive to marry is eroded.
The same is true of a whole range of legal options for achieving the legal and financial protections automatically given to married couples. Ironically, we hear constantly from those who oppose gay marriage that it’s not necessary to allow gays to get married because there are other ways they can get the same protections through the use of private contracts, power of attorney filings and so forth. Do they not realize that this actually undermines their case? If you can achieve the same protections without getting married – and straight couples can do the same thing – then you are reducing the incentive to get married, something conservatives are always saying is necessary to get people to get married. All of this points out the disingenuousness of such arguments; the real reason they oppose gay marriage really has nothing to do with wanting to “preserve marriage” and everything to do with their bigotry toward gays.