When the Supreme Court decided on June 26 in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage could not constitutionally depend upon the gender of the partners in a married couple, it also affirmed that the gender of parents no longer legally matters. Children do not need both a father and a mother to be a part of an American family.
Here’s another reality that drives the right-wing nuts about marriage equality. And notice that this too has to do with gender and gender roles, an issue that transcends the fight for equality for transgender people while transgender people remain the lightning rods for the broader issue of cultural gender limitations for everyone.
The presumption that children need both a father and a mother for their health is widespread and has been used to argue against same-sex adoption as well as marriage equality all the way up though the judiciary to this Supreme Court decision. Right-wing religious organizations repeat this belief, manipulate data to claim to back it up with “science,” and use threats to it as a scare tactic that appeals to those solidly in their base and draws in others who might fall for it.
We’ve lived under this presumption for generations - so long that it’s ingrained in adults across the political spectrum. There are liberal people who still believe that they suffered for not having both a father and a mother around instead of the type of fathering or mothering they did experience.
It’s not because research shows that having both a father and a mother results in a healthier child. The health of a child is actually correlated to numerous other factors.
Back in 2005, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) review of the research entitled: Lesbian and Gay Parenting concluded just the opposite:
“In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.”
And studies since this review have corroborated what the APA says. The problem is still rooted in the popular but inaccurate on-going presumption that children do better with both a male and a female as parents.
So, what is a single parent, much less a same-gender couple, to think in the midst of the commonly propagated belief that their parenting is somehow inferior? We can’t expect mainstream media to correct this error especially when the media regularly enable the right-wing to spew all their claims as if they’re factual.
Why it’s claimed that children need the male and female genders before them as they grow up is the belief that children need models of what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman. That is, the claim goes, they need to see examples of people acting out the culturally-installed gender roles for “real” men and “real” women.
Based on gender assumptions, men and women are taught to be a certain way, feel things a certain way, react to things a certain way, and relate to others a certain way. And in all this they are not to be or act like the other gender.
Children - born completely human - are taught to suppress what doesn’t fit with the role that’s set before them and encouraged to perform in terms of what the role for their assigned gender prescribes. The process of thereby raising children in our culture is to install what I’ve argued in Scared Straight are actually unhealthy scripts that limit human beings, put them out of touch with their unconditioned humanity and their varieties of inborn proclivities, harm relationships with every gender, and promote mental distress.
The stress of in-breeding these gender roles, which are installed through fear, is actually an additional harmful element of what child-rearing experts such as Alice Miller in works such as For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1990) have called a “poisonous pedagogy.” And these roles, in spite of all the gains of the LGBT movement, are enforced by the fear of what will happen to a child and adult if they don’t fit them and are therefore punished as queer.
Parents pass these roles on to their children in order to protect them from the violence, threats, ridicule, humiliation, isolation, and rejection that parents fear their offspring will experience if they don’t conform. It takes a lot of courage and living counter-culturally to buck this systemic assault.
To do so parents must face their own fears that little Johnny won’t grow up to be man enough or little Susie will never get a man if she doesn’t conform to feminization. They’ve got to be willing to let their children chart their own path to whatever expression of humanity they choose.
That will take some emotionally difficult work on the part of parents – getting appropriate support, building a surrounding community of like-minded members, facing down their fears, and ignoring the gendered-advice of relatives.
But the reality is that if a single parent or two parents of any gender decide to live their own lives in their full humanity, sloughing off all those expectations that have in fact limited the parents themselves, they’ll be able to give to their children everything children need. They’ll be able to model for their children what it is to be full, healthy, human beings with all the inherent traits humans have and can express in a world where they’re not limited by being scared “straight.”
The majority of justices and progressive activists have affirmed freedom from gender imprisonment as a new norm. l