Politics & Media
Nov 27, 2023, 06:24AM

Taking the Mothers out of Motherhood

Are children entitled to have a mother? Are gay men entitiled to have a child?

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Recently several conservative writers have addressed, critically, the gayby boom. Interesting because the birth dearth has been primarily a concern of conservative thinkers, now even holding “natalist” conferences. Ironically, gay fathers producing biological offspring now include not just liberal gays like Bravo’s Andy Cohen, but conservative gay pundits like Dave Rubin and Guy Benson.

There are many questions to ask about the birth dearth. Does economic stagnation, declining education systems, altered gender relations, and rising crime rates lead people to think raising children will be too burdensome? Do these same problems along with fears about climate change and news reports about homicidal youth lead prospective parents to think offspring will either be substandard and not worth the effort or will face dystopian futures to which no one should commit a child?

Gays are a group having more children than they did only a few years ago. The data is a little hard to get at, since one needs to find births (and adoptions) to both single parents and couples, and then look at both unmarried couples and married couples—and only a few years ago there were no gay married couples.

According to Census data, the United States in 2020 had 1.2 million same-sex households, with over 700,000 legally married; before same-sex marriage the Census thinks there were 600,000 same-sex couples. So the number of gay couple households doubled. According to the data, the percentage of heterosexual couples with children under 18 in the home has dropped from around 45 percent (for both married and unmarried couples) in 2008 to around 35 percent today. (This could be in part due to longer lifespans, making the average couple older, so that fewer of them had children still under 18.) For gay couples the opposite occurred coincident with legalizing gay marriage and the expansion of other “civil rights” for gays. In 2008 about 20 percent of (unmarried) same-sex couples had children under 18, and after gay marriage this number dropped below 10 percent—for unmarried couples. But the newly married couples approached a percentage of 20 percent with children. What grew was the total number of gay couples, which allowed for the increase in the number of children in same-sex couple households, probably because people both felt more comfortable raising children as openly gay parents and because they were now coupled with a “helpmate” to help them raise those children.

This is just the data for children in (gay) coupled households. The number of children raised in single-parent households is increasing, and the data on how many of those parents are straight or gay may be harder to find—the Census doesn’t ask if you’re gay or straight, just if you are in a couple with a same- or opposite-sex partner.

What I find of particular interest is the response to this by people on the right, who otherwise are often in favor of people having larger families, and worried about the implications of declining birth rates.

Not actually a conservative, but a free-market economist, Bryan Caplan has hypothesized that the same liberal/libertarian policies that allow gays to be open and marry will result in the Darwinian extinction of gay people. Caplan is a (heterosexual) father of four, and the author of several lively and respected books on education and children, with titles like Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Caplan’s also a prolific blogger and substacker, and produced a recent argument that “The far future will be very straight, but don't feel too bad about it.” Caplan argues that the reason any genetic component that leads to homosexuality was transmitted in the past is because society forced gay men and lesbians (and bisexuals) to form opposite-sex marriages and have children. Caplan provides some regression analysis on a period that ends in 2021.

But the question is: are gays beginning to form child-producing and raising gay households at a much higher rate than in earlier decades? (And will the percentage of children in the future be more likely to be biological offspring, not adopted, currently 92 percent for heterosexual couples compared to 64 percent for male-male and 65 percent for female-female couples.) As Caplan points out, he’s only the messenger, but I think he should “feel bad about it.” One might try to imagine what a society with no gay people (Plato, Wittgenstein, Alan Turing, maybe John Locke, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, etc.)—like a society with no Jews—would be like. (If that’s hard for you, watch an episode of the resurrected Frasier and the original Frasier—the current sitcom is missing gay writer/producer Joe Keenan, one of the most brilliant contemporary comic novelists.)

The conservative pundit (and pseudonymous) Peachy Keenan, openly a “tradmom of five,” didn’t read Caplan’s argument, and doesn’t know nature is solving the problem. She worries about gay reproduction, arguing that at least gay male reproduction is morally wrong, because everyone should have a mother:

“Despite this, my red line against men creating children doomed to a life without a mother is not about the gay part. It’s about the creating children without a mother part.

That gets a hard no from me.

Reader: do you have a mother? Are you glad you had a mother? Are you happy you know who your mother is? Was your life better for having been raised by your mother?

If you were adopted by a woman and you call her Mom, are you glad you had her in your life?

If you could be a baby again, would you prefer to be nursed, cuddled, and held by your own loving biological mother—or a man you may or may not be related to?

We are being asked to answer a question that no one in human history has ever had to debate: Is a mother optional?”

As someone who had a mother (but until I was four only a grandfather and not a stepfather) I feel the weight of Keenan’s question. She’s likely right, though we don’t know. Do children who never had a mother feel a void? Is it bigger than the one we think kids feel if they never had a father? Do you still feel it if the male-male couple involve grandmothers, aunts, etc. more than they otherwise would? One can find children of same-sex couples who stridently answer that they had great childhoods. We’re reduced to claiming that these children are suffering from delusions and false consciousness. Tosca Langbert, raised by two dads, offers an activism-laden response to critics like Keenan:

“What was it like being raised by gay parents?”… such a question demands one answer: ‘Amazing!’ Any other response, even if simply accounting for a family’s nuanced experience, might as well be an outright admission of failure on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community.” (Emphasis added.)

But the real question for Keenan is: is it better never to have existed at all, than to have existed with two loving fathers and no mother? (For what it’s worth, male-male couples with children are less likely to use Food Stamps or be below the poverty level than both heterosexual and female-female couples with children.)

The Federalist, where Keenan is a senior editor, is replete with critiques of same-sex parenting (at least deliberate creation of biological offspring), as well as gay marriage and surrogacy. Most of these articles, by a variety of authors, make good points and are at least cautionary tales. But a few have a theological tinge, suggesting there’s a well of souls from which people are born, so that when gays (especially gay men) reproduce, they create a fetus that “captures” one of these souls, which otherwise would have gone into another fetus gestated in a married heterosexual lady to be born into a heterosexual family.

Is there any science to that? Are the children born to lesbians, or to gay fathers hiring surrogates (leaving aside those having babies with a heterosexual or lesbian friend), babies that would have otherwise existed? The question remains: Is it better never to have existed at all, than to have existed with two loving same-sex parents and no parent of the opposite sex?


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