Same-Sex "Marriage": Should America Allow "Gay Rights" Activists to Cross The Last Cultural Frontier?

Anton N. Marco

Copyright 1996-2006, Christian Leadership Ministries


Transition: Gay Activists' Diverse "Families We Choose"

Since the beginning of the open, activist phase of the "gay rights" movement, neighborhoods primarily inhabited by gays and lesbians have sprung up in major urban municipalities like New York and San Francisco. In these enclaves, gays and lesbians, largely in reaction to a "homophobic, patriarchal" society they feel has rejected them, have formed an incredible variety of "alternative family structures" as substitutes for the "nuclear families" traditional in a hated "Western culture."

Vital to the establishment of these "Families We Choose" has been a quiet but rapidly-growing "lesbian baby boom," through which numerous gay women have given live birth to infants engendered by artificial insemination, often with semen donated by gay males.

These births shore up gay "family status" claims and, of course, add weight to gay activists' demands for same-sex marriage recognition. "The Washington Blade," self-styled "gay weekly of the nation's Capital," reported on this phenomenon:

The Sperm Bank of California... is serving an increasing number of Lesbians, according to its executive director, Barbara Raboy... Of 475 women who reported conception using the bank's services between 1982 and 1991, more than half were Lesbians.... The increase is attributable partly to increased access to alternative insemination technology, partly to the increased awareness and acceptance by Lesbians of the possibility of becoming mothers, and partly to the increased acceptance by society of Lesbian mothers.{35}

Lesbian activist Suzanne Slater reports more details:

For the first time ever [in the early 1980s], lesbian women began to conceive children without having sexual intercourse. While donor insemination had existed before, women who were unmarried or known to be lesbians had typically been barred from using the procedure. Beginning in 1982 with the Sperm Bank of California, though, feminist health providers established insemination programs that did not disqualify women based on marital status or sexual orientation. Likewise, lesbians had gained greater access to adoption, although typically they must present themselves as heterosexual women and settle for achieving so-called single parent adoptions.{36}

Today, according to avowed lesbian activists JoAnn Loulan (though, as we will see, Loulan has now publicly abandoned exclusive lesbianism) and Mariah Burton Nelson, the use of gay male semen to artificially inseminate lesbian would-be mothers is quite common, but there are increasing caveats caused by fear of AIDS:

Over the years, innumerable lesbian mothers-to-be have received semen from gay male friends or acquaintances, but the days when we could use gay men's sperm without caution are over. If you're planning donor insemination, you might need to begin by mourning the loss of gay men as relatively hassle-free donors. Many lesbians have said to me, "I'm afraid to use a straight man for the same reasons we didn't want to use straight men years ago: We were worried that they might try to take our kids."{37}

Lesbian activist Phyllis Burke, whose lesbian partner bore a child by artificial insemination, gives a personal, inside look at some of the dynamics of this "baby boom":

When Cheryl [the author's lesbian partner] was 25 years old, she told her girlfriend that she wanted a child. The girlfriend left. She told all subsequent girlfriends that she wanted a child, and they all left. Cheryl was now thirty-two years old and the biological clock was now noisily interfering with our sleep. Finally, one night in exasperation she looked at me and said, "I am going to have a child. I want the meaning in my life that only a child can give. You can stay, or you can go. I'm having a baby with you or without you."{38}

[O]n the corner of Castro and Eighteenth Streets, a gay crossroad in San Francisco, there used to be a drug store called Star Pharmacy. The Star started stocking ovulation prediction and pregnancy test kits. On almost any day you could see lesbians, singly, in pairs, or in little groups, sometimes accompanied by a gay man, very seriously examining these kits.{39}

Before going to a sperm bank, we did look for a donor who would like to be an active father. The problem was, most of the men we knew were gay, and although many of them would have been lovely fathers, the AIDS epidemic rendered them unable to be donors.{40}

Once Cheryl became pregnant, she joined a support group at a lesbian-staffed and centered clinic. There she met other mothers:

An odd dynamic arose between Cheryl and the inseminating woman in... [an]other couple: They seemed to be engaged in competitive conception. I thought this other woman might have been inadvertently sabotaging herself. She was obsessed with having a girl because she lived in a [lesbian-]separatist environment and she wanted to stay in it. How to conceive a girl was a subject of endless conjecture. This has always been problematic. In Separatistland, which is like Neverland for girls only, boys are allowed to attend events and live with the women until they reach an age when they are determined to be particularly and unacceptably boylike, which is how I imagine it's handled in harems.{41}

Suzanne Slater reports that...

Lesbians are creating families, often broadening and reworking the very concept of family to include their own special -- if stigmatized -- relationships. Lesbian couples are claiming their status as complete and valid families. One and two-parent lesbian families with children defy the notion that their families are incomplete or illegitimate groupings. Unpartnered lesbians are claiming their closest friends and their own ex-lovers as their adult families and are developing ways of life that respect and nurture these precious kinship bonds. Because of this rich diversity, a book such as this one (which focuses specifically on lesbian couple relationships) addresses but one of many lesbian family forms and, while non-traditional by heterosexual standards, leaves far more unique constellations to be discussed by other authors.{42}

If the above description of the "lesbian baby boom" and its dynamics make gay "Families We Choose" seem like "brave new world" territory compared with "traditional, nuclear" family patterns, a deeper look at this phenomenon confirms the observation. As Kath Weston, another gay activist and theorist describes them...

Gay or chosen families might incorporate friends, lovers, or children, in any combination. Organized through ideologies of love, choice, and creation, gay families have been defined through a contrast with what many gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area called "straight," "biological," or "blood." If families we choose were the families lesbians and gay men created for themselves, straight families represented the families in which most had grown to adulthood.{43}

Weston describes and gives a rationale for gay "families'" radical departure from "kinship norms" as follows:

In any relational definition, the juxtaposition of two terms gives meaning to both. Just as light would not be meaningful without some notion of darkness, so gay or chosen families cannot be understood apart from the families lesbians and gay men call "biological," "blood," or "straight." Like others in their society most gay people in the Bay Area considered biology a matter of "natural fact." When they applied the term "blood" and "biology" to kinship, however, they tended to depict families more consistently organized by procreation, or rigidly rounded in genealogy, and more uniform in their conceptualization than anthropologists know most families to be. For many lesbians and gay men, blood family represented not some naturally given unit that provided a base for all forms of kinship, but rather a propriative principle that organized only one possible type of kinship. In their descriptions they situated gay families at the opposite end of the spectrum of determination, subject to no constraints beyond a logic of "free choice" that ordered membership. To the extent that gay men and lesbians mapped "biology" and "choice" onto identities already opposed to one another (straight and gay, respectively), they polarized these two types of families along an axis of sexual identity.{44}

Aside from gay "families" with children, Weston describes "family" relationships among "non-procreative" gays and lesbians:

Within Western societies, anthropologists are not the only ones who have implicitly or explicitly subjected the genealogical grid to new scrutiny. By reworking familiar symbolic materials in the context of non-procreative relationships, lesbians and gay men in the United States have formulated a critique of kinship that can test assumptions about the bearing of biology, genetics, and heterosexual intercourse on the meaning of family in their own culture... What gay kinship ideologies challenge is not the concept of procreation that informs kinship in the United States, but the belief that procreation alone constitutes kinship, and that "non-biological" ties must be patterned after a biological model (like adoption) or forfeit any claim to kinship status.{45}

The very notion of gay families asserts that people who claim non-procreative sexual identities and pursue non-procreative relationships can lay claim to family ties of their own without necessary recourse to marriage, child-bearing, or child-rearing. By defining these chosen families in opposition to the biological ties believed to constitute a straight family, lesbians and gay men began to renegotiate the meaning and practice of kinship from within the very societies that had nurtured the concept. Theirs has not been a proposal to number gay families among variations in "American kinship," but a more comprehensive attack on the privilege accorded to a biogenetically grounded mode of determining what relationships will count as kinship.{46}

Of course, we should remember that gay activists have stated the wish that unlimited-multiple-partner relationships, procreative or non-procreative, also be granted "family" and "marriage" recognition. Weston recalls a "sign at the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington [that] read: `Love makes a family -- nothing more, nothing less.'"{47} With this in mind, evidently Weston's view is that "family members" should be free to drop in and/or drop out more or less at will:

The families I saw gay men and lesbians creating in the Bay Area tended to have extremely fluid boundaries, not unlike kinship organization among sectors of the African American, American Indian, and white working class. David Schneider and Raymond Smith... have characterized this type of organization as one that can "create kinship out of ties of relationship that are originally ties of friendship...." In the Bay Area families we choose resemble networks in the sense that they could cross household lines, and both were based on ties that radiated outward from individuals like spokes on a wheel. However, gay families differed from networks to the extent that they quite consciously incorporated symbolic demonstrations of love, shared history, material or emotional assistance, and other signs of enduring solidarity. Although many gay families included friends, not just any friend would do.

Fluid boundaries and varied membership meant no neatly replicable units, no defined cycles of expansion and contraction, no patterns of dispersal. What might have represented a nightmare to an anthropoligist in search of mappable family structures appeared to most participants in a highly positive light as the product of unfettered creativity.{48}

Such "unfettered creativity" is sometimes sorely exercised in dealing with the problem of former lovers' relationships to these "families" -- and whether "blood" relatives should be considered part of a "family" or not:

Both men and women consistently counted lovers as family, often placing their partners at the head of a list of relatives. A few believed a lover, or a lover plus children, would be essential in order to have a gay family, but the vast majority felt that all gay men and lesbians, including those who are single, can create families of their own....

Former lovers presented a particularly interesting case. Their inclusion in families we choose was far from automatic, but most people hoped to stay connected to ex-lovers as friends and family...{49}

A lover's biological or adopted relatives might or might not be classified as kin, contingent upon their "rejecting" or "accepting" attitudes.{50}

Another issue Weston addresses is "co-parenting" of children within "families we choose":

To my knowledge most lesbian mothers who shared responsibility for raising a child made no special effort to minimize their differences, but with respect to parenting, they often formulated those differences in terms of a new and gender-neutral contrast. For lesbian parents who had practiced artificial insemination, the salient category shifted from "the mother" (a "role" that only a single individual can fill) to "the one having the baby." This reclassification still defined parental identities through difference, but it became a difference organized in terms of biological versus nonbiological parenthood rather than mother versus father. One effect of this shift was to underscore the congruence between procreative potential and lesbian identity, positioning lesbian mothers as mediators of these ostensibly contradictory categories. At the same time, it allowed for the possibility of co-parents in excess of two, consistent with the fluid boundaries of gay families....

In a play on the old adage, "and baby makes three," and a poke at the proliferation of "alternative" families, a gay theater company in San Francisco recently produced a comedy entitled, "And Baby Makes Seven", which featured a pregnant lesbian, her lover, their gay male housemate and co-parent to be, and several fantasy children. The lack of any prescribed number or gender for lesbian and gay parents, combined with the possibility (but not necessity) of a biological connection among those parents as contributors of egg or sperm, opened the way for some novel alliances between lesbian mothers and the gay men they had imaged as brothers previous to the lesbian baby boom.{51}

The very variety of [gay co-parenting] arangements reinforced the belief that no models or code for conduct applied to gay families (aside from love), leaving lesbians and gay men freer than heterosexuals to experiment with alternative child rearing methods and novel parenting agreements.{52}

However, Weston acknowledges that the responsibilities of parenthood also impose restrictions:

It is ironic that parenting, one of the phenomena within gay families most frequently taken as a sign of accommodation to "the traditional" should also become a place where people can come to realize that social conditions impose limits on ostensibly unrestricted choice.{53}

In contradistinction to Phyllis Burke's observation that some lesbian mothers seemed to favor having female babies reared in a lesbian "Separatistland," Weston would assert there is no sexual identity pressure on children of "families we choose," as also no necessity for children's kinship to rest on "genealogical referents":

For a child, belonging to a gay family did not depend on claiming a gay identity, any more than a straight adult would be expected to modify his or her sexual identity to be integrated into families we create. What qualified children for inclusion was being chosen by a self-identified lesbian or gay man. Contrary to the fears of some heterosexuals that gay men and lesbians will raise gay children, lesbian and gay parents tended to see themselves substituting the freedom to choose a sexual identity for the generalized social pressure to be heterosexual.{54}

Although gay families have proved capable of subsuming childbirths along with adoption, erotic ties, and friendship, families we choose do not rest directly upon a genealogical referent. By the time the lesbian baby boom entered the discourse on gay families, kinship in the United States could no longer be reduced to procreation, or procreation to the image of differently gendered persons locked in heterosexual embrace.{55}

Weston holds that, while the "gay rights" movement did not bring the true unity or solidarity necessary to creating gay "community," "families we choose" have the potential to do so:

By the 1980s the rhetoric of brotherhood and sisterhood [of the "gay rights" movement] had begun to seem dated and trite. Sherry McCoy and Maureen Hicks (1979: 66), attempting to grapple with "disappointment" and "unrealistic demands" among lesbian-feminists, wrote, "the concept of `sisterhood' at times seemed to evaporate as we watched." This newfound reluctance to apply kinship terminology to all other lesbians and gay men extended well beyond activist circles. Many gay men and lesbians began to doubt the existence of "the" community or any single gay "lifestyle." Some abandoned the notion of identity-based communities altogether, attempting to escape social categorization by adopting extreme forms of individualism. "I am who I am," they explained. Others associated community strictly with wealthy white men who were neither representative of nor identical with the totality of gay people. Along with a recognition of the relative privilege of this sector came the refusal to allow this part to stand for the whole. Seemingly unable to comprehend the inequalities of the structure identity-based difference in the United States (white being privileged over Native-American, men over women, and so on), the concept of community lost credibility.{56}

Elsewhere, Weston implies that gay "families" may win more public support for "gayness" than will gay activists' claim to be an ethnic-equivalent group. That is, she points out, because gay "families" are made up of individuals capable of arousing sympathy rather than merely representing the mass, quasi-ethnic identity the "gay rights" movement is dedicated to advancing. For the "gay rights" movement, Weston says, would artificially impose a unity that doesn't truly exist in the gay world.

Weston and other "gay theorists" concede neither the applicability nor superiority of traditional family models to gay lifestyles and/or "families we choose" in all their "rich diversity." Long-time gay activist leader Frank Kameny has said:

...[T]he traditional family has been placed upon such a lofty pedestal of unquestioning and almost mindless, ritualistic worship and endlessly declared but quite unproven importance that rational discussion of it is often well-nigh impossible.... [T]here is no legitimate basis for limiting the freedom of the individual to structure his family in nontraditional ways that he finds satisfying.{57}

Kath Weston argues for the superiority of "families we choose":

As constituted in the 1980s, gay families exhibited some distinct advantages over most nuclear families in the unattainable ideal of a unified, harmonious gay community. Face to face relations gave families we choose a fighting chance to encompass conflict and dissent without denying the difference that cross-cutting identities (of race, class, etc.) can make or the divisions that can come between people. Significantly many lesbians and gay men in the Bay Area cited a relationship's ability to weather conflict as itself a sign of kinship. Flexible boundaries released chosen families from the genealogical logic of scarcity and uniqueness that, for example, would limit a child to one mother and one father. Unlike nuclear families, gay families were not intrinsically stratified by age or gender. Their capacity to continue to embrace former lovers represents another strength. Consider how chosen families shed a different light on the issue of the alleged instability or inconstancia of gay couples. Opinion among both gays and heterosexuals remains divided as to whether lesbian and gay couples stay together as long as heterosexual partners. If, however, the question is reformulated to take account of contemporary discourse on gay families, which allows a former partner to make the transition from (erotic) lover to (nonerotic) friend without alienating the kinship tie, one could make a good case that gay relationships endure longer on average than ties established through heterosexual marriage. If two people cease being lovers after six years but remain friends and family for another 40, they have indeed achieved a relationship of long standing.{58}

Suzanne Slater says lesbian family life cycle models are, and must remain, different from heterosexuals'. A priority in Slater's thinking is the need to be free from "inevitably pathologizing comparisons to heterosexual family life cycle models."{59}

The author explains that heterosexual models are inapplicable to lesbian "families," first, because existing heterosexual models presuppose the existence of a male-female couple at the apex of the family, without examining this "bias."

Second, [because] the heterosexual family life cycle map is based on the assumption that family ties are created either through blood or marriage. Such a model has no application to a group that is legally barred from marriage. Lesbians form families based purely on personal (and socially unsanctioned) selection of family members and mutual agreement by the couple that from this point forward they will constitute a family. Lesbians use broader criteria for family formation than do heterosexuals, and they often may consider friends and ex-lovers to be genuine family members.{60}

Again, many gay activists fervently wish for these many-membered "families" to be recognized as legal marriages. And, as public policy analyst John Gray reasons, given the presumption that "sexual orientation" represents just another "minority status," there is no great intellectual leap between "families we choose" and legal marriage recognition:

As matters stand, there is a single form of marriage entrenched in law in the U.S. and Britain. Complete neutrality between heterosexuality and homosexuality would entail the legal recognition of homosexual marriage, just as complete neutrality between Christian and Moslem marriage would entail legal recognition of polygamous marriage. If we go this route, we are not far from the radical libertarian reductio ad absurdum of the abolition of marriage [as we know it] and its replacement by whatever contracts people choose to enter into.{61}

Nor, once the definition of "family" is expanded to encompass any configuration of genders, ages and relationships, is it any great leap to declare such "families" "marriages." Just how persuasive gay activists' "families we choose" arguments have become may be demonstrated by the broad acceptance such redefinitions of "family" have received from leading public policy figures:

Congresswoman Pat Schroeder articulated three goals for the proposed national family policy: To acknowledge the rich diversity of American families, to protect families' economic well-being and to provide families with flexible ways to meet their economic and social needs. "Government policy cannot be based," she comments, "on a static definition of the family, but must take into account that Americans live in a variety of family structures.... Understanding this diversity is essential if we are to avoid creating government policy that penalizes families that do not fit a particular mode."{62}

"Gay/lesbian rights"-friendly San Francisco's city government commissioned a special report by the Mayor's Task Force on Family Policy, chaired by self-avowed lesbian Roberta Achtenberg (later the Clinton Administration's Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Its definition of "the family":

A unit of interdependent and interacting persons, related together over time by strong social and emotional bonds and/or by ties of marriage, birth, and adoption, whose central purpose is to create, maintain, and promote the social, mental, physical and emotional development and well being of each of its members.{63}

On August 12, 1997, The Washington Times reported that a prominent representative of the Untah National Organization for Woman (NOW) had endorsed legalized polygamy. Danielle Crittenden, editor of The Women�s Quarterly, later wrote the editor of The Washington Times (August 23, 1997):

"Robin Frodge of the Utah National Organization for Women (NOW) says the Women�s Quarterly misquoted her endorsement of polygamy (�NOW does not have a position on polygamy,� Letters, Aug. 19). We didn�t.

"The Washington Times (�New NOW answer: Polygamy for moms,� Aug. 12) cited our story, in which Miss Frodge says NOW supports �an expanded definition of family including same-sex parents. It is very difficult to look at that and not support other configurations of families, including polygamous families.�

"I have subsequently spoken to Miss Frodge, and she neither denied having made this statement, nor did she disavow it, except to say it wasn�t NOW�s official policy.

"And, by the way, two other spokeswomen for NOW�s Utah chapter gave similar endoresements of polygamy to our reporter, Julie Kessler, as well as to the Times� reporter. Miss Kessler has notes of her interviews with all three NOW members. As editor I stand behind the story.

"NOW and its various chapters have a bad habit of denying views they privately endorse but that embarrass them publicly. This time NOW has been caught."

NOW�s, and others� like views of the redefinition of "family," parftly trace their origins to high-level Federal government "task forces" commissioned during the early '80s Carter Administration. Where the term "family" once presupposed a marriage at least having taken place at some time, now at high public policy levels marriage and monogamy are only optional configurations to establish "family" status.

Richard John Neuhaus comments on "a different take on the much discussed question �same-sex marriage.� Julie Loesch Wiley writes: �Some Christians say that gay "marriage" is impossible, but I would strongly disagree. I would say that gay marriage is so typical for everybody in this society � no matter what their sexual orientation � that it takes a heroic effort for any couple to enter into anything but a "gay marriage."� Her point is that what many people mean by marriage today is something that homosexuals can undertake as well as anyone else. Ms. Wiley writes, �If you say that marriage need not be sexually exclusive, nor irrevocable, nor devoted to child rearing, nor a sacred sign of anything beyond the participants� self-interest � then you have taken away all its essential parts but, obscurely, retained the same label.� The conclusion: �From a Christian point of view it is, of course, impossible for two men or two women to join each other in holy matrimony. But from a secular, civil point of view, it does make a kind of weird sense that gays would want in on gay marriage. Because from a secular, civil point of view, that�s the only kind of marriage there is�" ("The Public House," First Things, December, 1997).

To all appearances, despite the radical (if not revolutionary) nature of these new views, intellectual and public policy momentum would seem to be on the side of same-sex "marriages" and "families we choose." However, a crucial question remains:

Can the presuppositions on which rest the arguments favoring same-sex "marriages" and "families we choose" stand up to intellectual and public policy scrutiny?

The intensity of feeling regarding "gay rights" issues, coupled with the fervency and apparent sincerity with which gay activists promote their cause often make objective analysis of these issues difficult.

But if the presuppositions we have discussed -- that "sexual orientation" constitutes a "minority" class; that homosexuality is "normal and healthy" and gays are "just like everyone else"; that gay activists only seek marriages that "are like everyone else's," so same-sex "marriages" will precipitate little social or economic disruption -- cannot withstand scrutiny, the arguments "supporting" same-sex "marriage" may well (and perhaps should) quickly collapse of their own fragility. If these presuppositions can withstand scrutiny, America may (and perhaps should) face the inevitability of same-sex "marriage" endorsement, despite the religious, "moral" or "public health" objections to this policy of some. Therefore, this paper will scrutinize first those presuppositions and then gay activist arguments favoring same-sex "marriage" at some length.


{35}"Lesbian baby boom underway," The Washington Blade, August 23, 1991, p. 1.

{36}Suzanne Slater, The Lesbian Family Life Cycle (New York: The Free Press, 1995), pp. 90, 91.

{37}JoAnn Loulan, with Mariah Burton Nelson, Lesbian Passion (Minneapolis: Spinsters Ink, 1987), p. 127.

{38}Op. cit. Family Values, p. 7.

{39}Ibid. p. 11.

{40}Ibid. p. 6.

{41}Ibid. p. 9.

{42}Op. cit., The Lesbian Family Life Cycle, p. 4.

{43}Kath Weston, Families We Choose (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 27.

{44}Ibid. p. 28.

{45}Ibid. p. 34.

{46}Ibid. p. 35.

{47}Ibid. p. 107.

{48}Ibid. pp. 108, 109.

{49}Ibid. p. 111.

{50}Ibid. p. 112.

{51}Ibid. pp. 174, 175.

{52}Ibid. p. 185, emphasis added.

{53}Ibid. p. 201.

{54}Ibid. p. 185.

{55}Ibid., p. 193.

{56}Ibid. p. 129.

{57}"Deconstructing the Traditional Family," The World & I, October 1993, pp. 383, 395.

{58}Op. cit., Families We Choose, p. 196.

{59}Op. cit., The Lesbian Family Life Cycle, p. 10.

{60}Ibid. pp. 12, 13.

{61}Gray, "The Virtues of Toleration," National Review, October 5, 1992, cited by Col. Ronald D. Ray, USMCR, Military Necessity & Homosexuality (Louisville: First Principles, Inc., 1993), p. 122.

{62}"Transforming Loss," article by Joyce Warshow, in Sang, Warshow and Smith, ed., Lesbians at Midlife: The Creative Transition (San Francisco: Spinsters Book Co., 1991), pp. 70, 71.

{63}Roberta Achtenberg et al., "Approaching 2000: Meeting the Challenges to San Francisco's Families," The Final Report of the Mayor's Task Force on Family Policy, City and County of San Francisco, June 13, 1990, p. 1, emphasis added.

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