The Agenda

Same-Sex Parenting Paved the Way for Same-Sex Marriage

In light of the yesterday’s DOMA and Proposition 8 rulings, which have sparked an enthusiastic response from advocates of same-sex civil marriage and a fairly muted response from opponents, David A. Bell’s recent essay on French opposition to same-sex civil marriage might be of interest:

An important current of French thought, which has no real American equivalent, has maintained that while women deserve equal rights, these rights must not entail the supposed erasure of sexual difference. Historians and philosophers such as Mona Ozouf and Philippe Raynaud have seen a particular threat in American-style protections against sexual harassment, which they have labeled “sexual Stalinism.” The sociologist Irène Théry has called for a féminisme à la française that acknowledges the “asymmetrical pleasures of seduction.” The philosopher Sylviane Agacinski goes so far as to call sexual difference the true basis for sexual equality in law. The “parity” in elections demanded by the 2000 law, in her view, reflected the natural division of the human race into complementary male and female halves. Other feminists countered that the law should pay no attention to gender beyond guaranteeing equal rights for all (the American historian Joan Scott, herself a frequent target of French criticism, has keenly analyzed all of this).

And so opposition to same-sex civil marriage in France is rooted in the belief that women and men have complementary roles in family life, and particularly with respect to child-rearing:

Unlike in the United States, most opponents of marriage equality have had relatively little to say about the morality of homosexual sex acts, or about threats to the “institution of marriage” in general. Instead, they speak above all about children, insisting that a psychologically healthy family life rests on the union of a man and woman. Back in 1999, when the French Parliament approved a form of civil union, much of the opposition centered on this issue.

Bell observes that while 60 percent of French respondents support same-sex marriage, “a majority still favors banning child adoption by homosexual couples.” In the United States, in contrast, support for gay adoption is now fairly widespread, for reasons Alison Gash recently explored in the Washington Monthly:

Where marriage equality advocates had little choice but to engage in open political battles and bring high profile constitutional court cases on behalf of their fundamental rights, the fight for same-sex parental rights has mostly played out in obscure family courts, with few reporters present, and with advocates consciously delaying or avoiding high court review. This below-the-radar strategy created a foundation of “facts on the ground”—tens of thousands of intact gay and lesbian-headed families with children-well before most conservative activists were even aware the phenomenon existed, making their subsequent efforts to block same-sex parenting an uphill fight.

Gash argues that the success of the same-sex parenting movement was an important precursor of the success of the same-sex civil marriage movement, which makes sense. Indeed, one could argue that the under-the-radar success of the same-sex parenting movement made the job of opposing same-sex civil marriage far more difficult than most critics understood a decade ago. (Ramesh Ponnuru was a rare exception.)

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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