Modern Conservative Values

Rob Henderson writes:

One piece of inherited wisdom is the value of the two-parent family. It’s not fashionable to talk about this. How people raise their children is a matter of preference. But it is not really up for debate that the two-parent home is, on average, better for children. …

Along with taking accumulated wisdom seriously, I understand conservative philosophy to mean that the role of the individual in making decisions and undertaking obligations is paramount. Individuals have rights. But they also have responsibilities. …

My adoptive mother and her partner raised me from middle school through high school in the early to mid-2000s in a rural California town called Red Bluff. They made a stable home for me. … Though they experienced homophobia and struggled financially, they never let it get in the way of doing the right thing for their son.

Gender Nonconforming Isn’t Necessarily Transgender

An interesting comment posted here:

When I hear about children who are identified as transgender today, I often think about what would have happened if I had been asked if I wanted to be a boy in 1987. I probably would have weighed the pros and cons and said “does that mean I don’t have to wear dresses or waste my time with makeup, can I have short hair, and not be made fun of for being stronger than all the boys? Sure, I’m a boy if it means you’ll leave me alone and let me play!” That’s a terrible position to put a child in– and, for many female children (and their parents), I fear, taking the transgender path may ultimately be a pyrrhic victory.

I love being a grown lesbian woman today (yup, lots of those “tomboys” will turn into lesbians that reveal the complexity and diversity of womanhood). I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I have little doubt that many folks would be more comfortable with me and my lesbian sisters if we were “gender-conforming” straight men. What a loss that would be for everyone.

Trans Kids or Gay Kids?

A fault line should be developing between those who advocate defining pre-pubescent children with gender dysphoric behavior as transgender and starting them down the road to transitioning (including hormones to block puberty), and those who believe it’s way too early to make that call—and that if left alone, many of these kids will grow up to be healthy gay or lesbian adults.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (firewalled; try googling The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood), Debra W. Soh writes:

How best to deal with [children who identify with the opposite sex] has become so politicized that sexologists, who presumably would be able to determinine the helathiest approach, are extremely reluctant to get involved. They have seen what happens when they deviate from orthodoxy.

She gives as an example the experience of Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist in Toronto who was charged with practicing conversion therapy, which aims to change a patients’ sexual orientation. Writes Soh:

But he had not been trying to dissuade anyone from being transgender. Instead his therapy facilitated exploration of gender identity. For example, in addition to thinking about transitioning, gender-atypical males could consider being boys who simply liked female-typical things. One doesn’t necessarily need to be a girl to enjoy nail polish or bedtime stories about fairy princesses.

Pointing that out to a gender-dysphoric child isn’t the same as practicing conversion therapy…. Of the boys and girls seen in clinics like Dr. Zucker’s, a high percentage—up to 80% in a study of 44 gender-dysphoric boys—grow up to be not transgender, but bisexual, gay or lesbian adults. Thus, helping prepubescent children feel comfortable in their birth sex makes more sense than starting a lifetime of hormonal treatments and surgeries that will in all likelihood turn out to be unnecessary and unwanted.

Soh concludes:

The silencing of those who oppose this sends the message to parents that early transitioning is the only valid and ethical approach for a gender-dysphoric child. This message—pushing children to transition at increasingly younger ages so that they will fit neatly into one of two gender categories—is false and unscientific. It is more progressive to offer them the time and the space they need to figure out who they are and what is ultimately best for them.

Similar points are made in a recent New York Magazine article by Jesse Singal, Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals.

Allowing effeminate boys and masculine girls to develop and decide (after puberty kicks in) whether they are, in fact, transgender or gay/lesbian is the least we owe these children.

More. Tweet by Alice Dreger (@AliceDreger): “I’m getting a lot of mail from gay and lesbian adults who say they believe they would have been pressured to transition gender if then=now.”

Furthermore. In a critical letter to the editor, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an affiliate of the nation’s largest LGBT lobby, predictably dismisses Dr. Zucker’s efforts and Ms. Soh’s commentary:

By relying on “data” produced by Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist whose gender-identity clinic closed last year after an external review found it “out of step with current operational practices,” Ms. Soh thoroughly undermines her own nonscientific musings.

Note the scare quotes around “data,” and the fact that being “out of step with current operational practices” means that attempts to explore whether or not children with gender dysphoria are actually transgender is now out of bounds (and, in some places, illegal).

HRC continues:

What’s really happening here is that doctors and parents are finally supporting our [transgender] lives, even the youngest among us. To do otherwise dangerously denies transgender children their very humanity—and their safety and well-being.

The real threat to “safety and well-being” seems to be directed at gay kids at risk for being put on a premature and unnecessary path to sexual reassignment. As another letter puts it, a child’s gender identity is “a difficult and complex issue that needs serious attention and should not be decided on the merits of gender-identity politics.”

And finally. From the New York Times Magazine, How the Fight Over Transgender Kids Got a Leading Sex Researcher Fired.

Dr. Zucker encouraged effeminate boys and butch girls to be content with their gender. For that, he was fired. The progressive line is now is that you can’t be an effeminate male or butch woman (and if so, you must gender transition). Once again, the progressives show just how reactionary and authoritarian they truly are.

Waiting, Waiting…

In the meantime, the Washington Post looks at, in quite a reversal, How kids became the strongest argument for same-sex marriage:

As the Supreme Court prepares to hand down what may be a historic decision on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, the children of these couples have been at the heart of the debate. Gay rights activists have turned old arguments on their heads, putting the more than 210,000 American children being raised in same-sex-couple households at the core of their closing arguments.

Advocates have seized on the words of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who in striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act two years ago wrote that the law “humiliates tens of thousands of children” being raised by gay parents. Taking the cue, groups have put these children’s stories front and center in campaign ads, on rally stages and in legal briefs.

Save the children.

More. David Boaz reminds that Libertarians Have Long Led the Way on Marriage.

While on the libertarian angle (yes, I know it’s a tangent), there’s this: gay Libertarian Party members denied a booth and barred from attending Washington State’s 25th anniversary Capital City Pride festival (held in Olympia) for supporting Second Amendment rights.

“Pro-family” NY lawmaker wants mandatory parenting workshops

In the New York legislature, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-South Bronx) has introduced a bill that would break new ground in government intrusion into family life. It would require parents of school-aged children to attend a series of state-sponsored parenting skills workshops, regardless of whether their fitness as parents has come under any particular question. Attendance at four workshops would be required as a condition of children’s advancement to seventh grade. The bill would empower the state education bureaucracy to regulate the content and administration of the workshops. (More details in my new post at Cato.) For good measure, employers would be required to provide paid days off for their employees who are parents to attend.

If anyone should be screaming bloody murder about a proposal like this, it should be “pro-family” conservative groups. It’s an appalling venture in big government on so many different levels: it presupposes that government knows more about raising kids than actual parents, it serves as an entering wedge for the state to re-educate parents in officially approved ideas about family life, and it invites further incursion into intimate matters once workshop facilitators begin to query parents about their use of “bad” child-rearing techniques.

But there’s a political catch. The measure’s lead sponsor, Sen. Diaz, a Pentecostal preacher-turned-politician, is a longtime darling of national social-conservative groups, due in no small part to his relentless opposition to gays and their interests over the years. He’s been an especially valued ally because of his standing as a Democrat, a minority politician, and a representative of some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.

Aside from a few social issues, Diaz’s record has mostly been one of a standard big-government advocate and lavish spender, for which national social-conservative groups have been happy to give him a pass. Will they give him a pass on this one too?

Back to Basics

Same-sex marriage came and went in the US Supreme Court, and the the most reactionary Republican dominated state legislatures responded by — passing new laws restriction abortion.  While the high court was deliberating a case challenging the power of Congress to prohibit or punish same-sex marriage under state law, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota and Indiana were all exploring creative ways to provoke the high court to revisit Roe v Wade.

The lack of an outcry about U.S. Windsor is partly due to the fact that the opinion left those states’ anti-marriage laws intact.  But the renewed focus on abortion and Roe, at a time when the highest court in the land was setting down a marker about marriage equality suggests something else is at work.

That something else can be seen in the non-reaction in California to the opinion overturning the notorious Prop. 8. In 2000, California voters passed Prop. 22, an initiative statute prohibiting same-sex marriage, with 61% of the vote.  The state Supreme Court overturned Prop. 22 as a violation of the state constitution in 2008, which prompted Prop. 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution itself to prohibit same-sex marriage.  Prop. 8 got a little over 52% of the vote, but a win is a win.

So California’s voters must be furious about the decision in Hollingsworth v Perry, right?

If so, it’s hard to see.  Less than two days after the ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the final step to permit same-sex marriages again in California, and while a very few of the usual suspects showed their faces to television cameras at the subsequent marriages throughout the state, there are no signs of outrage among the voters whose will was thwarted.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is different from opposition to abortion.  There is a real and substantial moral question with abortion: At what point does human life begin?  In the 40 years since Roe, that moral question has remained alive and vibrant, and the constitutional argument about abortion has seldom flagged.  Moral feelings about abortion start strong and tend to stay strong.

Not so for same-sex marriage, where moral feelings may have started strong, but have weakened substantially over time.  The moral consensus around same-sex marriage was collapsing even before the Supreme Court weighed in.  With each new iteration of the issue, voters see less reason for opposition, more reason in the arguments made for equality.  The moral argument against same-sex marriage is no more than the moral argument against non-procreative sexual activity; once heterosexuals can see their own procreative sexual desires in the broader context of a world in which procreation is controllable, the idea of sex for other reasons — pleasure, relational intimacy, emotional bonding or just for the hell of it — moves homosexuals from their historical outsider status to a proper role as fellow members of the human family.  Procreation is a good thing, but it is not all that sex is for.

The shift back to abortion for the old guard of the GOP is some evidence that this cultural shift on same-sex marriage is taking hold.  It is harder and harder to argue against the images of joyous couples getting married, and now joyous heterosexual friends and family are joining in the celebrations.  Connection and inclusion are moral instincts, family imperatives, that it takes an effort to deny.

There is still a strong sense that abortion is worth the effort.  For a small minority, the fight against same-sex marriage will continue to be a priority.  But the continent on which they once stood is becoming more of an island every day.


Gay-Baiting Keynes: An Old Conservative Habit Burns Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson provoked a public furor (and soon apologized) for repeating a wheeze I’ve been hearing from conservatives since I first studied economics, the one about how John Maynard Keynes supposedly didn’t value the future because he didn’t expect to have kids. [Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly; Waking Up Now; Andrew Sullivan; Jonah Goldberg; more, Memeorandum]

It always revealed more about the speakers’ prejudices than anything else. Whatever its failings, Keynes’ theory gives as much weight to the welfare of future generations as do rival theories; the “long run = all dead” snippet seized on by conservative critics does not assert what they imagine it does; and relevantly, if anecdotally, it’s our own libertarian/free-market side that can offer a more noteworthy concentration of childless economic theorists (which also doesn’t refute libertarian/free-market views).

Economic discourse is relatively good at identifying and rejecting prescriptions (eat the seed corn, grab the furniture for use in the fireplace on a cold day) that demonstrably rob later generations of prosperity. The divisions within the discipline arise from unavoidable disagreements as to which prescriptions will in fact result in such prosperity, not from the presence of major schools that lack enthusiasm about that goal.

Why then does the meme live on through generations of conservative commentators you’d think might know better, from Gertrude Himmelfarb to Mark Steyn? Perhaps because it is easier, or more rhetorically effective, to paint our adversaries as having weirdly deformed psyches rather than as sharing our broad goal of future improvements for the human condition but disagreeing on how best to get there.

It might also be mentioned that at least one of the major religions of the world imagines that forbidding its clergy to become parents better trains their minds on Eternity.

Adoption as Bridge Across the Culture-War Divide

Comment from “MidGaGuy” at National Review:

As a gay man who is an adoptive father — can’t we all agree that children raised by caring loving parents are better off than those in unstable, broken systems or institutions. My three children were adopted from the foster care system but part of what opened my heart to adoption was spending time in Eastern European orphanages. No child should ever be subjected to that life. When my partner and I were training for adoption we met many couples who came from a conservative religious perspective, I hope we found some common ground during those 30 hours because a caring parent regardless of religious affiliation or sexual orientation beats instability or an institution hands down any day. This ought to be an issue that unites the right and the left.

The comment came as part of the discussion of a post by David French responding to suspicions of evangelicals’ supposed “orphan fever.” Relatedly, Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review has responded to my recent post on the adoption-unfriendly tone taken by certain social conservatives in denouncing gay parenthood, and I’ve added a brief addendum to my post indicating some of our areas of agreement or otherwise.

As gay families come under attack, adoptive families suffer collateral damage

You may have noticed — I certainly have — that for the past year or two the NOM/Witherspoon Institute/Princeton crowd’s campaign against gay marriage has been steadily reorganizing itself as a campaign against gay parenthood. Increasingly, as a powerful Esquire piece by Tom Junod argues, that campaign is resulting in the belittlement of non-biologically-based family forms — and among the targets to suffer collateral damage are adoptive families whether straight or gay.

Until lately, NOM and its friends had actually spent little time criticizing adoption by gays, and some had even put in a kind word for it. Many anti-gay activists were also active in the anti-abortion movement, which generally regards adoption as an extremely good thing. But with the new strategy shift a distinctly harsher line has emerged. Any parental structure other than a married biological mother and father, it is now argued, should be presumed to inflict damage on kids.

There began a search for evidence to back up this thesis. When the exceedingly weak Regnerus study burst on the scene last year — purporting to find that children of gay parents do much less well on a range of social health indicators — critics quickly shredded its methodology, and noted that it had been financed by a $695,000 Witherspoon Institute grant; more recently it was confirmed that in the study’s rush to publication, sponsors had one eye on the likelihood of its use in a Supreme Court case. And sure enough, the much-refuted Regnerus study is now the centerpiece of “empirical” social-conservative arguments in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Adding a reality-television dimension, when internal documents from the National Organization for Marriage were disclosed in litigation last year, they revealed that, as I noted at the time, “NOM had budgeted $120,000 for a project to locate children of gay households willing to denounce their parents on camera.”

Junod was taken aback to find NOM’s literature, as it extolled the “natural family,” casually denigrate the role of nonbiological parents:

The conservative movement that once minimized the difficulties of adoption because it provided an alternative to abortion is now both explicitly and implicitly denigrating adoption precisely because it provides an alternative to the perfect biological families said to have a patent on God’s purpose. Adoption is not essential to same-sex marriage; it is, however, essential to many same-sex couples who wish to build families, and since families present all marriages with a built-in case for their own legitimacy, it is adoption, as well as same-sex marriage, that has come under attack.

Even if you’ve come to expect the attacks, the sheer virulence can surprise. Jennifer Roback Morse, who directs NOM’s research affiliate Ruth Institute, has publicly termed it a “breach of faith” for orphanages to place children with gay parents — though as she surely is aware the alternative for many orphanage children is never to find parents at all. In the Witherspoon Institute publication Public Discourse, favorite NOM author Robert Oscar Lopez goes so far as to denounce international adoption as “trafficking” — an attack that in its viciousness cannot by its nature be limited just to those adopters who are gay, since straight and gay intending parents alike navigate the international adoption process in the same ways using the same agencies and methods.

Last year, when Catholic League founder and perennial anti-gay commentator Bill Donohue insulted Hilary Rosen’s adoptive family — he wrote that Rosen “had to adopt kids,” in contrast to Ann Romney who “raised 5 of her own” — I wrote the following:

There are lessons for gays, I think, in the long and heartening story of how adoption came to lose the social stigma once attached to it. Before “love makes a family” was ever a gay-rights slogan, it was a truth to which adoptive families had been given special access. Lurking behind both disapproval of adoptive families and disapproval of gays is the prejudice that in the final analysis only biological, “natural” ways of forging family connections really count. Only a generation or two ago, during the same general period that most gays were constrained to lead lives of deep concealment, it was common for adoptive parents to conceal the fact of adoption, not only from neighbors and teachers, but even from children themselves. We now realize that an obligation to keep big secrets, especially secrets about love and commitment and the supposed shame that should attach to family structure, is too great a burden to carry around without good reason.

We do not need the Catholic League’s offensive tweets to remind us that anti-adoption attitudes are still with us. In many parts of the world, especially those where a more tribal approach to family life has not yet yielded to modernity, adoption is culturally or even legally disapproved and raw biology does rule the day, to the great detriment of stray children who languish on the streets or in institutions. When modernist views of adoption advance, and likewise when same-sex marriage advances, more people find “forever families” to love and to commit to their care. That is why both march alongside in the genuine pro-family cause.

P.S. On how gays succeeded in becoming parents in large numbers before opponents really took notice of the trend and could organize to block it — a remarkable instance of the benefits of America’s open order, in which social innovations are generally legal unless affirmatively banned rather than the reverse — don’t miss a new Washington Monthly article by Alison Gash.

P.P.S. Ramesh Ponnuru responds at National Review. Most of his piece concentrates on points where he and I disagree little if at all (I’m not offended by the Ross Douthat column, for example) while skirting the elements of NOM/Witherspoon propaganda I found more offensive, such as the NOM pamphlet Junod cites (PDF) by Jennifer Roback Morse. While I could go on for hours about the problems with this pamphlet, note especially its items 22-28 which weirdly conflate stepparent family structure with adoptive or planned-gay-family structure as “non-biological,” and erroneously proceeds as if the negative outcomes long associated in family studies with the former (which of course typically arises following traumatic family events such as divorce) can be imputed to the latter.

Haggard is not a “Gay Father,” but Regnerus is Still Wrong

A few weeks ago I—like many others—wrote a criticism of Mark Regnerus’s study of child-welfare outcomes in different family structures. He claimed that his study debunks the idea that children in same-sex households do just as well as children in traditional heterosexual households; I argued (and still maintain) that it does no such thing.

My criticism prompted a rebuttal from Maggie Gallagher, which prompted a rejoinder from me and then another from Gallagher.

It turns out that Gallagher is right in one detail, and I want to set the record straight.

Our disagreement was about who counted as a “Lesbian Mother” or “Gay Father” in Regnerus’s study. I argued that Regnerus’s criteria were so loose that even, say, Ted Haggard would count as a “Gay Father.” Section 2 of Regnerus’s report states that the survey asked the following question:

“From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever [emphasis in original] have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” Response choices were “Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,” “Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,” or “no.””

Regnerus goes on to explain that a “Yes” answer to these questions trumped other categories for the purpose of the study. (The categories divide children as follows: 1. Intact Biological Family (IBF), 2. Lesbian Mother (LM), 3. Gay Father (GF), 4. Adopted, 5. Divorced Later, 6. Stepfamily, 7. Single Parent, 8. All others.) Here’s the part that misled me:

Together these eight groups account for the entire NFSS sample. These eight groups are largely, but not entirely, mutually exclusive in reality. That is, a small minority of respondents might fit more than one group. I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes. For example, a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in Group 5 or Group 7, but in this case my analytical interest is in maximizing the sample size of Groups 2 and 3 so the respondent would be placed in Group 2 (LMs). Since Group 3 (GFs) is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population, its composition trumped that of others, even LMs.

Regnerus’s explanation implies that GFs and LMs trumped all other categories. But in fact, they trumped all of the others except IBF. Had I looked up the survey instrument (which I should have) rather than relying on the above narrative, I would have spotted this.

So while the substance of my criticism stands—this study is not a study of same-sex parenting at all—my examples need to be altered. For example, Ted Haggard (who is still in an “Intact Biological Family”) would have to be replaced, with, say, Jim McGreevey, or some other person who divorced before his children reached eighteen.

None of this should be much comfort to Regnerus, who, failing to find a statistically significant random sample of such households, went ahead anyway and framed his study as one about same-sex parenting. But only 23 percent of those in the “Lesbian Mother” category reported living with their mother and her partner for at least three years, and less than 2 percent of those in the “Gay Father” category reported living with their father and his partner for at least three years.

It should not surprise us that these children’s outcomes look like those of children of single parents and divorced parents—because the overwhelming majority of them are the children of single parents and divorced parents.

Comparing them to “Intact Biological Families” for the purposes of drawing conclusions about same-sex parenting was, is, and will continue to be bogus.