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.