An Open Letter to Those Who Voted for Same-Sex Marriage
by John Spritzler
November 10, 2012
[Read my more recent view on this here.]
After thirty-two state referenda in which, each time, the majority voted against legalizing same-sex marriage, finally in the recent election you who voted for it were the majority in four states: Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington. The pundits say that even though most states currently ban same-sex marriage, eventually it will be legal in all states. Maybe they are right. If so, then you will have to think about some very important things that should have been central to the debate about same-sex marriage but were excluded from it by mass media censorship, on both the liberal and the conservative side.
Why did you vote to make same-sex marriage legal?
I'm going to guess. It was because you support the principle of equality, in this case equal rights for all. You don't think people should be discriminated against because of who they happen to be, the way they were born to be. That is an excellent value to embrace and act upon. I share it. Now let's see how that value applies to issues related to same-sex marriage.
Many same-sex married couples, just as opposite-sex ones, desire to produce offspring--children who are biologically related to them, as opposed to adopted children who are not. They want to raise these children in the intimacy of a nuclear family, so that they and their offspring will know and be known by each other in a way that only a family makes possible. They want to enjoy a parent-child bond that is both biological and intimate.
What about equality in this context? Children want to enjoy this parent-child biological and intimate bond as much as parents do. Wouldn't the principle of equality imply that children have as much of a right to enjoy this bond as adults? Moreover, wouldn't the principle, that the needs of children trump the desires of adults, imply that children have an especially strong claim to this right? Of course it would!
Now I Ask You
Now I ask you, who voted for same-sex marriage, to think hard about parent/child equality in connection with same-sex marriage--something that the mass media never did.
In the case of opposite-sex couples, the adults' desire of a biological and intimate bond with a child is a win-win for the adults and the children they may produce. But what about the same-sex couples whose numbers will increase substantially if the pundits' predictions turn out to be correct? Same-sex couples can adopt, certainly. Adoption is a win-win for the adults and their adopted child for obvious reasons. True, the adopted child will not know and be known by his or her biological parents the way that being in the same family makes possible, and this is unfortunate. But this unfortunate circumstance is not a result of the adopting parents adopting the child; it is a result of something that the adopting parents had nothing to do with, such as the death of the child's biological parents or their inability or refusal to raise it.
Adoption, however, does not fulfill the natural desire of couples to produce offspring that is biologically their own. This is, of course, why opposite-sex couples have children the old-fashioned way on purpose. And it is why same-sex couples, and opposite-sex couples who for some medical reason are infertile, use sperm banks or purchase eggs from another woman to conceive a child with a third party gamete. At least this way the child will be biologically related to one person in the couple that will raise it.
The debate about same-sex marriage should have included serious discussion about the pros and cons of conception by use of donated sperm or egg (which I will refer to as "test tube conception" for short). Why? Because a marriage certificate, in our culture, conveys formal social approval for a couple to produce offspring, and the only way that a same-sex couple can do this is by test tube conception. But neither the liberal nor the conservative mass media ever allowed the moral problems raised by test tube conception--problems that involve the principle of equality--to enter into the discussion of same-sex marriage.*
But you do care about equality!
So ask yourself: does test tube conception discriminate unjustly against children? Should people who value equality think twice about endorsing its use?
Test tube conception has not been technologically possible for very long, but it has been long enough now for babies produced by it to have grown up to be young men and women able to speak for themselves about what it is like to have been conceived this way.
This video features a woman conceived by anonymous sperm donation describing the emotional pain she incurs from not only not having her father in her life but not even knowing who he is. In this video, at the 1:30 time, a member of the Center for Bioethics and Culture asks, "Should we be conceiving children in the first place, who are being deliberately denied their ability to know and be known by their father?" A Slate article reports on a study of children of sperm donation and concludes, in its title, that, "The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right."
First they said we would be ok because at least we'd know who are mothers are.
Then they said we'd be ok so long as our parents tell us we were donor conceived.
Now they say we'll be ok so long as our parents tell us we are donor conceived and we can access the identities of our biological donor parents.
When are they going to work it out that we'll only be ok if they admit that donor conception is not ok?
We'll be ok when society recognises the hypocrisy of recognising the importance of biological familial relationships and then saying they aren't important if you're donor conceived.
We'll be ok when we are permitted to grieve that loss. To say it out loud. And have open ears receive the words without retribution.
Date submitted: April 27, 2012
Katrina Clark, in her Washington Post article [Dec. 17, 2006], "My Father Was an Anonymous Sperm Donor," writes about "the puzzle of who I am." She writes,
"I'm 18, and for most of my life, I haven't known half my origins. I didn't know where my nose or jaw came from, or my interest in foreign cultures. I obviously got my teeth and my penchant for corny jokes from my mother, along with my feminist perspective. But a whole other part of me was a mystery. That part came from my father. The only thing was, I had never met him, never heard any stories about him, never seen a picture of him. I didn't know his name. My mother never talked about him -- because she didn't have a clue who he was."
Ms. Clark tells us that she feels harmed by being a test-tube child:
"I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?
"Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.
"I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.
"We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth -- the right to know who both our parents are."
Ms. Clark makes a powerful point when she notes that a child's longing for a biological relationship can hardly be dismissed as unimportant when it is precisely such a longing by adults that "brings customers to the [sperm] banks in the first place."
Ellen Singer, LCSW-C, at The Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc., in her article, "Talking with Children Conceived Through Donor Insemination, IVF with Egg Donor or Surrogacy," writes about the "painful feelings" that a test-tube child will naturally have:
"Just as an adopted child may wish he had been born to his adoptive parents, a child conceived with donor assistance may experience a sense of loss that he is not biologically/genetically related to both parents. Rather than protecting children from painful feelings through secrecy, parents who disclose information need to believe that children can be helped to cope with painful feelings."
The morality of test tube conception--the issue suppressed by the mass media
In Italy egg and sperm donation was illegal before 2005 and in a referendum on the question in 2005 voters voted to keep it illegal. What do you think? Shouldn't we do likewise in the United States? Are children less deserving than adults of the enjoyment of an intimate bond with their biological mother and father? When infertile couples (same-sex or opposite-sex) who want a child cannot conceive children of their own, shouldn't they adopt rather than use test tube conception? Doesn't the need of children (for a bond with their biological parents) trump the desire of adults (for that same bond)? Is it morally right, is it in keeping with the principle of equality, to conceive a child in a manner designed from the outset to deny the child an intimate bond with its biological mother and father, just so one of the adults can enjoy this same bond? Do you really believe that? Don't you wish this question had been part of the debate about same-sex marriage?
If you decide that test tube conception violates the principle of equality, and that it violates the principle that the needs of children trump the desires of adults, and if you say that test tube conception should not be legal, what might your friends who also voted for same-sex marriage say to you?
They might say that by opposing the use of test tube conception you are in effect making same-sex marriages unequal to opposite-sex marriages because the former wouldn't be able to legally produce offspring while the latter would. And they would have a point. You would only be able to reply that in some cases when there are conflicting desires or needs, one must choose which is more important.
You could point to the fact that everybody accepts the principle that things adults may wish to do, that are not in and of themselves unreasonable, should nonetheless be illegal when they conflict with the welfare of children. Thus virtually everybody thinks that a single adult man and a woman should be able to marry and have sex and produce a child, but not when the child would be at too great a risk of harm, as in the case of adult siblings wanting to marry. Nobody says laws against sibling marriage are a violation of the right of siblings to marry, or that they reflect bigotry against siblings; they are just laws that acknowledge basic moral principles and apply them to circumstances.
If same-sex marriage becomes legal throughout the United States, test tube conception will increase greatly unless it is made illegal. If it remains legal there will be more and more children growing up with the painful feelings that it causes. There will be a cry to at least make anonymous sperm or egg donation illegal, if not to make test tube conception per se illegal as in Italy. If you voted for same-sex marriage there is a good chance you consider yourself to be a liberal. But where does the liberal media stand on the question of making anonymous sperm or egg donation illegal?
One of the most liberal newspapers in the United States, the Boston Globe, editorialized against making anonymous sperm or egg donation illegal. In their opinion the desires of adults trump the welfare of children. Are these the kind of people whose advice you want to follow?
Don't get me wrong now. I'm not suggesting that the conservatives--the Republican Party leaders and the talk radio hosts--are any better! Just because they pay lip service to some positive themes relating to social issues shouldn't hide the fact that they support fundamental class inequality with a vengance. The truth is that the Billionaire Class that runs this country so undemocratically uses, owns and pays for both the liberal and conservative media, and they use both to divide and rule the public. This is why they excluded the concerns for children I have raised here from the debate on same-sex marriage.
Why the mass media ignored the welfare of children in the marriage debate
The Billionaire Class orchestrated the same-sex marriage debate to make people like you think that the people who voted against same-sex marriage are bigoted fundamentalist irrational Neanderthals who shouldn't be allowed to come anywhere close to having a real say in society. And since there are so many of them (a majority till recently in 31 state referenda on same-sex marriage) you were meant to conclude that genuine democracy might not be such a great idea--better to let the enlightened corporate elite run the show.
The mass media did not want you to even know the actual reasons why the main organizations opposing same-sex marriage opposed it. They didn't want you to know what people like Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown were saying.
Maggie Gallagher, founder of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, former president of the National Organization for Marriage and a leading supporter of California's Proposition 8 (which would make same-sex marriage illegal), appeared on the Dr. Phil show on November 21, 2008 after the election in which a majority of the voters voted "yes" for the proposition (with 70% of African Americans voting for it, of note.) Gallagher appeared as part of a debate (including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on the other side) about same-sex marriage. In her opening statement, Gallagher said that she opposed same-sex marriage because it is important for a child that its biological mother and father should know, and be known by, the child--and that this cannot happen when the child is produced by a same-sex couple. Her debate teammate cited Rosie O'Donnell's son who wanted a daddy but was told by Rosie that he couldn't have one because Rosie wanted another mommie. They said that the needs of children should come before the desires of adults. One may disagree with Gallagher on this point (I agree with her) but one can hardly call her view bigotry.
Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, the leading organization opposing same-sex marriage in the United States, is shown on this video debating a prominent advocate of same-sex marriage, Dan Savage. Brown makes the same key point that Gallagher does: children deserve to know and be known by both of their biological parents, and marriage--between a man and woman--is the way society promotes this relationship that is so important for children. Again, one may dispute Brown's view, but one can hardly call it bigotry.
Well, maybe the pundits are right. The mass media may have succeeded in falsely framing the same-sex marriage issue as a question of equality of gay and straight adults versus bigotry against gays, and maybe same-sex marriage will be legal some day in all U.S. states. If so, you who voted for same-sex marriage, and all of us whether we did or not, will have to confront the question that it forces to the fore: Is test tube conception morally acceptable? Which is more important, making test tube conception legal, or protecting the right of children to not be deliberately denied the enjoyment of intimately knowing and being known by their biological mother and father? Now that the voting over same-sex marriage is over in your state, you have new questions to think about. Not just test tube conception, but whether we are going to have a truly equal and democratic society or one run by and for the Billionaire Class that uses issues like same-sex marriage to divide and rule us.
* Some gay as well as straight people have this very concern. Here is a video of a gay man who says, "In my view all kids need more than just two parents who love each other. They need two biological parents--mother and father--who love each other. Nobody is speaking about that condition for the development of the child."
Not just one homosexual but many in France oppose same-sex marriage, as reported here in "French Homosexuals Join Demonstration Against Gay Marriage" where we read, '"The rights of children trump the right to children," was the catchphrase of protesters like Jean Marc, a French mayor who is also homosexual.'
Postscript September 16, 2013. This NYT article about American GI fathers of children born to their Vietnamese mothers recounts the pain experienced by these children from not knowing their biological father:
“I need to know where I come from,” said Trinh Tran, 46, a real estate agent in Houston who has searched in vain for her G.I. father. “I always feel that without him, I don’t exist.”
Long plagued by questions about his identity, he decided he needed to find his biological father to set his life straight. “I wanted to feel more whole,” said Mr. Luu, 41. “I just wanted to see him with my own two eyes.” The quest became an obsession. Mr. Luu spent every night on his computer, hunting unsuccessfully until he realized he had spelled the name wrong: it was Jack Magee, not McGee.
Conceiving a child by third party gamete donation, the only way a same-sex couple can produce a "child of its own," means deliberately putting the child at great risk of experiencing this kind of psychological pain, all for the benefit of adults who want a biological connection that they deny to the child.
Postscript September 16, 2013 (#2): Child of Anonymous Sperm Donor Wants Right to Know Biological Parents. Alana, the author, writes:
The facts of my conception are that my father was paid to abandon me. There is no dignity in that. I suffered from debilitating identity issues, mistrust of the opposite sex, hatred and condemnation of the opposite sex, feelings of objectification – like I only exist as a play – toy for others, and feeling like a science experiment.
If people can take away something so precious as a mother or father and make us feel like we should be grateful for the loss, what else can people take away from us? How do you expect the next generation to fight for things like freedom, democracy, clean air, clean water, when something as precious and basic as your mother or father is stolen from you? Removed by the state… Removed by a fertility industry that forces you into existence and then doesn’t return your calls when you grow up and start banging on their doors asking for records… Removed by a commissioning parent, often your other biological parent who vowed to protect and provide for you, but only on the contingency that you show gratitude for your life and don’t ask questions about the other missing parent….
One of the United State’s most famous civil rights leaders was Malcolm X. The “X” he used to replace his last name was a direct criticism of slave – owners removing slaves from their spouses, parents and children, and being disconnected from their ancestry and heritage. “Who do you think you are” is a popular TV show where celebrities have their genealogy investigated. Rosie O’Donnell herself expressed a craving to “discover her family as fully fleshed out people and learn about their journeys”. The sheer existence of a term and concept like genealogy demonstrates that it is unfair to minimize and marginalize donor – conceived people’s curiosities about our genetic kin, and dismiss our desire for connection…..
Having a bloated industry where medical and legal professionals profit from separating children from their biological parents is problematic.
Postscript June 27, 2014: Here are more stories by children of third-party gamete donation conception:
Caroline was fathered by a sperm donor - so why does she bitterly resent the stranger who gave her life? By FRANCES HARDY and DIANA APPLEYARD
http://www.anonymousus.org is a website for children of third-party gamete donation conception to tell how they feel. One writes: "I feel so alone in the world."
My colleagues and I decided to put together a study based on an online panel of over one million US households that had signed up to receive surveys on various things. From this large population we were able to assemble samples of three groups of people: donor conceived adults between the ages of 18 and 45, a comparison group of similar-aged people adopted as infants, and a group who were raised by their biological parents -- with over 500 people in each group. So our study was unique in being large, representative and allowing for comparison with other groups.
In our survey we looked at identity, kinships, social justice and wellbeing. And, in summary, we found that donor conceived adults compared to those adopted or conceived by their own parents are hurting more, are more confused, are more isolated from their families when they grow up, and on several key measures they are doing less well than those raised by biological parents and adoptive parents.
MercatorNet: What are the issues for them?
Elizabeth Marquardt: For a start they told us, “My sperm donor is half of who I am”. They say, “I look at me in the mirror and half of me is a blank, I don’t know where half of me comes from and that loss matters to me.” It hurts, especially as others around them do not see it as a loss, and, if anything, think the donor offspring who see it as a loss are complaining. Everyone has pain, but what makes it especially painful is that others don’t recognise it or dismiss it.
They are saying, in effect: “That sperm donor is my biological father and the identity of that person and the possibility of being in a relationship with that person does matter to me. And I’m living in a society where people seem to think this loss is just fine, and doctors and lawyers are helping more and more people to be born this way. And that hurts."
In the area of kinship or family, they are much more likely that those who are adopted to say that seeing friends with their biological mothers and fathers makes them want to know more about their ethnic background, their sperm donor’s family, their half siblings. They are very concerned about accidental incest -- which is something that most people in the public debate haven’t realised at all, they haven’t faced what it might mean to have 25 or 50 or 100 or more half siblings who live near you.