Yes, someone is wrong on the internet. Yes, I should simply ignore it and go about my day. Most of time, this is just what I do, which is why this blog isn’t filled with ranty angst. But sometimes I put on my cranky pants.
In this appalling article from the Courier Mail yesterday, Dr David van Gend, a Toowoomba GP and member of the Family Council of Queensland, attacks the legalisation of gay marriage on the grounds that gay marriage = gay parenting = damaged kids. What upsets me most is the conservative assumptions about marriage and child-rearing that underlie his argument, an argument he is disingenuously trying to frame around the concept of child welfare when really it’s just dyed-in-the-wool homophobia. I’d love to get the chance to cross-examine Dr van Gend on some of these assumptions but I don’t see that happening. Or do I? ***
KMcD: Dr van Gend, you seem to be implying that homophobia and discrimination against the gay community are not driving forces behind your anti-gay marriage stance. I note that you even observe that “two lesbian women may be model citizens” — which is very progressive of you indeed. I bet you even have some gay friends. So, in your opinion, what is the central issue of the gay marriage debate?
DvG: The gay marriage debate, at its heart, is not about the rights and needs of the adults, but of the child.
KMcD: Oh, I see. You’re not actually anti-gay, you’re pro-child. That makes all the difference. So what “rights of the child” are we talking about specifically?
DvG: A child needs at least the chance of a mum and a dad in his or her life and same-sex marriage makes that impossible. The violation of this fundamental right and profound emotional need of a child means – from the child’s perspective – that gay marriage is deprivation, not liberation.
KMcD: You’re saying that a biologically male and a biologically female parenting figure are both necessary to bring up a child. That having either two “dads” or two “mums” — or only one of either, for that matter — is necessarily harmful?
DvG: The “marriage” of two women would deprive an adopted boy of his role model for being a man, and the “marriage” of two men would deprive a growing girl of a mother to learn from and confide in.
KMcD: I see — wait, no I don’t. Boys need fathers as role models but girls need mothers as teachers and confidants? Don’t girls need role models too? Don’t boys need someone to confide in, to learn from? Isn’t either gender appropriate for any of these roles? You can’t actually be implying that girls don’t need fathers and boys don’t need mothers, or that intra-family relationships should be segregated according to gender. I’m sure I must have misheard you.
DvG: Gay parenting means depriving a child of either his mother or his father.
KMcD: All right, moving on. Can you outline your perception of marriage as a social and legal institution?
DvG: Marriage is a compound right and includes the legal right to children. The normalising of same-sex marriage would mean that gay couples would have equal standing with male-female couples for adopting children.
KMcD: Do you mean to say that marriage is just about having kids? Because I’m married and I don’t intend to have children. Ever. But I consider my marriage to be just as valid and important and affirming to myself and my husband as the marriages of couples with children. Marriage is about love and commitment to another person, a commitment which may include starting a family but which equally may not. I would imagine that there are a lot of gay couples out there who wish to marry but do not plan to have children either — doesn’t this complicate the idea of gay marriage being about the rights of (yet, possibly never, to be born) children?
DvG: The sentimental claptrap that passes for debate on gay marriage would have disgusted even that old atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell.
KMcD: Excuse me? What does Bertrand Russell have to do with this?
DvG: Russell understood that society has no interest in passing laws about people’s private affairs and that the primary reason for the public contract of marriage is to bind the man to the woman for the long task of rearing their children.
KMcD: Surely you don’t agree with Russell that men have to be legally bound to their wives in order to be forced to share the child-rearing? There are a lot of families in which the parents are in a healthy defacto relationship, or divorced and still sharing the responsibilities for their kids.
DvG: The legal institution of marriage buttresses a biological phenomenon for the sake of social stability. It is society’s way of binding a feral-by-nature male to his mate and his child, in order that a child can benefit from the complementary nurture of both a mother and father.
KMcD: Feral-by-nature? Yikes!
DvG: As Russell wrote in Marriage and Morals: “It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognisance of by a legal institution.” Homosexual relations do not give rise to children, so such relations are of no institutional importance to society.
KMcD: Okay, since we’re quoting Bertrand Bloody Russell, he also said stuff in that book like “marriage is for woman the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution”. Not to mention advocating that men — but only men — be liberated from the quaint old notion of sexual fidelity within marriage. So perhaps we can leave Russell the hell out of contemporary marriage debates, and you can tell me — in your own words — what you think marriage really is.
DvG: The biological triple-bond of man and woman and child is nature’s foundation for human life, not a social fad to be cut to shape according to political whim.
KMcD: Right. And people who advocate gay marriage are?
DvG: So out of touch with nature that they think that abolishing a mother will be of no consequence.
KMcD: Or a father, one assumes.
DvG: Think from the child’s perspective. A little girl should not have to look up and see two erotically involved men posing as her “parents”. No matter how competent and caring a lesbian partner may be, she can never be a Dad to a young boy. Little children must not be subjected, by the law of the land, to a prolonged and uncontrolled experiment on their emotional development.
KMcD: I agree, no little girl should have to see two “erotically involved” men (or women) “posing” as her parents. Sounds kind of freaky to me. But that’s not what’s going in, is it? She is looking up and seeing two loving people who are her parents and who also happen to be two men (or two women). Your suggestion that a gay couple can only ever “pretend” or “pose” as parents is actually a different argument to your comments about role models. You seem to be saying that gay people are actually incapable of parenting and that it is their homosexuality (along with their presumably rampant obsession with sex and erotica) that is damaging to a child in their care. That’s just a tad more extreme than what you published in the Courier Mail, isn’t it?
DvG: For the sake of all children yet to be born we must despise threats of “hate speech” and say out loud that every child needs the love of a father and a mother.
KMcD: Um, okay. To sum up, you think that a) marriage is all about child-rearing and that without the child-rearing component, there is no need for marriage; b) children should all have both a mother and a father in their life, as those brought up without either or both such parental figures are disadvantaged and perhaps harmed; c) because gay couples are by definition single gender relationships, such couples should not be allowed to have children who would then suffer the nebulous and undocumented disadvantages of which you speak; and therefore d) because they shouldn’t have children, gay people don’t need to get married. Have I pretty much covered it?
DvG: Bertrand Russell.
KMcD: Oh yes, and you think that a book on marriage written in 1929 by a man who was had no less than three marriages that ended in divorce, should serve as some sort of a moral compass on the issue. Anything else you’d like to add?
DvG: 86 per cent of Australians, according to a 2009 Galaxy poll, affirming that children should be raised by their own mother and father.
KMcD: You know, I’ve tried to find that Galaxy Poll but to no avail. The closest I’ve come is this press release from the Australian Family Association in November 2009 which states the same 86% figure but reports the exact question that respondents were asked as being, “Ideally, wherever possible, should children be raised by their biological mother and their biological father?” Hmm. Doesn’t say anything there about same-sex parenting. In fact, “yes” seems a very reasonable response to the question and I kinda wonder about the 14% who said “no”. Because if you’re talking about “ideally” and “wherever possible” then I think most people would agree that the parents who make the babies should raise the babies. It makes good social sense for everyone.
But you’re using this response (which the AFA doesn’t contextualise within the full Galaxy poll either) as meaning we don’t want gay people to raise children. Really, though, you could make it mean anything, including evidence of opposition to all forms of adoptions, or child-rearing by step-parents, grandparents, siblings, foster parents and so on. Of course, I’m sure you don’t consider these types of family structures to be inherently “harmful” to children. So why the special attention to a family structure where the parents happen to be of the same sex?
DvG: There are already tragic situations where a child is deprived of a mother or a father – such as the death or desertion of a parent. Some broken families reform as a homosexual household and nothing can or should be done about that, but such tragedy and brokenness should not be wilfully inflicted on a child by the law of the land.
KMcD: I’m going to presume you were referring to “death or desertion” when you speak of “tragedy and brokenness”, and not a “homosexual household”. But talking about the law of the land, this October 2010 Galaxy Poll found that 62% of respondents answered yes to the question, “Do you agree or disagree that same sex couples should be able to marry in Australia?” Isn’t this the sort of data that politicians should be considering more seriously when debating changes to the Marriage Act?
DvG: Inner-city Greens and muddled MPs are wrong and any such legislation would be moral vandalism.
KMcD: You don’t think it’s a kind of moral vandalism to undermine and devalue human relationships, and to refuse to acknowledge that there are, and always have been in human society and in nature, many different kinds of healthy, functional and positive family structures?
DvG: A baby needs the love of both her mother and her father! How can anyone with normal experience of life question that?
KMcD: A normal experience of life?
DvG: No politicians have the authority to so violate the primal needs of a child or mess with the deep sanity of nature.
KMcD: The deep sanity of . . . oh dear.
DvG: Anger with such governmental child abuse is entirely consistent with neighbourly friendliness to those fellow citizens afflicted with same-sex attraction.
KMcD: Allowing same-sex couples to raise children is governmental child abuse? Well, at least you’re being nice and neighbourly about it! After all, those stubborn gay people could be cured of their pitiable affliction if they really wanted to be and then presumably they could enter into heterosexual marriages and have kids the natural way. I don’t suppose you’ve ever entertained the notion that if there is any harm or disadvantage in being raised by two parents in a same-sex marriage, then maybe this is due to the thinly-disguised homophobia of supposedly compassionate people such as yourself who refuse to acknowledge the validity of same-sex relationships and thereby allow anti-gay sentiment, action and inaction to continue in our society, our schools and our workplaces?
DvG: A little child needs both a mother and a father. The judgment of anyone who cannot see this as a self-evident fact of life, as the most commonsense and necessary condition of a child’s wellbeing, is suspect.
KMcD: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
*** David van Gend’s opinion piece in the Courier Mail was previously published on 15/11/10 in the conservative quasi-Catholic webzine Mercator.net. He published a similar but more blatantly vicious article on 13/9/09 on the same site (where some of the comments are quite vile). I have taken quotes from both sources to construct my mock interview, as well as linking to other articles Dr van Gend has published online.