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Jewish World Review July 2, 2004/ 13 Tamuz 5764

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Same sex marriage and the disposal of fatherhood | Ever since the same-sex marriage debate began, I've wondered: Where are the fathers? If ever there were a cause to which the once-robust fatherhood movement might attach itself, this one logically should be at the top of the list.

The answer I got when I posed the question to one of the movement's leaders was threefold:

One, fathers have avoided the issue as marginal, believing that same-sex marriage doesn't directly concern them.

Two, though people have a visceral reaction to the idea of same-sex marriage, they have trouble articulating why they oppose it.

And finally, "Nobody wants to be called a bigot," said Stephen Baskerville, a Howard University political science professor and president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.

Fathers don't think same-sex marriage affects them directly? In light of the travails endured by the fatherhood movement over the past decade, same-sex marriage stands as a particularly decisive blow in the disenfranchisement of fathers in American culture. How? By reinforcing the idea that one parent is disposable, which has been both an unspoken tenet of American divorce and the animating force behind the fatherhood movement.

Ever since no-fault divorce became the law of the land, fathers have lost their children in family courts as judges typically have awarded custody of children to mothers. This trend has shifted somewhat in recent years, but the fact remains that millions of fathers have been sidelined and made occasional weekend/holiday visitors to their children's lives.

Clearly, some irresponsible fathers have earned their court-imposed distance - and others may have voluntarily removed themselves from the equation - but it only exacerbates this tragedy when innovations in family law make it difficult for willing fathers to be involved in their children's lives.

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The consequences of this travesty are the stuff of newspaper headlines. As families have disintegrated and children - especially boys - have been denied the essential stabilizing influence of fathers, we've seen marked increases in a variety of childhood pathologies.

When we survey the evidence, what happens when children don't have fathers? Single motherhood, despite the heart-warming stories of virtuous single moms (I was once one), is a predictor for children at higher risk for teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, academic underachievement, drug use and juvenile delinquency.

Nowhere is this correlation more strongly substantiated than in the African-American community - where 68 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers and half of black males between ages 18 to 35 are involved in America's criminal-justice system, according to a study of urban youths in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

These statistics could represent a set of variables unique to the African-American community that may not be duplicated in same-sex families. However, such statistics lend plausible ground to the notion that it is in the interest of a child's well being to have both a mother and a father.

At its root, same-sex marriage is predicated on two grossly faulty premises: (1) that children do not need both a mother and a father; (2) that two moms or two dads are just as good as a mother and a father. Here is where most people I know register their visceral opposition, even if they can't articulate just why.

We who have raised children know better. The unique gifts that mothers and fathers bring to their children cannot be replaced by substitutes. I suspect that heterosexuals - and even some homosexuals - who have been lucky enough to have two loving parents can affirm this truth.

And the many fathers who have lost children in the divorce trenches and custody battles should recognize that creating yet another institution that robs children of their right to two (opposite-sex) parents is unacceptable and undermines the arguments of those battling for fatherhood.

I am well aware that to say what I've just said is to open myself up to charges of bigotry. This is both unfortunate and dishonest.

It's unfortunate because debate about this hugely important subject has often been stifled by what often amounts to intimidation; it's dishonest because it is not bigotry to worry about the normalization in law and culture of an institution, which, of necessity, will deprive children of the experience of having one mother and one father. What is irreparably harmed is a genuine exposure to the full meaning of gender as perceived through the lives of one's parents.

The fact that heterosexuals in their search for personal fulfillment have failed to protect marriage and their children is a just indictment that calls for acknowledgement and redress of harm done. It is not a mandate to further the disintegration of the structure of the family by ratifying a "right" for some individuals that stands in direct conflict with the equal right of children to have both a mother and a father.

Fathers, of all people, should know this best.

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