Even when I set out to write a happy, upbeat post about something I feel good about, the universe conspires to get on my nerves.
During that blessed, blissful time of my day I call “when both of my kids are napping” I sat down to write something enthusiastic about the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recent endorsement of marriage equality. I am quite pleased about this, of course, as both a pediatrician and a gay guy raising two children with the man he soon intends to marry. I’ve been working at the state level for years on marriage equality on behalf of the local chapter of the AAP, and I’m delighted that the national Academy has seen fit to endorse what the Maine chapter did years ago.
So I fired up Google to find links for this post. And damned if the first hit I got wasn’t this essay over at Huffington Post:
I want to be happy about yesterday’s news that the American Academy of Pediatrics has reaffirmed its support of gay marriage, I really do. I’m a gay dad of twin 5-year old boys, so it’s fair to say that this news resonates with me. But something about this has me bothered.
Why, universe? WHY!??!?
So why am I so grumpy?
Because the AAP has based its policy statement on a review of 30 years of family research looking at gay and lesbian families and much of that research leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For decades, researchers have picked apart the psyches of children and parents of gay families in an effort to determine if our family structure is harmful to our children. Reading the results of these studies, with their dispassionate determinations that an “emerging consensus” among researchers that children from gay families are not “disadvantaged in any significant respect,” leaves me with two reactions.
My first reaction to these results: Duh. If kids are raised in a home with adults that love them — be it a straight couple, or two moms, or a single dad, or their grandparents, or a foster family — it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’ll do OK.
I had no idea that I was allowed to start issuing recommendations based solely on my hunches! That will save me so much time! All those hours I’ve spent looking things up and trying to find out what the science says — wasted. From now on, patients who come to me will get a healthy dose of horse sense, without all the fancy book-learnin’.
And, while I’m not familiar with the state of rocket science these days and what the folks down at NASA have to say about family stability and childhood outcomes, it appears that at least some non-rocket scientists feel that questions about how children raised by foster parents or in single-parent families fare are worth asking. I mean no disrespect to any family when I say that it’s not quite such an intuitive stroll in the park to determine what kind of family structure really is best for children. Which is, y’know… kind of the sort of thing pediatricians like to know.
My second reaction is more complex. On the one hand, being someone with a degree in zoology, I understand the need for quantifiable results. They’re especially important when opponents of gay marriage regularly trot out pseudo-science studies and flawed research in support of their cause. But the idea that families like mine are being studied and judgments on the fitness of dads like me are being made just rubs me the wrong way, even when the results support my family.
I don’t need anyone to weigh in on my ability to parent my kids or whether my kids are well-adjusted and emotionally healthy. To even attempt to make that kind of determination implies that the fact that I’m gay has the potential to harm my kids. What other group of parents is subjected to such scrutiny? The closest analogy I can think of is children raised in multiracial families and the research in this area practically gushes over the enriching and rewarding experience for multiracial children. In contrast, the AAP statement limits its endorsement of gay marriage to saying only that our kids don’t appear to be damaged by our same-gender family structure.
This is really just a different way of stating his first reaction — he knows he’s a good dad, and thinks it should be self-evident that he’s a good parent. As a fellow gay dad, I understand that it doesn’t feel super awesome to think that some people would question our fitness to raise children. But, sad to say, they do. And we need a better answer than “because it should be obvious to you.”
As to what other group of parents is subject to such scrutiny, how about obese parents? Or parents who smoke? Or the studies so numerous as to make embedding links superfluous that compare family outcomes based on socioeconomic status or education? Or, if you’d prefer a population that enjoys relatively unalloyed popularity, how about military families? Pediatricians (along with scientists of all stripes… except maybe rocket?) study families. It’s part of what we do.
What the HuffPo article evinces, other than a lamentable unfamiliarity with how medical reports are typically worded, are the twin pitfalls of entitlement and complacency. Are we winning this argument? Yes, I believe we are. But we haven’t won everyone and we haven’t won everywhere. Arguments must continue to be made, and they have to be premised on evidence. People need convincing still, and (speaking as a pediatrician, not as an advocate for marriage equality) the movement needs bodies like ours to weigh in, and to do so in the manner befitting our professions. Expecting that all right-thinking people will have a priori certainty that our side is the just and correct one is a sure-fire way to lose.
Do I understand the author’s frustration at needing to prove one’s fitness when other parents don’t have to? Yes, I understand. (Seeing a picture at the bottom of his post showing his beautiful family makes me feel churlish and mean for criticizing him at all.) I have expressed a similar weariness at having to come before voters, hat in hand, and ask for their approval to enjoy the same legal protections as any other committed couple. But, as I also said at the time, needs must. Assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t mandate nationwide marriage equality in the coming months, we’ll still need to make our case. It may be galling, but it’s the way things are.
I am grateful, as a pediatrician and a gay man, for the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics. To all of my colleagues who worked to make this happen, thank you. We need your help, and it’s good to know we have it.