Saturday, April 20, 2013

Of David Quinn, the Cautious Skeptic

David Quinn is a man not unused to criticism so it likely came as little shock to him that his recent use of surveys has raised eyebrows. That his argument clings so heavily to an eleven year old paper was not the cause of bemusement, nor was the paper's unerring focus on North America source of consternation. Rather it was the prominent phrase on first page forming disclaimer "no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents".

It is fair to say that Quinn did not give this caveat equal prominence when he used it to advance his case against same sex marriage. (I venture to suggest that marriage and child rearing are no longer as tightly coupled as Quinn may think, rather denting another premise of his argument, but I digress.) Fellow blogger Humanisticus discussed this in depth and then addressed Quinn's attempts to refute the charges. Undaunted, Quinn seems to have risen early of this Saturday morning to put pen to paper - metaphorically speaking - with a further effort to refute the charges. I encourage you to read it in full: one should not judge the merits of an essay based on its critics alone.

Were I to distil the piece to two lines I would choose the following:

"To draw reliable conclusions about the effects of family structure you need large, random samples of each of the family types being examined.
The available data does not allow us to say how well children raised by same-sex couples fare compared with the biological married family."

This feels like a softening of Quinn's position. We've seen him move from saying that married biological parents provide the best possible environment for children to an admirable embrace of skepticism and desire to see widespread surveys to better quantify data. He is now agnostic on the matter, shunning any potential judgement of the efficacy of same sex parenthood until the data arrives.

So why do I not applaud?

I speak often on marriage equality because I'm married. I highly recommend it and it's important to me, and I'd like all my friends to have the same rights to the institution Mrs Shorts and I enjoy. Through its societal recognition relationships are strengthened and grow deeper, and although I am not a parent it is obvious to me that these benefits improve parenthood. Here Quinn presents us with a catch 22. He will (presumably) support same sex marriage as a child rearing institution once we have significant data on children raised in same sex marriages. But we cannot have marriage equality till we have the survey, and we cannot have survey participants till we have marriage equality. At this point those in Iona Institute headquarters shrug their collective dozen shoulders and view the problem as intractable. Marriage equality must forever remain out of reach. For the good of the children. Of course.

But does this work?

Should every change in marriage be withheld till surveys are performed to the Iona Institute's newfound exacting standards?

“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one sixth of the population of democratic America is denied it's privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of it's humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?” -Frederick Douglass, 1855

One author I always recommend on the subject is Frederick Douglass. My Bondage And My Freedom tells of his life in slavery, his escape, his marriage and his rise to prominence as an American abolitionist. His skin tone and state of birth meant that the institution of marriage was not open to him, and absent opportunity to form committed relationships he tells how slaves were considered by their owners to be adulterous and morally incontinent. This prohibition was once universal, only coming to an end throughout the United States in 1865. Would Quinn's approach have worked then? The same Catch 22 applies - we cannot, by his ruling, allow marriage till sufficient survey results have been gathered. But we cannot have surveys till marriage is allowed, so change is once more denied.
"...interracial marriages bequeath to the progeny of those marriages more psychological problems than the parents have a right to bequeath to them... [it] causes a child to have almost insuperable difficulties in identification and that the problems which a child of an interracial marriage faces are those which no child can come through without damage to himself." - Albert Gordon, 1967
It is no secret that marriage opponents borrow their arguments wholesale from those who imagine differing skin colour is a sufficient reason to block a couple's marriage. The only area of some questioning is if they do so deliberately. Albert Gordon, tireless defender of the institution of marriage, battled fearlessly to prevent its redefinition to allow joinings that he viewed crossed race lines. For the good of the children. Of course. I'm pleased to say that he and his ilk proved unsuccessful, though I'm sure many are shocked to see how late in the century the ban was abolished. Again, would Quinn's approach work here? Once more the Catch 22 binds us, and to remain consistent to his thinking we would be forced to leave racist barriers in place. We could not risk the possible problems that might ensue from interracial marriage without wide-reaching surveys showing such couplings tolerable. And we cannot have survey participants until interracial marriage is legalised. The problem is intractable so the status quo must remain. For the good of the children. Of course.

And what of interfaith marriage? A Catholic friend is married to a Protestant. I would not wish to give away their age, but suffice it to say their marriage took place before my birth. He, being Catholic, applied for special dispensation from his Bishop and was allowed wed quietly at a side altar, provided they promised to eschew both flowers and music on their wedding day. This magnanimous display of benevolence was, in itself, a redefinition of marriage and there are those who would oppose such generosity on the part of the Bishop (for the sake of the children) but again we find that the required surveys were not undertaken. Who could guarantee the success of such an environment? Where were the surveys? How could they possibly take such a risk? Won't somebody please think of the children?

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