My response to Ben Bateman has received some kind and generous praise for which I am grateful. It also led to some replies at MarriageDebate.com from Mary Catelli and Ben Bateman. Let's start with Ms. Catelli's response. In reference to my use of the word "parent" for one with the legal and/or moral responsibility to raise and care for a child, she writes:
Except that he is not using the word "parent" to denote someone with responsibilities toward a child. He means, by it, a genetic or adoptive parent or someone who is having sexual intercourse with a genetic or adoptive parent. Your roommate might help raise your child without being your lover. So might your neighbor or -- especially -- your nanny. Should all of these people get married? Why are these people not "parents" in his parlance?
Actually, I did use the word "parent" to denote someone with responsibilities toward a child. I do not mean someone who is having sexual intercourse with a genetic or adoptive parent. I have no idea what gave Ms. Catelli this idea. Perhaps she does not realize that in many same-sex couples both spouses have the same legal (and moral) responsibility to the child. For example Hillary and Julie Goodridge are both the legal parents of their lovely daughter Annie. For a quick overview of second parent adoptions see this page from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I used the word "moral" in addition to "legal" for two reasons. One is to emphasize my belief that is not only the law that creates responsibilities, but we have ethical obligations as well. The second is that there are a few states where second parent adoptions are not allowed. In this case, if the couple has jointly committed to raising a child together with equal responsibilities, I still recognize those obligations even if the law does not. In a similar manner I see many same-sex couples taking on the same ethical obligations to care for each other, only the law refusing to recognize this. In these cases I will refer to them as spouses even if the law does not.
In any case, I am not referring to somebody helping to raise somebody else's child. That was a phrase used by Ben Bateman to refer to all non-genetic parents. So I generally make no pronouncement on whether a person should marry his or her nanny or roommate. As to why roommates and nannies are not "parents" in my parlance, they do not have the same legal responsiblities to care and raise for the child. And it is not simply a matter of them taking on the same responsiblities, but the law refusing to recognize it. A roommate is doing a favor for a friend. A nanny is hired for her services. The differences are enormous, but perhaps the most significant is that either can walk away at will. A parent cannot (legally and/or ethically) just walk away from a child.
UPDATE: Elizabeth Marquardt also seems to think that I'm defining parent as somebody who has sex with your parent. Was it something I said, or do people just assume that this is all a same-sex spouse is. We are talking about legal parents here. These are couples who decided jointly to raise a child, generally after making a commitment to one another. Elizabeth herself refers to the distinction between this and a stepparent who she writes
entered the family primarily out of love and interest in [her] biological parent, not because they were taking up any grand moral obligation towards [her]. And really, how many people look at a snot-nosed ten year old they have no relation to and say to themselves, "gee, I want to commit myself to this kid forever?"
That's why I don't give much weight to the comparison to stepparents. Elizabeth goes on to point out that some same-sex couples will marry after a previous union bringing in stepchildren, just as occurs with some opposite-sex marriages. Some same-sex marriages will end in divorce. I agree. This does not mean, that marriage can't help to create a more stable home, or that divorce proceedings don't offer more protection to the child than the dissolution of a cohabiting couple. We don't argue that parents shouldn't marry because it might end in divorce. I know Elizabeth works to highlight the benefits of marriage, and strives to prevent divorce. I believe same-sex couples and their families are worthy of this same effort on their behalf.
(Part 2 is here)