The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Poisonous Parenting: Making Babies vs. Raising Children

This series is overdue for an update. I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while now. But every time a relevant news story reminds me of it, there’s always something more pressing.

The entire time the “Octomom” saga played out in headlines and newscasts, I thought about continuing this series. Only, every time I’d get started, there’d be another revelation. At some point, I got tired of trying to keep up. I kept it in the back of my mind, though.

To tell the truth, I’ve never watched Jon & Kate Plus 8, except for a few minutes when I stopped in the middle of channel surfing and caught a few minutes of it. I didn’t know why, but something about the show creeped me out. I couldn’t put my finger on it. But when the allegations about his affair, then her alleged affair, then her alleged violent rages, his alleged lack of ambition, her tummy tuck and nose job, his hair plugs, and the difference between the reality of their marriage and the facade presented on television, I found myself asking “Why are these people famous?” All they did was have babies, and have more at one time than most people.

These people are famous for reproducing?

Then it hit me, what bothered me about the very idea of the show, let alone the show itself.

A while back, I got an email from a television production company. It’s happens one in a while, and usually it’s because of the blog. This one was a production company looking for families — and particularly looking for a gay family — to be on ABC’s “Wife Swap.” Another show I’d heard lots about, but had never watched, except for part of one episode that made the rounds on the net.


But even without the holy harridan to help me decide, I already knew the answer to their query. There was no way I was going to subject my kid (this was before Dylan was born) to that, and certainly no way I was going to have a total stranger to me living with and taking a part in raising my child for any extended period of time, while I was elsewhere. I’m sure the show probably screens people pretty carefully, but it’s still television. Reality shows are pretty much cast with an eye towards generating enough conflict to get more viewers.

More than anything, I wasn’t going to have my child living with the constant presence of television cameras, and the likely pressure that he’s also got to do his part to make the show a “success,” by being cute, precocious, or generating conflict.

So I said no, and without checking with my husband. Normally, this is the kind of thing we’d discuss and decide together. So we wouldn’t say yes or no without checking with each other. But this time I felt pretty confident about what I thought my husband would say. When I told him about it a couple of days later, he looked at me and said “You told them no, right?” I confirmed that, and he said. “Good.” We talked about it, and he had the same concerns I’d had.

Now, Jon and Kate are being investigated for child labor violations, in connection with their reality show and the kids’ role in supporting their family via the show. And Octomom (saddled with a nickname that sounds like it’s from the list of rejected names for Batman’s arch enemies) has signed on for a reality show to air in the U.K., and opened accounts for her kids as “child actors.” But it took a an EW article to help me clarify what I was feeling.

In Jon’s interviews, he denied cheating on Kate, and said he ”takes full blame” for his actions. (Sort of negates the whole innocence claim, no?) And just as he did in the media when the affair allegations came to a head, he apologized to his family for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jon also expressed his fear that one day his children will Google him and that he’ll be able to explain himself to them. Oof.

I don’t know about you, but that statement was the moment when I realized my reluctance to watch this undoubtedly uncomfortable season far exceeds my interest in seeing what these two would say and how this family will reclaim, if they ever can, a ”normal” life. These kids will have to deal with this nonsense forever, long after the spotlight has faded. And yet, like millions of fans, I braced myself and continued to watch.

And that’s why I’ll never watch. But I still find myself asking “Why are these people famous just for reproducing?”, when it’s unclear whether they have much more talent than that? Why are they rewarded for little more than getting the “right” configuration of sex organs.

That’s when I “got it,” and what got me started thinking about continuing this series. My initial thought about “Octomom” was that people were missing the point. We reward people all the time for doing little more than “putting tab A in to slot B,” and doing little more than carrying our biological functions that require little thought or commitment. Commitment is fine, of course, provided you’ve got your tabs and slots lined up, and thus have even the slightest possibility of procreation. (Infertile couples, after all, can have “miracle” pregnancies. And elderly newlyweds could reproduce, if they were younger. And they can get married, so the possibility of babymaking is enough to get them a marriage license.)

I’d decided the Octomom story was too old to pick up, but then, the usual blather from the anti-equality folks after the California Supreme Court let Proposition 8 stand got me started again. (I guess the California Constitution doesn’t have an equivalent of the U.S. constitution’s 14th amendment.) By “the usual blather,” I mean the everlasting assertion that marriage is all about making babies, which requires gametes from two parents, which requires a penis going into a vagina, and since it isn’t a marriage without those to factors, same-sex marriage seems rather pointless.

I call it the “procreative imperative”, and it’s usually accompanied by the assertion that only two biological parents of the opposite sex can “get the job done right”. Add it up and you get this: the only reason for marriage is making and raising and since gay couples can’t do that together they can’t be allowed to get married. Bottom line: the essential requirement for being parents, and for being good parents, is being heterosexual.

This series has been and continues to be all about refuting that.The opponents of marriage equality started in pretty much as soon as the court’s ruling was announced.

“It’s the societal message that same-sex marriage sends – that children do not need a mother and a father,” says Kevin Smith, executive director of New Hampshire’s Cornerstone Policy Research, which opposes gay marriage.

~~~

“The ideal institution for raising children is family; it is moms and dads,” said [Rep. Jim] Jordan yesterday at a Capitol Hill rally, where he was flanked by clergy members and other supporters.

~~~

Janine Hansen, President of the Eagle Forum is grateful for California’s decision. She testified before Nevada’s legislature against same sex marriage. “We want to have the kind of community that we had growing up. We want what’s best for our children and for them to have a family with a father and mother.”

~~~

[Michael] Fitzpatrick repudiated the very notion that gay and lesbian families deserved equality under the law, declaring, “To say a gay family is just as good as a heterosexual family is to deny a child a mother or father.”

And on, and on. Suffice it to say a gay family could never be “just as good as” a heterosexual family, because second-rate people (who are second class citizens, without all the rights enjoyed by the rest of the population) can’t be first-rate parents. And first-rate parents are heterosexual.

Like unnamed mother of three who led the police in a high-speed chase on D.C.’s beltway, with her three children in the car.

A woman in a car with her three children led police on a chase on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County yesterday morning, reaching speeds of more than 90 mph before officers surrounded her and forced her to stop, authorities said.

The woman’s mother called police about 8 a.m. to express concern that she had been acting “very erratically,” said Steve Walker, police chief of the town of Edmonston. The mother told police she was concerned for her grandchildren’s safety.

At some point, the woman picked up her children — ages 7, 8, and 9 — from a county elementary school, officials said. She spoke by telephone to her mother, who directed officers to a fast-food restaurant in the Riverdale area.

Walker spotted the woman in the parking lot. “She took off,” he said.

The children were unharmed.

Or like first-rate parent, Jamie Lineberry, who topped 130 mph with her kids in the car.

Police charged an Apex mother with child abuse and reckless driving today when she admitted driving up to 130 mph in her car with her kids in the backseat while taking pictures with a cell phone.

Holly Springs police have charged Jamie Lineberry, 36, of 1214 Bullfinch Lane with one count each of misdemeanor child abuse, careless and reckless driving and false reports to a police station, according to arrest warrants filed this morning at the Wake County Magistrate’s Office.

“The 130 mph is based solely on what she said; there’s no way to verify that,” Mark Andrews, a Holly Springs town spokesman, said this afternoon.

(Lineberry is presumably heterosexual since a domestic violence protective order against her ex-husband forced him to wait in a drug store while his father picked the kids up a the police station, in order not to be in her presence.)

Or like first-rate parent Jerri Gray, on the run with her 555 lb. 14 year old son.

A 555 pound teenager is in protective custody. His mother is behind bars waiting to be taken back to South Carolina where she’s wanted by police. 14 year old boy Alexander Draper and his mom Jerri Gray were found at the Sudsville Laundromat on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn.

Police says the mother showed signs of wanting to hurt herself after she was arrested. Gray was supposed to show up for a custody hearing in South Carolina earlier this week. Social Services there wanted temporary custody of her 555 pound son to get him medical help. Instead she took off, the two were found at the laundromat in Baltimore County on Thursday.

Family members back home say Gray is a good mother, but she could never say no. Cousin Avery Miller says, “If he wants something to eat, she’s not going to tell him no. That’s not my definition of neglect.”

Call me crazy, but that’s kind of like a parent’s job, setting limits for a child because the child isn’t capable of setting healthy limits for himself all the time. We have a general sense of what Parker eats every day, because I make his breakfast and pack his lunch for school. We know what snacks he has at school and after school, and we have dinner as a family almost every night. We also keep him pretty active. He has soccer and P.E. at school, and on the weekends he goes to swimming class, plays soccer, goes bike riding, and sometimes goes to the neighborhood pool.

And sometimes he swears he’s hungry, when I know he’s eaten well that day. So I’ll offer him a healthy option, like an apple, and it soon becomes clear that he’s not so much hungry as he wants a particular thing. It’s usually some kind of candy or other sweet snack. And that’s the point when I have to say no, because left to his own devices he might gorge himself on that stuff.

Admittedly, it’s probably easier because there’s two of us. For a single, working parent, it’s probably harder. But, still, saying no sometimes — for your child’s own good — is part of being a parent.

But what do I know, I’m queer, which automatically makes me a second rate parent.

Not like Andrea Kelley, who starved her daughter to death.

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A mother of 10 pleaded guilty Wednesday in the starvation death of her disabled daughter, but her lawyer also blamed on social workers and city officials for failing the 42-pound teenager.

Andrea Kelly, 39, was immediately sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison after pleading to third-degree murder.

…Danieal — once a chubby-cheeked child who beamed in photographs taken on school trips — had deteriorated in the years since her father split with a stepmother in Arizona and she returned to her mother’s care in Philadelphia. She lost more than half her body weight and never left the dark, squalid house for school or even fresh air.

Danieal suffered from cerebral palsy and could not walk. In her last days alive, during an August heat wave, the bedridden girl had flies and maggots hovering near her open sores and could muster only enough energy to ask a brother for “water.” He begged their mother to call an ambulance but was rebuffed, according to the grand jury report.

“I do accept my part in my daughter’s death. I wish I could have done more than I did to save her,” Andrea Kelly told a judge Wednesday, as an older son listened from the back row, the lone child in attendance. The minor-age children have been in foster care since Danieal’s death.

Clearly, the Kellys have something over us as parents, because they’re demonstrably heterosexual and — after 10 kids, it’s clear that “Tab A goes into Slot B” in their home.

Just last week, the school told us Parker had a bug fly into his eye at P.E., and went to the school nurse when it turned red. He seemed OK. But the next morning, he came in while I was getting ready and showed me his eye. It was red and swollen, like he’d been hit in the eye or something. I put some drops in it, which helped the redness a little, but the swelling concerned me. And it was giving Parker some discomfort.

So, I called the doctor’s office and they wanted to see him right away. The concern was whether he had a scratch on his cornea. But he checked out OK. They gave us some drops and told me to keep a cold compress on his eye. So I worked from home and kept him with me.

Granted, I’m not a parenting 10 children — including a special needs child — by myself. (Danieal’s dad was charged with child endangerment for deserting his daughter once they moved back to Pennsylvania.) But then again, I think a bug-in-the-eye warrants a trip to the doctor, before we get to maggots-in-open-sores. (I had the misfortune to stumble across a photo from Danieal’s autopsy online. I don’t know why anyone would post it online, but I couldn’t stand to look at it long enough to post it, even if I wanted to post them here.)

Then there’s the matter of housekeeping. I’ll say up front, our house isn’t the neatest, nor is it the messiest. It looks pretty much like any house that has two small children living in it — toys scattered here and there, mostly, dishes that we’ll put in the dishwasher after the kids go to bed, laundry we’ll fold and put away, schoolwork on the kitchen counter, etc.

But then there’s a while new realms we’ve yet to discover, and heights we’ve yet to reach if Nicolette Brady and Chad Lee — whose children four and five year old children were found living in filth and covered in insect bites. [Via Parents Behaving Badly]

A roach and waste infested apartment and children covered in insect bites led to the arrest of two Metairie parents.

Neighbors said the apartment was deplorable and dirty. They don’t know who called police, but they’re sure glad someone did.

“This is where the kids were sleeping,” said one man as he pulled the curtain aside from the open first floor bedroom window. As he raised the curtain, cockroaches jumped out and the smell of mold was unbearable.

Neighbors on Pasadena Avenue showed WDSU the living conditions inside an apartment where police found a 4- and a 5-year-old in diapers, covered in insect bites and living in filth.

“That’s the way he had them living. That’s uncalled for,” said another man who lives in the complex. “Look at that wall right in there, it’s full of mold.”

Police arrested 35-year-old Nicolette Brady and 34-year-old Chad Lee and charged them with cruelty to a juvenile and child desertion. When the deputy arrived he said he found the children hanging out of the window.

When a neighbor tried to communicate with the children, to ask if they were alright, he found they could not talk. The father had prior arrests for possession of heroin and distribution of crack cocaine.

There’s more on how police found the inside of the apartment.

Brady was inside the apartment but ignored Jones and his requests to open the door. She did so only after he and another deputy told her they would come in through the window, if necessary.

Once inside, they found the one-bedroom apartment’s floor soaked with water. Jones described a swarm of gnats and flies in the kitchen and cockroaches throughout the apartment, the report said. A layer of black mold covered most surfaces, including the water in the toilet. Jones noticed no food in the refrigerator and several exposed outlets with electrified wires in the kitchen.

The children were covered in small scabs and cuts that paramedics later identified as bites from mosquito and mites, the report said.

Neighbors also claimed to have seen another child at the house.

Neighbors said another child, a second grade boy, was not there at the time. Children often saw him on the street.

“He walked around chewing on his shirt, because he said he was hungry a lot and he had needle prints all kinds of things on his arms,” said Jeremiah Gentris a teenager.

Another boy said, “One day my cousin had a Snickers and she didn’t want it and she threw it on the ground and he picked it up and ate it.”

Apparently they had another son who visited the apartment occasionally but did not live there. Police had no other information on him.

Good for him. I’m no child development specialist, but I am a parent. And unless there’s something wrong neurologically, kids will learn to talk if you talk to them and if they hear you talk. Their spongelike brains soak up everything they can. In fact, the first three years are the most intensive periods of speech and development. And if you don’t have a chance to pick it up then, you’re going to have a harder time with it.

The most intensive period of speech and language development for humans is during the first three years of life, a period when the brain is developing and maturing. These skills appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.

There is increasing evidence suggesting that there are “critical periods” for speech and language development in infants and young children. This means that the developing brain is best able to absorb a language, any language, during this period. The ability to learn a language will be more difficult, and perhaps less efficient or effective, if these critical periods are allowed to pass without early exposure to a language. The beginning signs of communication occur during the first few days of life when an infant learns that a cry will bring food, comfort, and companionship. The newborn also begins to recognize important sounds in his or her environment. The sound of a parent or voice can be one important sound. As they grow, infants begin to sort out the speech sounds (phonemes) or building blocks that compose the words of their language. Research has shown that by six months of age, most children recognize the basic sounds of their native language.

Parker started talking a bit early, and I’m positive that’s because we talked to him. I had whole conversations with him before he could roll over. In fact, I’d heard that it’s beneficial to read to children, and that it doesn’t matter what you’re reading, so long as you’re reading to them and they hear you’re voice. I used to read to Parker from Newsweek.

Dylan is already picking up sounds, and associating them with people and things. He’s actually said “Parker” a few times. And if we ask him “Where’s Parker?” he’ll point right to his big brother. And when I asked him “Where’s Dylan?” he pointed to himself.

You have to work, hard, not to interact with your kids. Really.

The article doesn’t say that Brady and Lee are married, so my guess is that they’re not. But they could marry. Tomorrow, if they wanted, because they’ve already proven fertile. (Though drug use alters fertility, the possibility of procreation is all that’s required to get a marriage license.) Thus, they’ve already met the base requirements. Put tab A into slot B and make babies, and you’re qualified for a marriage license.

We don’t keep a spotless house, but nothing like that described above. Our kid are clean, and the oldest one will talk your ear off once he gets comfortable with you. But we don’t qualify. They — Brady and Lee — do.

Some of us threaten to pull the car over, or turn it around, if our kids misbehave. Some of us threaten consequences “when we get home.” And some of us drop them at the curb and keep driving, like first-rate parent Madlyn Primoff.

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Primoff and her daughters were three miles from home on the evening of April 19 when Primoff pulled over and ordered the girls out for squabbling. Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti said later that Primoff intended merely to drive around the block and pick the girls up, but they were gone when she returned.

“She wasn’t abandoning her children,” he said.

When Primoff could not immediately find the girls, she went home, picked up her husband and her father and resumed the search. They found the 12-year-old, who had begun walking home. But the younger girl, upset and emotional, had been taken in hand by a passer-by, who called police.

When Primoff called police to report her daughter missing, she was told the girl was safe. When she went to police headquarters to pick her up, she was arrested.

I’ll be the first to admit, parenting can take you to some pretty dark places, and make you consider things you’ve never thought about doing before. But tossing your kids out of the car in the middle of downtown, and taking 30 minutes to go back for them?

OK. Here’s the thing. Like the woman in the CNN clip said, she’s lucky that someone nice found the 10 year old and bought her some ice cream. It’s 2009, people. In 30 minutes, a child can be picked up, abducted, and on their way to being hidden away so that you’ll never find them. In fact, a predator would very likely spot an emotionally distressed child just tossed out of a car that’s pulling away, and decide that’s an opportune moment to strike.

The Primoff reminds me of Channoah Alece Green, who made news in the D.C. area when she abandoned her four-year-old son on the beltway, and even managed to strike him with the car when she pulled off. (She was arrested after getting into a two-car crash 90 miles away.) Green was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Primoff was stressed out, but that quite rise to the same level.

I don’t know if she’d threatened to throw them out of the car, but one thing you learn as a parent is that you don’t threaten what you can’t follow-thru with. Goodness know I’ve been in the car with two screaming kids, pushed to the end of my tether. But at that point I just make it known what the consequences will be when we get home, and that usually does it because Parker knows I will do what I promise. (And I don’t promise anything I can’t carry out.)

The problem with reducing marriage to the process of procreation, and parenting to the ability to make babies together, is that the ability to make babies is pretty widespread. Almost any two people who can achieve ovulation and ejaculation in the same place, and roughly at the same time, have the ability to reproduce. For that matter, any teenage couple can meet the basic requirements for parenting, and thus the basic requirement for a marriage license.

But having the ability to make babies doesn’t automatically mean having the sense enough to raise them. Case in point, Michaek Wojzcak, 18, charged with beating his infant son.

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Michael Wojczak, 18, of La Farge admitted shaking and throwing the infant onto a bed May 17 because he wouldn’t stop crying, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Vernon County Circuit Court.

Wojczak also told authorities he shook the child May 11 or 12, and previously had grabbed the baby’s face and squeezed the back of his neck, the complaint stated.

Wojczak was charged with two counts of physical abuse of a child.

The mother and Wojczak brought the infant to Vernon Memorial Hospital early May 18 after the baby stopped breathing.

The infant’s right eye was swollen shut and he had bruising on his face, neck, shoulder and shin, the complaint stated.

…A CT scan at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center showed two brain injuries, one older and the other inflicted within 24 hours, according to the complaint. The child also had blood in his urine.

A baby sitter told investigators she heard a “big thump” late May 17 when Wojczak was alone in a bedroom with the infant, the complaint stated. Wojczak said he punched a wall, but no marks were found.

Like Wojazak, Benjamin Willis could make a baby, but he couldn’t handle a crying baby. Now, when my kids cried I resorted to the process-off-elimination strategy: check the diaper, feed, play, rock, etc. When that didn’t work, I turned to the internet, where I discovered that wrapping the baby in a blanket, holding them close and going “Ssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” very softly in their ear did the trick. That and a log of rocking.

But that’s my queer parenting technique. Benjamin Willis just gave his 3 month old daughter 13 broken bones.

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A 3-month-old baby is hospitalized with 13 broken bones police allege were inflicted by her father.

Ogden police said Wednesday they were contacted by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services when the little girl was taken by her mother to Primary Children’s Medical Center to be treated for broken bones.

“Both lower legs were broken, one arm, multiple ribs and a foot,” Ogden Police Lt. Scott Conley said of the injuries.

Detectives questioned both parents. The father, police said, claimed the baby had been injured falling out of bed.

Conley told KSL NewsRadio that under further questioning, the father changed his story.

“He admitted that he became distraught over the child crying and the continued crying,” Conley said. “He then recanted the story about self-infliction or self cause of injury.”

Israel Gutierrez was married at the time he fractured his son’s skull with a toy guitar.

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Israel Gutierrez, of 2016 N. 18th St., had a jury trial in April, but that resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial on allegations he hit his 13-month-old boy when he swung the guitar at his wife. Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to felony child abuse on the grounds that hitting the child was an accident.

…According to the complaint, Gutierrez tried to strike his wife after she made a comment as he watched the Olympics on TV. Gutierrez swung and missed, then swung again, hitting his son.

The boy suffered a skull fracture and a hemorrhage between the brain and the inside of his skull. The wife suffered a bruised arm attempting to block the guitar.

Gutierrez took the boy to the emergency room, claiming the boy had fallen, but he left before hearing the results of a CAT scan. Gutierrez then went to another hospital, where the boy was given three staples to close the wound.

Doctors at the second hospital found the story suspicious and called police, and Gutierrez then admitted hitting the boy.

One of the questions gay parents sometimes get is basically how the child is going to learn the “correct” gender roles (e.g. “Who’s gonna teach him how to be a man?”, etc.), the implication being that gay parents are not affective in that area. Now I find out from Cynthia Roberson that I’m falling down in another area. She’s taught her kids to commit armed robbery already. I haven’t even taught mine to shoplift candy.

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In her gold Chevrolet HHR, police said she would drive the group around on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights looking for easy targets — usually other teens.

The group would then rush out of the vehicle and “street jump” the victims, often beating them at gunpoint and robbing them of everything in their possession.

Police believe the group is responsible for at least 20 robberies since early May in northwest Phoenix and Glendale.

…What’s police say is even more disturbing is Roberson’s motive and method.

Detectives said she lost her job in April and was using the robberies as her sole source of income

She apparently used her financial situation to convince the teens to help her commit the crimes.

“She was making them feel guilty,” Glendale Detective Mark Langford said, “about the bills she had to pay and things she had to do to provide.”

Her kids are 12, 14 and 16, and they’ve already got their first felonies under their belts. And they did it all with mom’s help. She even led by example, holding a sawed off shot-gun on one victim, and took other people’s kids under her wing, coaching a 14-year-old on how to steal a cell phone from a victim.

And here I’ve been telling my kids it’s wrong to take things that don’t belong to them. Just goes to show ya that a big ‘mo like me doesn’t begin to know how to raise children. After all, the hubby and I can’t make babies like Roberson apparently can. So we can’t possibly get close to being as good parent as her. ‘Cause we’re gay, and if we can’t make babies with each other how are we supposed to know anything about raising them?

What’s most disturbing is that some of the children in these cases where old enough to know what was happening to them — or what’s being done to them —and who was doing it; that is that the people who were supposed to love them and protect them were hurting them instead, or allowing them to be hurt. And they were old enough to ask themselves the question that no adult could easily answer: Why?

Now, I suppose all of these parents have their reasons. Roberson wanted her kids to help out with the family’s expenses. Willis and Wojczak wanted their kids to stop crying. Kelly was reportedly embarrassed by her daughter’s handicap. But none of them, except perhaps for Kelly, has a reason that tops Nia Michelle Brooks’ reason for burning her daughter with an iron.

Cumberland County sheriff’s officials arrested a Fayetteville mother on Saturday and charged her with burning her 11-year-old daughter with an iron.

…Investigators say Brooks burned her daughter with a hot iron on both her arms, the top left thigh and on her right leg near the kneecap. The child said it happened because she wasn’t ironing her Easter dress the way her mother wanted.

The child is mildly retarded, has no field of vision in her right eye and only 30 percent field of vision in her left eye, according to sheriff’s officials.

A teacher reported the injuries after seeing scars on the girl’s arm when she rolled up her sleeves while playing outside at school. The girl wore a coat to school with temperatures in the 80- to 90-degree range to hide her injuries, officials said.

Let’s start with the procreative imperative. Mention its absurdity, apply it to childless or infertile heterosexual couples and elderly couples, and wait for the recriminations. You’ll be accused of heartlessly wanting to deny elderly and infertile heterosexual couples the joys and comforts of the companionate marriage, strictly defined as:

A marriage in which the partners agree not to have children and may divorce by mutual consent, with neither partner responsible for the financial welfare of the other.

Suddenly, marriage has meaning and purpose outside or procreation and parenting? Like what? For that, you have to turn to a broader definition that doesn’t exclude children.

A companionate marriage is based on the spouses having mutual interests in their careers and children. Spouses in companionate marriages believe in the equality of men and women and believe their roles in marriage are interchangeable.

Both individuals in a companionate marriage need self-awareness and self-confidence in order for the marriage to be successful. Without trust, friendship, commitment, and shared values, a companionate marriage may be difficult to maintain.

“At the core of a companionate marriage is friendship and trust and the belief that both partners have equal responsibility in all domains of the marriage. They share the economic burdens and child rearing, and they believe that both partners’ sexual needs and wishes should be clearly articulated and fulfilled.

Sound familiar? I’d say that’s a pretty good definition of what we have and what most couples we know — same-sex and heterosexual alike — have. So, what’s this about “traditional marriage”? Anti-equality activists pretty much stop at defining “traditional marriage” as being between a man and a woman. Of course, the “traditional marriage” they speak of is only about 200 years old.

In a statement released last month, the 11,000-member American Anthropological Association gave Bush failing marks on his understanding of world societies and criticized his proposed ban on same-sex marriage.

“The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution,” the association’s executive board said.

“Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.”

…In his recent book, “The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture,” George Mason University anthropologist Roger Lancaster argues that the notion of one-man, one-woman marriage crept into the collective consciousness of American society only within the past 200 years — a result of both the industrial revolution, and the media’s influence.

As William Naphy detailed in his book Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality, most cultures found ways to integrate same-sex activity and same-sex oriented persons into their societies.

…[H]omosexuality is clearly a very real characteristic of the human species taken as a whole. The presence of gay people is, in other words, a natural part of humanity — it is a normal feature of the human condition. Most societies throughout history have accepted this with varying degrees of toleration, albeit with similarly varying degree of disapproval. Most cultures have found a way to construct some sexual interaction between members of the same sex in a way that allows for some scope of sexual activity and real emotional bonding.

In some cultures, that included socially sanctioned, supported and recognized relationships and marriages for same-sex couples.

But through most of human history and in most cultures the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy — one man and multiple women. We’re not just talking about exotic island cultures or lost tribes in the African jungle. Polygamy is the family form most often mentioned in the first five books of the Old Testament.

In some societies, traditional marriage meant one woman wedded to several men. In others, a woman could take another woman as a “female husband.” In China and the Sudan, when two sets of parents wanted to forge closer family ties and no live spouse was available, one set sometimes married off a child to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of the other family. Among the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl native societies of the Pacific Northwest, two families who wished to become in-laws but didn’t have two sets of marriageable children available for a match might even draw up a marriage contract between a son or daughter and a dog belonging to the desired in-laws. Most traditional marriages were concerned with property and wealth, not love or sex.

That’s author and “marriage historian” Stephanie Koontz, whose Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage is or ought to be essential reading for anyone debating marriage today.

Even in Western culture, a form of civil unions for same-sex couples goes back at least 600 years. Ironically enough, making it older than what’s called “traditional marriage” today. Koontz again.

Not until 1215 did the Catholic Church make marriage a sacrament, and not until 1563 did it begin to enforce rules mandating that certain ceremonies had to be performed to make a marriage legitimate.

Sixteenth-century Protestant reformers had a much more positive attitude toward the blessedness of marriage than Catholics. But Protestant clerics were stricter than Catholics in enforcing the tradition that marriage should be governed by considerations of patriarchal authority and property rather than free choice based on love. In many Protestant regions, authorities forbade impoverished individuals from marrying at all. And Protestant officials often stepped in to dissolve marriages that had been made without parental consent, even if both parties were adult and children had already been born to their union.

It is also not “traditional” to insist that the state should have the final say over what constitutes a valid marriage. In the Roman tradition, which served as the basis for Western European law, the only difference between marriage and unmarried cohabitation was if the partners thought of themselves as married. It wasn’t until 1754 that the English state required a license for a marriage to be valid. And even after that, “self-marriage” and “self-divorce” remained commonplace, especially in the early decades of the United States. In 1833, Pennsylvania’s chief justice warned that a strict legal interpretation of rules governing marriage validity would render “the vast majority” of births in that state illegitimate.

Most of the “traditions” we associate with marriage are in fact comparatively new. It was only two centuries ago that people began to marry for love rather than for mercenary or practical considerations. Only 130 years ago did men start to lose their legal right to physically beat or imprison their wives. And only in the past 40 years have we established the principle that within a marriage wives and husbands have equal rights in decision-making.

Not until 1979 did the last American state finally repeal its “Head and Master” law, which had given husbands the final say over many aspects of family life. Not until 1993 did marital rape become a crime in every state, overturning the millennia-old tradition that a wife was obligated to have sex with her husband whenever he demanded it.

Honestly, if you want to do real harm to the idea of marriage, go all the way back to the “traditional” marriage of even a few hundred years ago and see how many people sign up.

2 Comments

  1. “Why are these people famous?”

    That’s been my point all along. They just got pregnant more times than other people, experienced the stress and hardships that come along with it, and BAM landed a show.

    The amazing part about this who saga to me is how much people care what happens with their marriage one way or another. But they do, so the media will play it out until we’ve found something else to latch onto.

  2. Um. I’ve read your Poisonous Parenting series and first, let me state that I completely agree with your overall message that despite right-wing fears, being a gay parent does not in any way equate to being an abusive straight parent. I’m not commenting to try and refute that.

    But I have noticed on several different occasions that along with the cases of parents who have beaten and neglected their own children, you list cases of parents leaving their kids in cars.

    It’s horrible. But it’s not intentional. The knee-jerk reaction is always hatred at the parents. It would have to be deliberate, people say. How could anyone leave their kid in the car in the hot sun? And there are some few cases where it is deliberate. I’m not arguing that.

    Sometimes, though, it isn’t. The article I’m linking to explains it better than I could. It’s all too possible to go into “autopilot”, and if the child is quiet, to assume that they’ve already been taken care of. Even hypervigilance can only be maintained for so long. The human brain just isn’t designed for it.

    It’s an awful way for a child to die. But to be a parent who knows that this is not a nice death and it’s your own fault that your child died that way because of one stupid mistake you made, and there’s nothing you can do to make it right again, and carry that knowledge with you for the rest of your life… I can’t even begin to imagine how hellish that must be. It’s not the same as being an abusive parent – those may shed crocodile tears, sure, but it’s very different.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701549.html

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