On SCOTUS and single parents
You might know me as a married mom of two.
You might know me as a marriage equality advocate.
You might not know that I once co-founded a club called YAMS, or “Youth Against Marital Situations,” that my choice to marry didn’t reflect an ounce of general enthusiasm for the institution of marriage, or that many days I still can’t believe I consciously, conscientiously chose marriage.
I chose it for a million reasons outside the scope of this post. I chose it for myself, not for my children.
When I said “I do,” I did so believing that there are as many right ways to parent as there are to be.
Regardless of my rationale, my mom would’ve been thrilled to know I married my sweet man.
One of my favorite excerpts from yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality dealt with children.
If you’ve listened to any arguments against marriage equality the last several years, you’ll likely have heard that permitting gay people to marry would wreak havoc on innocent young minds.
SCOTUS summarily rejected that argument in a single paragraph:
A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. See, e.g., Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. See Windsor, supra, at ___. This does not mean that the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.
The “recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers” indirectly invokes another paragraph earlier in the decision:
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in the case from Michigan. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007. They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In 2009, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Later that same year, they welcomed another son into their family. The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care. The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family. Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent. If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent. And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt. This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives.
It’s not intended to castigate single parents, though I understand one friend‘s heartache upon reading the one paragraph absent its context. I read into the “stigma” text the reference to DeBoer and Rowse, women who have chosen to equally love and cherish children together, and whose parenthood should–and now must!–be recognized equally by the law.
I also read into the “recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers” the later listing of very specific protections marriage affords married partners:
Indeed, while the States are in general free to vary the benefits they confer on all married couples, they have throughout our history made marriage the Cite as: 576 U. S. ____ (2015) 17 Opinion of the Court basis for an expanding list of governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities. These aspects of marital status include: taxation; inheritance and property rights; rules of intestate succession; spousal privilege in the law of evidence; hospital access; medical decisionmaking authority; adoption rights; the rights and benefits of survivors; birth and death certificates; professional ethics rules; campaign finance restrictions; workers’ compensation benefits; health insurance; and child custody, support, and visitation rules.
The issues the court addressed in its decisions are ones specific to couples. While single parents face many challenges, they are not the ones SCOTUS addressed yesterday.
And yet, there is surely a difference between reading in what one expects and simply reading what is actually written. Through my single parent friend’s heartache, expressed in response to a hurried Instagram post, I could equally imagine my own mom’s dismay had she lived long enough to read SCOTUS’s words. An impoverished, divorced mom of four children, she faced frequent judgment and scorn for what those around her freely described as her poor parenting.
“Am I a bad mom?” she’d ask.
“It’s too early to tell,” I’d reply. ““The answer will be in what we go out and do with our lives, and how we do it.”
My answer is different now. Time has borne out the answer to her question, as my siblings and I have established ourselves in the world beyond our childhood home, loving well and fiercely as we’ve earned our unique successes. My mom was a brilliant mom.
She modeled courage walking away from an abusive husband. Though some of her family told her my father wouldn’t beat her if she’d only be a better wife, she believed that she–and we–deserved better. She modeled hope in dark times, right action in the face of wrong action, and forgiveness. Her love was the foundation of my strength, including the strength to cope with the untreated mental illness that mostly stole her from me before cancer finally did so completely.
With both my mom and my friend in mind, I want you to know that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t care if you’re a straight, gay, married, single, birth, adoptive or foster parent. None of these factors are relevant to a child’s “optimal social-emotional and cognitive development.” What’s relevant is not who the parent is, or how their path has crossed a child’s, but that children have “secure and enduring relationships with committed and nurturing adults.”
I also want to state plainly, in my own words separate from anything expressed or omitted from any court decision:
You are not lesser because you parent solo.
Your singleness is not a wound upon your children.
With your love, your ceaseless dedication, your strength
as you answer questions for which there is often no clear answer,
you are showing your children that, though the love of partnership is profound,
so, too, is the human capacity to endure, persevere and shine, single,
especially when inspired by the weight of tiny hands
(and entire futures) held