Home > Family, Love, Parenting > On SCOTUS and single parents

On SCOTUS and single parents

You might know me as a married mom of two.

wedding bw

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.

voicemail

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.”

bad mom

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 
within 
your
own.

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  1. June 27, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Thank you.
    Conservatively speaking I agree with you – about 100000 per cent.

  2. June 27, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I too agree 100000 percent! ❤

    • June 28, 2015 at 7:48 am

      Thank you! I wrote my Friday evening post intending to address this point, but it got away from me. I’m glad things shaped up into two posts now. ♥

  3. June 27, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    I’m a single parent … and it didn’t cross my mind to interpret the words that way. I assumed they meant children would feel their family was “lesser” because their parents weren’t allowed to marry – not because they were single. It’s the not being allowed to that’s an insult, surely?

    • June 28, 2015 at 7:55 am

      That’s still how I tend to interpret it, but I can understand her perspective after a few rereads to sort out what was stated from what I filled in.

      I think not being allowed is part of it, as is the deprivation that’s been worked by the not-allowing. To imagine that, in another world, I could’ve lost my partner and then my children because I’d never been allowed to adopt them? What heartbreak!

      I linked to an old post I totally forgotten I’d written. I was going to link to my od “gay love” post, but searching for that term led me to the post where I realized I’d given Anthony the right to make health decisions for me … a right of which so many partners were deprived by others for reasons that make no sense to me.

  4. June 28, 2015 at 5:58 am

    This morning we were up insanely early to get Mr. T to the airport, (he’s flying to FL to spend a week with his girlfriend and meet her dad and that side of the family.) It was the hardest thing to do to hug him goodbye at the security gate and find a spot to watch him make it safely through – and in that moment, I knew all would be okay, even if I had to shed a few (okay, a lot) of tears, I knew that I had done a good job and he really didn’t feel the stigma of not having a “whole” family, and that like you, his life would be just a small reflection that showed me I, too, was brilliant! Sending out lots of hugs to you and yours today, thanks ever so much!

    • June 28, 2015 at 7:59 am

      I’m so glad you used the word “whole” here! It gave me a different insight.

      A year or two ago, I was listening to a morning radio show when a caller mentioned having lost some limbs. I don’t even remember whether the caller was male or female; what I remember is one of the host’s responses. He said, with awe in his voice, how amazing it was how much the caller was able to do while less than whole.

      The phrasing was a little different, but that “whole” sounded so, so very wrong to me. “They are whole!” I cried at the radio. “They are complete as they are, no matter how many limbs they do or don’t have.”

      It feels like that here, too. Your family is both lovely and whole. Adding another member wouldn’t make it more whole, just differently configured.

      Big, big hugs (with a huge serving of grogginess). ♥

  5. June 28, 2015 at 6:39 am

    This is wonderful. Thanks for writing it. Your mom sounds like she was a strong woman. Better to walk away with the kids then leave them in a home of abuse for sure.

    • June 28, 2015 at 8:02 am

      She really was. Some of her strength it’s taken me longer to see than others. These days … it is so, so plain to me. I wish I could’ve seen–and expressed–it sooner, but take heart in the words of the lactation consultant who told me I’d given my mom the gifts she wanted by living well. Sniffle.

  6. June 30, 2015 at 4:06 am

    The terrible weight of ‘what if’ that hung over the heads and hearts of partners who were not allowed to make families whole, who were not allowed to legally parent, that is how I saw it. I knew two families like that, they are both now married as of yesterday. Soon both will have the adoptions completed also. I am so thrilled for both of them.

    This was wonderfully done, as you always do with your words, you cut to the heart.

    • July 2, 2015 at 8:01 pm

      Yeah!!!

      This post … it made me so glad for friends raising different points of view. At first, I felt bemused: “But if you look at it in CONTEXT!” And then, having watched some political dramas and comedies recently, I could read the exclusion as advertent: “Let’s tout the benefits of marriage, unmarried people be damned!” There’s political savvy in it, to be sure, but that’s not necessarily my favorite thing: political savvy. So looking at AAP’s words was so uplifting. They’re not elected. They have no political reason to say yay or nay. Their saying “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and also yes” felt so freeing: Take away the politics, and what you find is love. ♥

  1. June 29, 2015 at 1:28 pm
  2. August 6, 2015 at 4:15 am

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