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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Attention Same-Sex Couples: Margaret Somerville Feels Your Pain, but Don’t Expect an Apology Anytime Soon



By her own words, law professor Margaret Somerville feels the hurt gay and lesbian people experience when they encounter her view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage.  Really, she does, or at least that’s what she says in her new book, Bird on an Ethics Wire. But don’t expect any apologies soon.

Somerville has long defended the view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and this book doesn’t back down from that view. Far from it:  Somerville presents herself as speaking on behalf of Nature itself, on behalf of all children whose well-being is overlooked in the rush to  have children any old which way.

Somerville interprets marriage as having symbolic dimensions important in the “sexual ecology” of the “transmission of life.” Same-sex couples can’t – without other’s gametes – transmit life that way, and even if they could, they run into another problem: two men or two women cannot themselves offer a mother and father to children as they raise them.

Somerville goes so far as to maintain that children have the right not to be born to under these circumstances. Better that children should not exist at all than to be born to same-sex couples, maybe especially married same-sex couples.

Somerville offers a fig leaf of legal cover to same-sex relationships by endorsing the consolation prize of civil unions. But those unions are distinct from marriage and should not, as a matter of ethics or law, entitle couples to children. Children belong – so far as possible – in the moral and psychological confines of marriage.  Somerville calls on the law to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and thus to exclude those couples from the right to found a family as a privilege of the marital state. 

Somerville says that she recognizes that her “opposition to same-sex marriage has hurt some people who support it.”  “I genuinely regret the hurt it inflicts.” Rather than revise her views in order to avoid that hurt, she simply stands on her views and advocates “for children’s human rights” with “moral regret.” 

But all is not lost, as she sees it. The door is open for same-sex couples to adopt.  What’s the difference? Gay and lesbian couples don’t bring those children into existence, but they can help take care of children when no one else will, when all else fails. Second-class children are entitled to second-class parents, evidently. 

So, there you have it: Margaret Somerville can live with the hurt her views inflict on same-sex couples looking to have children and/or marry. I suspect, for their part, that same-sex couples can also live with the hurt they inflict on her when they marry and/or have children, as more and more of them do in more and more places around the world and do so under color of law. So sorry, Margaret. We feel your pain. Really.

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