First published in Between the Lines, May 31, 2007
The day after Jerry Falwell’s funeral, Mary Cheney—who is a LESBIAN, in case you’ve forgotten the Bush-Kerry debates—gave birth to a baby boy.
If I were the world’s scriptwriter, I would have reversed the order: Cheney gives birth, then Falwell keels over. No matter: just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does right-wing foolishness. With Falwell gone, someone else will step up to blame the world’s problems on Tinky Winky, environmentalists, and lesbian moms.
For the record, my condolences go out to the Falwell family. That the man said profoundly stupid things about gays and lesbians (among other subjects) does not alter the fact that he was also a husband, father, and friend.
If only Falwell and his followers could muster up similar empathy. Whatever one might think about lesbian parenting, Mary Cheney is a mother, and Samuel David Cheney is her son. None of this will stop the so-called “family values” crowd from accusing her of child abuse simply for bringing him into the world. It’s a nasty accusation, and it needs to be countered forcefully.
Vice President Cheney seems to understand this point. Some months ago, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him to comment on criticisms of Mary, and the vice president responded with harsh verbal smack-down. Blitzer didn’t deserve it (don’t shoot the messenger—or in this case, the interviewer). But it was hard not to admire Cheney’s exceedingly effective “Don’t fuck with my family” attitude, or to be grateful that for once his belligerence was (almost) well-aimed.
When gay or lesbian couples decide to have children, they obtain them one of two ways. First, they may adopt, thus giving a home to a child who has none. Parenting is an act of loving sacrifice, and those who adopt children ought to be applauded and supported. To treat them otherwise not only insults them, it also harms their children—not to mention other needy children who may be deprived loving homes because of misguided “family values.” Shame on those who stand in their way.
The other way—the one used by Mary Cheney and Heather Poe—is pregnancy, either by insemination or implantation of an embryo. I do not wish to minimize the moral questions raised by reproductive technology. Most of these questions, however, are not unique to lesbian and gay parents, who constitute a minority of its users.
But aren’t same-sex families “suboptimal” for children? The research says otherwise. So does every mainstream health organization that has commented on the issue: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, and so on.
Jerry Falwell’s crowd would have us believe that these organizations have all been hijacked by the vast “Homosexual Agenda.” Trust me: if we had such power, we wouldn’t be having this debate.
Forget the research for a moment and consider the following: if Mary Cheney had not chosen to become pregnant—by whatever means she used—Samuel David Cheney would not exist. After all, he is a genetically unique individual, as pro-lifers frequently remind us. The practical alternative to Samuel’s existing in this lesbian household is his not existing at all, and it is hard to argue that he’d be better off that way. So the claim that they harm him, simply by bringing him into this situation, rings hollow.
Metaphysical subtleties aside, the fact is that Mary and Heather will provide this child with a loving home, not to mention many material advantages. The more people see that, the more ridiculous charges of “child abuse” sound.
And that last point gives me great cause for optimism. When I came out of the closet nearly twenty years ago, myths about gay and lesbian people abounded: we were sick, we were predators, we were miserable, we were amoral. Such myths still exist, of course, but they are far more difficult to float (and thus, far less common). The main reason is that we are much more visible now, and so people know firsthand that the myths simply aren’t true.
While many people know openly gay or lesbian people, relatively fewer know gay or lesbian parents. That’s changing, and as it does, so too will the ability of the right wing to float nasty myths about them. Their influence will wane in the face of simple evidence.
Samuel David Cheney begins his life in an America with fewer Jerry Falwells and more Mel Whites; fewer Pat Buchanans and more Andrew Sullivans; fewer Dr. Lauras and more Ellens. Good for him (and the rest of us).