Who’s redefining family now?

Published On February 25, 2013 | By William Northup | culture, politics

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, dehumanization of queer people

If you’ve been following the decades-long push for equal marital, adoption, and kinship rights for queer families in the US, you’ve probably gotten fairly familiar with one complaint: we shouldn’t redefine family. The question that’s been the heart of the conversation for decades now is whether expanding various familial rights and benefits to queer families will inconvenience the already enfranchised or isn’t a “threatening” change. Apparently we’re only allowed to alter legal norms in this country if there’s no effect?

According to NOM, the way it has always been and will always be, for everyone. From here.

According to NOM, the way it has always been and will always be, for everyone. From here.

The funny thing is, that when you actually listen to the likes of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), it sounds like they’re the ones who want to radically restructure familial laws and norms. In an interview last week, one of their representatives, Jennifer Roback Morse made it clear that she not only opposes equal marital rights for same-sex or same-gender couples, but sees that as intimately linked to a divine plan. She believes that an “almighty God created our bodies” such that “a man and a woman are supposed to come together in an act of love to produce a new human being”. Any other forms of conception lack such a divine sanction and are apparently distinct from a divine plan which is “what we’re supposed to do, that’s what we need to do”.

So far, this sounds like par for the course – those opposed to queer families having equal legal rights and social standing frequently mix and match opposition to marriage equality with opposition to various new reproductive technologies that they strongly associate with us. Morse does stay pretty fixed on that mixing of those two issues for the rest of her rant (which literally refers to children conceived with sperm donation as chattel — because she just knows that we’re being mistreated somehow).

Now, the commentary over at the Human Rights Campaign does correctly point out that this advocacy for the banning of assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) would negatively impact the many male-female couples that intend on using them. Likewise, the idea that their marriages are actually about something else entirely is pretty patently offensive to all of the couples (of whatever gender composition) who neither have kids nor plan on having any but want to marry each other regardless.

There’s also the increasingly overlooked question about why Morse’s specific religious beliefs should be the basis for US law. In short, her presentation of this argument as the basis of an opposition to equal marital rights for queer families implies a reworking of our existing laws and norms regarding gamete donation, the purpose of marriage, and even the separation of church and state.

Beyond that, there’s another set of legal changes that she seems to be alluding to that many activists seem far less willing to overtly point out. One of Morse’s central tenets seems to be that coital conception is “participation in [God's] divine love and in his divine creative power”, which seems to erase the sorts of situations that many conservatives spent the past election pretending didn’t happen. The belief that NOM and similarly-minded entities seem to be pushing is toxic both in how it treats conceptions involving ARTs as innately unethical, but also in how it refuses to acknowledge that some coital conceptions are the result of sexual assault or other situations (that I hope aren’t going to be whitewashed as part of a divine plan).

File photo of Jennifer Roback Morse, from here.

File photo of Jennifer Roback Morse, from here.

What’s more, there’s a certain way of reading Morse’s statements that effectively calls for recriminalizing homosexuality. Morse not only refers to reproductive, heterosexual sex as “what we’re supposed to do” and “what we need to do” but also “what we want to do” within the context of discussing the human species. Quite literally, queerness, or at least exclusive queerness, is something she views as a deviation from not only divine mandate but also the definition of humanity. That behavior is a counter-indicator of humanness. Within that context, her argument gets quite stark. While discussing the various policies she would like to see in place to prevent the formation of queer families or reduce their social and legal recognition, do Morse and her political allies perceive their struggle as a battle to keep humanity human?

There’s one particular line in her rant that stands out to me each time: “The fact that these two women want to have sex with each other has no bearing whatsoever on whether this should be permitted or not.” The ‘this’ in question was the purchasing of donated sperm, but it seems to me that this sentence communicates its point just as easily whether the permission being extended is for that, or marriage, or even to actually act on desires. It’s an argument — at its core — against the right of queer people and queer families to exist.

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About The Author

William Northup
is a sloth-obsessed queer queerspawn who will talk about the epicness of his cats for far, far too long. He’s been ranting for quite some time about feminism, politics, and how words should actually mean things. Claims he can’t write without something distracting in the background.

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