A Mommy and a Daddy: Evangelicals, Antifeminism, and Marriage Equality

This may sound odd, but I don’t think you can fully understand evangelicals’ opposition to marriage equality without also understanding their antifeminism.

Evangelicals believe that women are inherently more nurturing while men are inherently more aggressive. They believe that God intended the wife to be the heart of the family and home life and the husband to be the protector, provider, and the family’s interface with the public sphere. And of course, evangelicals belief that fathers and mothers are innately wired to parent differently—and that both types of parenting are needed for children’s success. As Focus on the Family puts it: “Validation from Dad, plus nurturing from Mom, equals ‘mission accomplished’ as parents.”

Those of us who believe in marriage equality have been saying over and over again for some time now that what children need is parents who invest in them and love them, and that the gender of those parents is not important. But this only makes sense if we also accept gender equality and the fruits of the feminist movement—the idea that mothers can be protectors and providers too, and that men can be just as nurturing to children as women can. And as long as evangelical leaders continue to emphasize gender differences—to argue that men are from Mars and women are from Venus—evangelicals will continue to insist that children really do need a mother and a father.

Let me offer an analogy.

Imagine a man and a woman in a rowboat. Each has an oar, and together they are moving the boat forward. One side of the boat is nurturing side, and the other side is the providing side. Now imagine that there are two women in this boat, rather than a man and a woman. Feminism would allow those women to choose which side to row on, and even to grab hands and row together on both sides. But evangelical leaders will not accept this. They argue that women can only row on the nurturing side and men can only row on the providing side. In the view of these evangelicals, a boat rowed by two women must of necessity go in circles—and so, too, must a boat rowed by two men.

(Feminism not only allows two women or two men to row the boat—It also allows greater flexibility for heterosexual couples, allowing them to switch sides if they choose, to take turns, or to row both sides together. And let’s not forget single parents: a boat with only one person—man or woman—can move forward as well, though that person may find rowing alone more tiring and difficult than rowing with a partner.)

Evangelicals insistence that each child needs a mother and a father, rather than simply loving parents, is rooted in evangelicals’ strong gender essentialism and serves to tie the fate of the causes of feminism and LGTBQ rights together in evangelical minds. The more that feminism breaks down gender essentialism and challenges conventional gender roles, the fainter the constricting heteronormative binary that threatens LGBTQ individuals with erasure will become—and the more LGBTQ individuals refuse to be bound by that constricting heteronormantive binary, the greater the challenge to essentialism and conventional gender roles will become.

In the end, I honestly don’t think evangelicals can come to accept marriage equality until they deal with their antifeminism problem. After all, until they can make peace with feminism their belief that women are wired to change diapers while men are wired to leave for work will keep them arguing that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to marry because children need a mother and a father.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com Samantha

    I had not spotted this connection, but you’re right. That’s . . . obvious, now that I think about it. Every time I’ve seen this come up on facebook (like this morning, when I read this article: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9432/ so . . . much . . . urggh)– I struggle to articulate that having a “genderless” family (as the guy in the article puts it) isn’t a real problem.

    Everything in conservative evangelicalism is so insanely inter-connected, I have trouble dissecting it.

  • Khaliah

    Parents who love their child and each other >>>>>>>>>>>>>> A female parent and a male parent

    Having two adults in a household, one with inside plumbing and one with outside plumbing, does not guarantee a stable household and loving family. The core of a happy household is that the adults within it care deeply about each other and any young lives brought up under their roof. Man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, it doesn’t make a difference because what kids need is a house based in love and support, not just two genders.

    The argument of “children need a mother and a father” implies that, on their own, a single mother or single father are completely inept about rearing children. Nothing could be further from the truth. What about people who leave abusive spouses to protect their children and themselves? What about people whose spouses die unexpectedly and cannot/do not remarry? What about people whose spouses just up and leave because of lack of maturity/infidelilty? Are we seriously going to call their parenting skills into question because someone of the opposite gender isn’t in their home with them, helping them raise any children they have?

    If these folks are clammoring so much over insisting that children NEED their mothers and fathers, why aren’t they pushing for mandated shotgun weddings, for rapists who impregnated their victims to pay child support, for a ban on all no-fault divorce even in the case of physical/mental abuse and/or infidelity?

    • ScottInOH

      They actually do advocate things along the lines of your last paragraph. Many of them would outlaw divorce if they could, they expect rapists to have parental rights, and they think poverty would be solved if single mothers married the fathers of their children. It’s quite scary, really.

    • Felicia J.

      I think many of them DO believe single parents are inept and will irrevocably damage their offspring.

      This writer from LifeSiteNews argues the tragic death of her father led to her brothers being emotionally stunted because no one else could teach them how to be men. She herself is damaged beyond repair because her lack of a father after age 13 means she lacks the self confidence only a father’s unconditional love can provide a daughter. Or something like that.

      Which is why these people should leave the gays alone and start forcing straight single parents at gunpoint to marry someone of the opposite gender, for the good of their children.

      • smrnda

        Why don’t people like this realize that just because something ended up being bad for you, that it isn’t necessarily universally bad for everyone? I know few people who grew up with both of their parents together, and, offhand, the people who ended up screwing up or being screwed up the most came from two parent families.

        Not to knock anyone who is suffering, but my take on her writing is that she sounds like a professional whiner who needs to realize that her childhood is long over and that she needs to take some responsibility for herself now. When she’s griping that her father’s family isn’t ‘validating’ the fact that her and her brothers are apparently totally lost because they didn’t have a father, maybe it’s because plenty of other people seem to survive the experience. I’m sure it can suck to be down a parent, but this idea that she’s absolutely lost as to how to relate to men because her father wasn’t there – I mean, is she assuming all men would be exactly like her father?

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Oh my. Losing a parent at a young age is really terrible, and it’s really tough for the surviving parent, but it’s awfully unhelpful to say that kids will be irreparably damaged because of it. Of course they need lots of good support, but they can still grow up into perfectly functional adults. I’m in a relationship with a man who lost his father at a young age. Trust me: people succeed at this. Also, plenty of men do act as fathers to kids who aren’t their biological children. And not all fathers are disciplinarians. And while I have a great relationship with my dad, I’m not sure that it provided a template for how I relate to other men. I mean, the parent-child relationship is pretty specific. Also, if they didn’t respect their mother when she was trying to be “fatherly,” that really just indicates that they weren’t being raised to respect women’s authority, and I’m not sure the presence of a disciplinarian father would have improved matters.

        And I’m not sure how it can be a “right” for a child to have a mother and father, since that indicates that someone is legally obligated to provide another parent. Should her mother, or my boyfriend’s mother, have been forced to marry again? I’m not sure what she expects to happen, given that she also seems to be dubious about the idea of stepdads.

  • Christine

    I know that my first “but you can steer when you’re paddling on only one side” is based on canoeing, but the more I think about it the more I like it. Even if it WAS true that men & women naturally work on different sides of the boat that only matters if you’re using the wrong boat. You can still go in a direct route to where you want to go, you just need to make sure you think about what you’re doing.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      “that only matters if you’re using the wrong boat”

      Love this.

    • Nicola

      And, hey, I can paddle a canoe in a straight line all by myself! So there goes the “what about single parents?” argument :P

    • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel


  • Kodie

    I have actually made this connection before. Whereas they might think homosexual sex is gross, what seems to be the heart of the matter is which one is the man and which one is the woman that they can’t get their heads wrapped around. If there are two men or two women, then how do they divide duties as well as model for their children how to be women or how to be men?

    All of this confusion they are constantly bringing up about homosexuals via proper masculinity or femininity – if you want to be with a man, then you must want to be a woman (if you’re not already?) and how they use homosexuality as an insult to someone whose behavior veers off into the realm of the gender that person is not. Like, if you’re a man who enjoys cooking, then you are “gay”, ie. want to be a woman, which is another possibility, but are different things, and neither may be true. The obstruction to marriage is an obstruction to child-rearing via adoption. If they can’t stop anyone from marrying, then they can’t stop children from growing up and going to school with their children and talking about their two mommies or two daddies, or what have you, and in some sense, worry about the message of homosexuals’ own children growing up without one version of the model adult to care for them and model for them “appropriately”, which is supposed to be a horror.

    Never even mind that those “perverts” are probably having sex all over the house and can’t keep their hands off each other in front of minors in their care.

    • LadyCricket

      Here’s a quote from Ellen Degeneres you might like, then:

      “Asking who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in a same-sex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.”

      I rather like to eat with chopsticks. :)

      • Cathy W

        …I love that.

  • Kodie

    I might also bring up the Adam and Eve story that’s supposed to impress upon us what “god” intended. As parental role models go, one of their children killed the other one.

    • Conuly

      One out of three isn’t half bad. Seth never killed anybody, did he?

    • Lillith

      I love this response and will use it if I get the opportunity. I wish I could ‘like’ your comment.

      • Kodie


  • John Evans

    My dad grew up in a very patriarchal family. When I was small, he was distant and not strongly involved in my upbringing. Now that I am an adult, we are great friends, and looking back I think I recognize situations where he wanted to be involved, but either didn’t know how or felt awkward and out of place. I think he was hurt worse by gender essentialism than I was, perhaps.

  • castaway5555

    It’s all about domination … derived from a very poor reading/understanding of the Old Testament, backed up by centuries of male domination, along with cultural domination of the white race over all the others.

  • Jessica

    Plus since they believe men are inherently leaders and women are inherently followers gay marriage in their worldview is the only marriage where its actually possible to be truly egalitarian . I think that honestly scares the shit out of them. Evangelical: “A household without a follower?! A household without a leader?!”grasps chest in pure shock “The horror! The horror! Hierarchy must be defended!” Evangelical thinks to himself; 0bviously a patriarchal hierarchy, not a matriarchal one. That would be unbiblical. Or something.

  • Ken L.

    While this is all true it’s important to point out that it’s all pure rationalization.

    I think there is a _very_ tiny kernel of truth in their claim. A loving biological father and mother is quite possibly the best possible option for children. I however, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, which is exactly what they are doing. There is no possible argument that letting a gay/lesbian couple get married would actually make it worse for any kids, compared to single-parenthood or an orphanage. It’s simply not possible to make such an argument – and I don’t say that often as people make really stupid arguments all the time. If the legal parent in a gay/lesbian couple dies do they really think the child would be best served by being a ward of the state instead of staying with the other parent??? Don’t they think the govt is incapable of doing anything – especially parenting?

    I honestly believe that the true reason they fight is that they genuinely want homosexuals to suffer; everything else is just rationalization. They’re afraid that God might be a bit too forgiving and let them into heaven so they are doing their best to make it hell on Earth first. Look at the DOMA case today. The details involve an estate tax, something the GOP typically hates, but it’s apparently fine and dandy when a lesbian’s estate is the one being taxed and her “spouse” is the one suffering.

    • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

      I hate to nitpick on what is a great comment, but I have to counter this:

      I think there is a _very_ tiny kernel of truth in their claim. A loving biological father and mother is quite possibly the best possible option for children.

      It turns out that shedloads of research has been done on this one over the past few decades, and the consensus has been overwhelming- being raised by a loving same-sex couple is every bit as good for kids as being raised by both biological parents. There is no advantage to having both parents be biological parents. It makes sense if you think about it- what does a small kid care or even know about genetics? They care about having the people who love, nurture and care for them there.

      • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

        Gah, I tried to add a link to wiki’s article on same-sex parenting research, but the comment wouldn’t post with it. Do check it out, though- while, yes, it is just wiki, it’s a well-researched article and has all the links to studies anyone could ever desire :)

  • DataSnake

    The other thing I suspect scares them: if two men or two women can make a marriage work, it kind of proves you can have a happy marriage without one partner being subservient to the other* , and if they concede that, the whole Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy worldview collapses like a row of misogynist dominoes.

    *yes, there are straight relationships like this already, such as Libby Anne’s own, but a same-sex marriage working out would be especially hard to dismiss on the part of the “penis=dominance, vagina=submission” crowd.

  • Satchel

    “In the end, I honestly don’t think evangelicals can come to accept marriage equality until they deal with their antifeminism problem. ”

    Well, that’s doomed then.

    • Rosa

      not the leadership, but the congregations have learned to accept divorce and single parenting. Otherwise, there would hardly be any evangelicals left.

      People change, despite their beliefs.

      • AR

        A bit confused here. The fundy lite churches (all evangelical) and their adherents that I have been around don’t get too worked up about divorce. I taught in a fundy lite school where 14 of 17 seniors in the class of 2000 had parents who were not married to each other. Divorce was considered a minor hiccup in the road. One teacher was happily married to his fourth wife who was younger than his oldest children and that didn’t stop him from wearing his “promise keepers” hats and t-shirts. That is what disgusts me when this crowd preaches about the sanctity of marriage. And believe me, their children felt the affects of those divorces. It was not all sunshine and butterflies and thank God we accept that in our faith among teens whose families were fractured and whose parents were preoccupied with the young children of marriage two or three or four and had no time for them.

      • Rosa

        They used to get very worked up about divorce, but they realized that they had to change or they’d have no members left. No matter what they say, their issues and standards are not eternal or absolute.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

        Yet divorce is one thing that Jesus did talk about!

  • Staceyjw

    I dont think they will ever accept marriage equality, or feminism. They will simply be marginalized u till their hate is no longer in the forefront, and no longer making laws. I sure hope this happens with abortion too. It looks like it’s going the other way with those rights.

  • smrnda

    From my stint attending an evangelical church, a lot of people share that attitude and can’t figure out how a relationship works with two equal parties. The the “Christ and the church” analogy they keep pulling up has to contribute to their perspective on marriage (which I think it’s a pretty bad analogy, as it makes one party in the relationship effectively a god compared to the other one. Ego trip much?) You can’t even explain how two equal parties can get along to people like that since they feel that there must be a Leader. (In a similar note, I recall one person commenting that people are ‘sheep without a shepherd’ == need leadership. Can’t people just quit being sheep and manage their own lives?)

    Part of the problem is a subculture like this is self-selecting. People who believe join, and then they see a bunch of people who all think like them and who are striving to embody the same gender stereotypes. Churches seem like kind of insular social institutions, so it’s possible that people like this don’t have lots of friends and acquaintances who are that different, or perhaps avoid people like that for fear of worldly contamination. In that sense the view is self-reinforcing. Believe, then avoid people who don’t believe and only hang around people who do.

  • threesecondsearch

    “Gracie, no one is trying to take one of your parents away.” See:
    NOM describes their setup:

    Here is an 11-year-old(!), Gracie Evans, testifying before the Minnesota state legislature against same sex marriage. She had a question for the legislators: “I want to ask you this question: which parent do I not need: my Mom or my Dad?”
    She asks the question twice and looks around the room in vain for an answer. Out of the mouths of babes, my friends, out of the mouths of babes!

    • BringTheNoise

      Out of the mouths of babes, my friends, out of the mouths of babes!

      Yes, well done, you taught some poor kid to repeat a leading question. Was that before or after you stopped beating your wife?

    • Tracey

      Nobody is trying to take Gracie’s parents away, but her church is trying to take away the parents of other children just like her.

  • Carys Birch

    Kodie– I can’t respond in line because my phone won’t allow it, but that’s it exactly. My parents are continuously asking about same-sex couples, which is the man and which is the woman. Or, in a somewhat more creepy and intrusive way, speculating on it. They really literally can’t understand that two men might interact with each other romantically and relationally AS MEN. Or that two women might do the same. They must instead continually pry into “which one’s the husband, do you think?”

    I’m kind of starting to hate the term “husband” honestly, with all it’s connotations of caretaking and ownership. I’ll take care of and own myself. Nobody needs to husband me ever, although I would espouse someone in the right time/place/circumstance.

  • Plunderb

    The sticking point for me is this: I don’t actually care much whether Evangelical Christians accept that same sex marriage is wonderful and life-affirming. All I want is for them to accept that the government cannot enforce their weird, niche beliefs on the general public.

    • Rosie

      I agree.

  • Generally Speaking

    I see acceptance for marriage equality occurring well ahead of feminism. Marriage equality greatly impacts the rights of men, albeit gay men. And that’s something the masses can support. Women’s rights, on the other hand…not so much.

    • Ron K

      Ummm…. this doesn’t feel true from my perspective. In my experience, patriarchy isn’t about benefiting all men and suppressing all women. It is about imposing a social order through dictating essentialist gender roles and character traits. It benefits men & women who conform, by nature or by discipline, to those gender roles, and it tries to suppress and marginalise men & women who reject them, or try to change or challenge them. The modern patriarchy, in particular, celebrates patriarchal women and uses them to advocate itself much more than in the past.

      I don’t have personal experience with evangelicals. In the eyes of patriarchal people that I know, while ‘uppity’ women trying to achieve more power are an understandable and acceptable enemy, gay men and especially trans* people are traitors, coming to destroy patriarchy from within. Gay men and trans* people are subjected to at least as much violence, harassment and abuse as women. Even in relatively liberal parts of our society, experimenting with same-sex relations are seen as much less threatening and much less identity-defining for women than for men.

      I’d agree with you, though, that acceptance of ‘marriage equality’ among the masses is partly because it takes a well-understood and comfortable patriarchal model of the last 100 years or so, the 2 person+kids household, and duplicates it to what most people consider a separate and equivalent group of gays and lesbians. Still, one step at a time, eh?

  • HelenaTheGrey

    What I want to know is why, on Facebook, this has turned into an argument about abortion. Perhaps it is just in my feed of friends, but I have my friends with their red equality photos. And I have evangelical friends with red equality for unborn babies photos and lots of statues about how maybe the gays will get equality when the unborn babies do. I’m confused? When did the 2 issues become combined. And am I really to believe that if abortion were outlawed, the evangelicals would be jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon? Has anyone written about or discussed this little phenomenon? I just seriously don’t get how the Christian right is equating the 2 (and I am a Christian).

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      In my observation, there doesn’t seem to be anything that the fanatical “pro-life” set can’t turn into an argument about abortion. I see them bringing it up all the time in situations where it makes absolutely no sense. It’s like the “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon” game except substitute abortion for Kevin Bacon and there’s usually fewer than 6 degrees since they’re generally not particularly concerned that the degrees logically flow from one to the next.

    • Kodie

      I think they’re using unborn fetuses in an attempt at extortion. You get your right to be a person when the baybays do.

      • Brightie

        I think it’s more like, “Hi, I really disagree with your cause and think you’ve got it all wrong, but rather than directly confronting you about it, let me use the popularity of the visual meme you’ve started to promote my own cause.”

  • ako

    Yeah, they definitely seem to treat it as two separate and non-interchangeable sides. The wide variety of possibilities is much easier for the people involved in the long run (yes, you have to think about what each of you wants to do and how to combine it, but there’s no forcing yourself into an unsuitable role, and if you go “I really want to just do things the traditional way!” that’s fine, too).

    (I also think that’s why they tend to latch on to bizarre misinterpretations of feminism, because if you think that The Man Role and The Woman Role are necessary components of life, it’s much easier to grasp reversing the roles than eliminating them and allowing for a wide variety of possibilities based on individual preferences.)

  • observer

    I’ve always believed that the biggest reason why the “children need a mother and a father” meme is very prevalent is due to a naive connection towards creating a child, and raising one.
    That is to say, the thought process of these people may be that only a man and a woman can create a child; so it stands to reason that only a man and a woman can raise one effectively.

  • Alice

    All I can say is Word, Word, WORD! Ditching silly gender stereotypes would make the world a better place for people of all orientations and genders.

  • http://www.selviscloset.blogspot.com Selvi Malar

    Thanks for your brilliant article!! This is absolutely true!
    Feminism and the LGBT movement are just two sides of the same coin, because they both challenge traditional gender roles and send the message that a person’s assigned sex is irrelevant to their personal merits.

  • Jos

    Feminism and your gay allies are loosing the fight, we see this every day, you feminist wanted to take on man, demonize him to a point were everyone is afraid, now man is fighting back and you are on the loosing end…man does not control, assault, abuse or rape, that’s a myth promoted by the old feminists who have no one but their cats to go home too, abuse is done by an individual, a rape is done by an individual, man or woman.
    The irony is that without man willing to die, to protect their rights to speak freely, there is no feminism…feminist hypocrites.
    As for the family, mom and dad in a home gives kids a chance in life, at a good future, children come first, not adults, the majority of families who understand their place in the circle of life, their importance in nature and to each other, is more apt to succeed than those who demonize it…
    Feminism is dying, and it is not only men who are destroying it, but the ladies whom you told
    all men are rapists, they do not think their sons, husbands fathers are this way…
    In other words, you feminist and manginas, fucked up big time. The only allies feminists have is manginas and gays, outnumbered and loosing support every day, next to be reminded of what is real are the politicians, u think they will support you if they understand they careers are in jeopardy?
    Your argument makes no sense, it goes all over the place and you can only depend on comment of people who speak ur language, u have no outside comments, no debate, you live in a fantasy world and u surround yourself with it…Gay lifestyle is only temporary as it was in the roman empire and all systems who adopted it, all have fallen, hard, and who turned things around when it went to far, when families were at risk…MEN.
    U wanted to take us on, u got it…welcome to reality, one little piece at a time.

    • Anat

      Huh? You know, this diatribe against straw-feminism makes you sound as neither victorious nor connected to reality. Try reading more, you might find out what feminists are actually saying.

  • Anomanom

    That was remarkably insightful. Thank you for that. I’d never considered that evangelical antifeminism (or perhaps counterfeminism) contributed to the opposition to marriage equality. But take it beyond that too, and even outside of the quiverfull/purity/submission movements, a lot of evangelicals seem fixated with the idea that the purpose of marriage is to produce and raise children. Therefore, a homosexual marriage is inherently valueless as it cannot produce children in what they perceive to be the “natural” fashion.

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