I recently came upon an article titled “Breaking the Silence: Redefining Marriage Hurts Women Like Me—and Our Children.” I was intrigued, because I often hear or read that allowing gay and lesbian individuals to marry harms opposite-sex marriage, but I rarely find any case made for what that harm actually looks like, or how it is caused. The article, by a woman named Janna Darnelle, begins like this:
Every time a new state redefines marriage, the news is full of happy stories of gay and lesbian couples and their new families. But behind those big smiles and sunny photographs are other, more painful stories. These are left to secret, dark places. They are suppressed, and those who would tell them are silenced in the name of “marriage equality.”
But I refuse to be silent.
I represent one of those real life stories that are kept in the shadows. I have personally felt the pain and devastation wrought by the propaganda that destroys natural families.
In the fall of 2007, my husband of almost ten years told me that he was gay and that he wanted a divorce. In an instant, the world that I had known and loved—the life we had built together—was shattered.
At this point I stopped reading and almost laughed. I realize this is very serious subject matter, but Darnelle seems unaware that if LGBTQ individuals had equal rights and full social acceptance, she would not have been put in this situation. Her family was torn apart not as a result of her now ex-husband’s “decision to identify as a gay man” but rather because he, a gay man, felt he had to hide who he was. If he had been able to accept himself and come out earlier, he would not have married her, leaving her free to marry a straight man who could love her more fully.
The problem is that many people view being gay as disordered, and would rather force a gay person to leading a straight life and thus living a lie than allow them to live authentically. The result is that there are gay individuals who marry members of the opposite sex, and as the climate changes and being gay becomes more acceptable they regret it and in some cases (such as that of Darnelle’s husband) leave the lie they are living for a new life. Is this process painful? I can’t see how it could not be. However, the growing acceptance of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights should mean this will happen less and less.
In other words, this is not so much a story of how gay marriage destroyed a family as a story of how LGBTQ acceptance moved to slowly to prevent the destruction of a family.
Darnelle goes on:
My husband wanted primary custody of our children. His entire case can be summed up in one sentence: “I am gay, and I deserve my rights.” It worked: the judge gave him practically everything he wanted. At one point, he even told my husband, “If you had asked for more, I would have given it to you.”
I truly believe that judge was legislating from the bench, disregarding the facts of our particular case and simply using us—using our children— to help influence future cases. In our society, LGBT citizens are seen as marginalized victims who must be protected at all costs, even if it means stripping rights from others. By ignoring the injustice committed against me and my children, the judge seemed to think that he was correcting a larger injustice.
My husband had left us for his gay lover. They make more money than I do. There are two of them and only one of me. Even so, the judge believed that they were the victims. No matter what I said or did, I didn’t have a chance of saving our children from being bounced around like so many pieces of luggage.
Darnelle does not explain why her husband was awarded primary custody, but he was within his rights to ask for it—any father may request primary custody during a divorce settlement, and those who do, like Darnelle’s husband, are actually more likely to get it than not. If Darnelle is right in her assertion that the judge gave her husband primary custody only because he was gay, the judge acted wrongly, but there are a huge number of factors that usually go into custody decisions and its’ not uncommon for a man who asks for custody to get it.
Darnelle goes on to say that her children were forced to be in her husband’s marriage, that pictures of her husband’s new family were in the newspaper, and that her husband’s new marriage is an open marriage. She insists that her son and daughter are growing up without good good role models, but what she actually says is that they are surrounded by more varied displays of gender rather than being exposed only to “feminine” women and “masculine” men. She worries about her children’s psychological health given that one of her ex-husband’s neighbors sometimes sees a male prostitutes and another in his sixties has a boyfriend in his twenties (as though this is a gay thing). She’s upset that her children are being “used as props” by the media.
It is clear that Darnelle does not approve of how her ex-husband is raising her children, and is dismayed by the fact that she cannot control what her children are exposed to. This must be painful for her, but it strikes me that at its core this isn’t really about gay marriage. It’s about divorce.
When any couple divorces, they must come to a custody agreement. Some years back I knew a divorced woman who used to complain that when her son spent time with his father (he had regular weekend visits) he would come hope hyped up on sweets and have done nothing during his visit but watch TV. It’s not uncommon for divorced parents to worry about their lack of control over what the child does or is exposed to while with the other parent. I’m sure there are also times when one parent exposes the child to political views the other parent disagrees with, and even involves the child in political campaigning for a cause the other parent finds abhorrent. As hard as it can sometimes be, this is how divorce works.
Divorced parents should try to be on the same page on major parenting issues, and in many cases they are, but this isn’t always be possible. Sometimes, as in this case, divorced parents disagree a great deal about their children’s wellbeing. If one parent honestly believes the other parent is harming the children in some way or another, they can take it to a judge and try to get the custody agreement amended. If Darnelle really thinks her ex-husband and his new husband are causing the children psychological damage, she can take the settlement back to court. Of course, the court may decide that the things that concern her are not causing actual harm to their child—but then, they could make that same decision if her husband had left her for another woman and she was concerned about the environment they were providing the children. In other words—again—this is about divorce, not gay marriage.
Darnelle makes another point:
There is not one gay family that exists in this world that was created naturally.
Every same-sex family can only exist by manipulating nature. Behind the happy façade of many families headed by same-sex couples, we see relationships that are built from brokenness. They represent covenants broken, love abandoned, and responsibilities crushed. They are built on betrayal, lies, and deep wounds.
This is also true of same-sex couples who use assisted reproductive technologies such as surrogacy or sperm donation to have children. Such processes exploit men and women for their reproductive potential, treat children as products to be bought and sold, and purposely deny children a relationship with one or both of their biological parents. Wholeness and balance cannot be found in such families, because something is always missing. I am missing. But I am real, and I represent hundreds upon thousands of spouses who have been betrayed and rejected.
Again, the major complaint here centers on divorce, not gay marriage. How would Darnelle feel, I wonder, if someone were to suggest allowing gay marriage but banning divorce? This would solve her primary concern without infringing on gay or lesbian individuals’ ability to marry and form their own families. (Note: I am not in favor of banning divorce, merely pointing out that that would more effectively prevent families from being torn apart than does banning gay marriage.)
But while she is obviously most concerned with gay individuals who leave opposite-sex relationships to marry (something that will happen less frequently as social acceptance of LGBTQ individuals grows), Darnelle’s concern goes beyond this. She is against surrogacy and sperm donation. But once again, this is not primarily a gay issue. There are plenty of infertile straight couples who turn to surrogacy and sperm donation. If Darnelle feels that these practices “treat children as products to be bought and sold,” she should be campaigning against these practices themselves rather than against gay marriage.
Darnelle does not mention adoption by name, though she does say that surrogacy and sperm donation “purposely deny children a relationship with one or both of their biological parents.” If Darnelle is okay with adoption for straight couples and sees families formed through adoption as “natural” she would need to retract her statement that “there is not one gay family that exists in this world that was created naturally.” Her only other option is to call adoption unnatural and “built on betrayal, lies, and deep wounds.” But wait. If all gay families are built on these things (as Darnelle insists), does this mean she would say blended families—families formed through divorce and remarriage—are also built on “covenants broken, love abandoned, and responsibilities crushed”?
Darnelle is trying very hard not to be overtly anti-gay. She doesn’t mention God or religion. Instead, she tries to portray the destruction of her family and the “evils” her children are being exposed to as simply the natural results of gay marriage. But she’s wrong, because she falsely imagines gay marriage something fundamentally different from straight marriage. Straight couples get divorced. Straight divorced parents bicker over parenting practices and what the children should be exposed to. Straight couples use surrogacy and sperm donation. Straight couples adopt. None of the evils she points to—divorce, shared custody, surrogacy, sperm donation, and (presumably) adoption—are specific to gay marriage.
There is exactly one thing about her story that has to do specifically with LGBTQ issues, and that is that her husband married her and had children with her even though he was a gay man. That should be her enemy here. She should be out there campaigning for better education for youth on LGBTQ issues and greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. She should be out there sharing her story and spreading the message that gay individuals cannot fix themselves by entering into straight marriages. But she’s not. Instead she has misguidedly decided that it is gay marriage that is the problem, and inserted herself into the debate, decrying the destruction of her family even as she opposes others’ right to form families of their own.