Perhaps the most irritating thing about the Palin family is their followers: the fanbase of sycophants who endlessly praise their “bravery” whenever one of them is rightfully criticized for being ignorant, prejudiced and wrong. They serve to refocus the media’s narrative onto the Palins themselves and the controversy surrounding their personal lives, with copious opportunities to portray them as the victims of liberal “attacks” when anyone disagrees with them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Bristol Palin’s vacuous critique of President Obama for supporting marriage equality, which apparently warrants attention simply because she is Bristol Palin. Now that she’s set the standard for intellectual depth, we’ll be forced to endure endless coverage of Twitter replies from celebrities and unoriginal jokes about her own family structure.
But if Palin really wants to talk about marriage, then let’s talk about marriage. She opens with the observation that conservative Christian women running for office are sometimes asked if they would be subservient to their husbands, whereas liberal women usually aren’t. (You might be wondering what this has to do with same-sex marriage, but we’re getting there.)
While it’s absolutely inappropriate to question someone’s ability to lead just because they’re a woman, there’s a reason why conservative women in particular face such inquiries: Republicans are more likely to take the Bible literally, and it has plenty to say about women’s obligation to be silent, obey their husbands, and never hold authority over men. If nothing else, this offers them an opportunity to reject these parts of the Bible and repudiate outdated beliefs about women’s roles.
So how does this relate to Obama? Palin clumsily parallels this with his statement that Sasha and Malia have friends with same-sex parents, and they see no reason for their friends’ parents to be treated differently. She proceeds to make this the centerpiece of her argument, seemingly under the impression that Obama’s daughters’ attitudes are the centerpiece of his. (Had she read a few sentences earlier in the very paragraph she quoted, she could just as well have chastised him for being influenced by college Republicans.)
As Palin sees it, the president “made a massive change in a policy position that could affect the entire nation after consulting with his teenage daughters”. Such a claim is so ignorant of context it can only be a deliberate misrepresentation. Never mind that Obama also mentioned his personal support for equal rights, his experiences with gay staff in the White House, and his insistence that all servicemembers should be treated fairly. Palin would rather portray his principled stand as a capitulation to the whims of teenagers.
That alone is dishonest enough, but then things take a turn for the truly ugly. Realizing her argument can’t rest solely on a brazen distortion we all know to be false, she suggests that Obama should “explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage. Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home.”
Hiding behind “thousands of years” is certainly easy, but let’s not forget that disregarding tradition is the longest tradition of all. For all of the undeserved deification of the past, as though it could somehow hold the answers to every issue we’ll ever face, we’ve often managed to admit that tradition has actually been wrong. No longer do we resist the idea of treating women equally in marriage, or allowing people of different races to marry – and this progress has been made at the expense of tradition.
Our society’s conventions are surely not eternal; they once had to be justified like any other idea. If there are good reasons for a tradition, these reasons can stand on their own merits, with no need to appeal to longevity. Using the past to veto the future is often the hallmark of those who just don’t have a better argument.
However, Palin’s contention that the children of same-sex parents are worse off than those with a mother and father is a decidedly empirical matter. This is an active area of research, and the results are not in her favor. Though the sample sizes have often been small, existing studies show no significant differences in the children of same-sex couples. They’re just as healthy, psychologically well-adjusted and academically successful. (The study most commonly cited by anti-gay conservatives to show that “kids do better growing up in a mother/father home” didn’t even include any same-sex parents.) The evidence-free expectation that gay couples must be inferior parents has no possible basis outside of simple prejudice.
But this argument isn’t just incorrect – it’s also completely irrelevant. Even if it were demonstrated that same-sex parents tend to be worse for children than opposite-sex parents, this still shouldn’t matter, because proficiency at raising children has never been used to define who has the right to get married. The institution of marriage isn’t limited to whichever demographic groups have shown optimal parenting ability.
Children of families in poverty are more likely to have adverse outcomes, but there’s no income qualification for marriage. Even prisoners and convicted child molesters retain their right to marry – as long as it’s to someone of the opposite sex. This is a standard that no one else is subject to, and Palin’s demand that same-sex couples alone must meet this requirement is purely an artifact of homophobia.
Most disturbing of all are the implications of her attitudes: she’s actually blaming the president for not seeing happy, loving, normal same-sex parents as unqualified deviants who are irreparably harming their children. And she expects him to teach his own daughters to view these innocent people with doubt, suspicion and fear – the same distrust and disrespect Palin has often faced as an unwed teen mother.
Our families deserve better than this. I believe our children do best in a world where my partner and I aren’t seen as a threat to them just because we love each other. I believe they should get to grow up in a country where the other kids don’t think they’ve been damaged by having two caring and devoted parents. And I believe they deserve to say with pride that their moms are happily married.