The "Mary Cheney" Question Redux

I have recently started posting Vox Libertas on The Daily Kos, and since I had a backlog of blogs, I have been revising my older works for posting on Kos. The first of these consisted largely of a merging of my The Issue of Habeas Corpus and Alberto Gonzalez: “There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution" postings into a singal unified Kos Diary called Habeas Corpus Redux.

My latest Kos Diary is an update of Just What Is "Out of Line"?, which I've called The "Mary Cheney" Question Redux. This time I've added substatntial new material, dealing with the columns of Leonard Pitt, jr. (Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Miami Herald) and the issues he raised there. Feel free to visit dKos and recommend my diary if you are a Kos reader.

I did edit the previously published material some, but the bulk of the changes were additions at the end of the posting. For those not interested in going over to the Daily Kos version, here is most of the new material...

At the time that I wrote the above, the media had largely ignored most of the questions that the various situations raised. A few days later, Leonard Pitts, jr, of the Miami Herald addressed the issues head on. Back in December, Pitts had written:

I find it telling that Vice President Dick Cheney hews to the hard conservative line on virtually every social issue, except gay marriage. It is, of course, no coincidence that Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian. Which tells me his position is based not on principle but, rather, on loving his daughter. It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor's daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status—and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.

After the abortive Situation Room interview, he wrote a column in which he managed to offend both the right and the left. On the matter of the propriety of the question, he sided with Chrissy Gephardt, and disagreed with Mary Cheney writing,

She is wrong. What Mary Cheney has in her womb is both a child and a political statement. One is reminded of how a simple act like drinking from a public fountain once became a political statement because some people said other people ought not have the right to do such things.

Similarly, although women all over America are carrying babies right now, Mary Cheney and any other lesbian woman who does the same unavoidably makes a political statement. Because some people believe they ought not have the right to do such things.

He also disagreed with Vice President Cheney's claim that Blitzer was "out of line."

He, too, is wrong. The Bush administration has used gays as Southern politicians once used (and often, still do use) blacks -- as scapegoats, boogeymen, distractions. Largely because of that, Heather Poe will have no legal parental rights to ''her'' child.

Dick Cheney is that administration's No. 2 official. So there is nothing ''out of line'' in asking him about any of this.

At the same time, perhaps surprisingly, he agreed with at least part of James Dobson's criticism of Mary and Heather's decision to have a baby specifically because he does see the baby as a statement, a tacit statement that fathers don't matter.

When this agreement resulted in Pitt being accused of being an anti-gay bigot, he wrote a second column explicating his position. The author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, Pitt's major concern is what he sees a diminution of fatherhood and the disintegration of the family, especially the black family:

But as 16 percent of white kids and a whopping 51 percent of black ones grow up father-free, facing all the difficulties that portends, I definitely have something against the idea, whether advanced by straight women or lesbians, that father is unnecessary, that so long as there's some uncle around to show a boy how to hit the mark in the toilet, everything is hunky dory.

Like Dobson, he cites

a growing body of research ... which tells us the child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs, or wind up in jail.

In her own response to the Situation Room interview, Mary specifically addressed these claims, saying:

"Every piece of remotely responsible research that has been done in the last 20 years on this issue has shown there is no difference between children who are raised by same-sex parents and children who are raised by opposite-sex parents. What matters is that children are being raised in a stable, loving environment."

As it turns out, both sides have a certain point. Dobson and Pitts are correct. Children from "broken homes" and the children of poor unwed mothers are at a great disadvantage, but what they are failing to recognize is that the world is far more complex than the simple black and white of their world view. That single mothers are often poor, unable to spend as much time as they would like or ought with their children and the trauma of divorce, death and desertion are all factors. At least as importantly, the world isn't divided into 2-parent+kids households and broken homes, and neither of those is the historical norm.

Most of humanity has lived in multi-generational extended families. One could with some justice argue that grandparentless households were just the first step on the path to the fatherless households. Beyond that, while the human lifespan has been three score and ten--seventy years--since Biblical times, many people died before reaching that age, and so these extended families were often missing some members, mothers, fathers, one or more grandparents or had substitutions, stepparents, aunts and uncles and such. Even when everyone was alive, often family members had to be away from the family for extended periods. As a descendant of generations of sea captains, I am well aware of this.

Families have always come in a wide number of shapes and sizes. Focusing on the 1950s Leave It To Beaver husband, wife, two or three kids and a dog model as the only healthy configuration is historically, sociologically and psychologically unjustified. As I said, Dobson and Pitt are correct, a healthy, rich family life is important to children. They are wrong in their narrow view of the limits of that life. And what we need as a society is an examination, an honest evaluation of what we can do to insure that as many families are as healthy as they can be.

And it is very very far from certain that denying Mary and Heather the right to build the best family that they can will help. It is almost certain that criticizing them in Time magazine, and condemning their family as unhealthy will not make life any easier for their child. It is unlikely that failing to defend your daughter's family when they are publicly condemned will help, or that the families of millions of other gays and lesbians will be helped by public figures failing to stand up for theirs.

This country desperately needs an actual public discussion of values and issues, not an exchange of hateful barbs and name calling, but a give and take wherein people actually listen and strive to learn. Wolfe appears to have tried to engage in such a discussion if rather crudely and half-heartedly. John Stewart and Chrissy Gephardt actually did a credible first step. Leonard Pitts wrote thoughtfully, and shows signs of being the sort of person who can listen.

One columnist and a comedy show is still a pretty weak showing though. As John Edwards is fond of saying, We're a better country than that. Or we can be.