June 03, 2007

Structural Invisibility, Individual Singling Out

by PG

Maggie Gallagher wrote that "you may have seen the story on the lawsuit on eHarmony. You may not know about a recent case in which a federal district court ruled an Arizona adoption biz could be forced by Calif. orientation law to serve gay couples on its adoption website." I appreciate her calling attention to these articles, as I hadn't heard about either story.

The NYTimes story on the eHarmony lawsuit isn't very clear, and the possibility of discrimination is in the details. I'm on eHarmony's side if the lawsuit is based entirely on the site's not offering a "men seeking men" nor "women seeking women" option. This may be bad for their business because they're missing out on a non-negligible portion of the population, but if they're basing their sell on having done extensive research into how to form lasting marriages, this possibly may be somewhat different for opposite-sex relationships than for same-sex ones. For example, if eHarmony wants to come across as helping people bridge their differences based on sex (hence the "harmony"), that would not be an advantage in getting same-sex couples together. I wouldn't want to use a dating site that is intensely gender-oriented, but if you're a Focus on the Family type, this might be your kind of site. On the other hand, if the plaintiff in the suit attempted to sign on and the site literally would not accept her account because she described herself as a lesbian, that's discrimination and I hope she wins. If a lesbian wants to be on a website where if she picks the W-S-M option she's going to be getting a lot of gross messages from guys who think this is their chance for a threesome, and if she picks the M-S-W she's going to get ignored by the women, hey, it's her time to waste. The company is not obligated to make a major structural change in itself -- i.e., by having to do research on what keeps same-sex couples together -- merely because someone wants them to offer a particular option.*

That type of discrimination does appear to be the case for the adoption suit that settled, where there is no "knocked-up teen seeking [fill in the blank] parents for baby" menu on the website. If Adoption.com is truly seeking to serve the population of pregnant women who need parents for their forthcoming spawn, it should include the profiles of all people who seek to be adoptive parents. If a pregnant woman picks the gay couple, that's her choice. It's a choice plenty of such women have made. Gay couples often are more accepting of kids that straight couples, still fantasizing about the kid they'd wanted to make together, would consider too damaged. I don't see any structural change that would have to be made at Adoption.com for it to allow same-sex couples to post their profiles. The site does no work itself; it relies instead on state adoption attorneys or agencies vetting the couples even to do the qualifying home study. They claim,

We are aware of a large body of social and scientific research that supports the historically-established premise that children will have a better chance of doing well in their lives if they are raised in a stable, two-parent family environment, under the nurturing influence of both a mother and a father, and that fathers and mothers can each make significant and very unique contributions to the emotional, intellectual, social, physical, spiritual and gender development and well being of children. Although we realize that this point of view is subject to a substantial amount of public debate, we still find it to be consistent with our own personal and religious beliefs and what can easily be observed from decades of social development in this country. We have therefore found this position to be persuasive in helping us establish the conscience and traditional family-based policies of the Website. We are very aware that our beliefs regarding what rights children have, what is in their best interests and how the rights of children should be protected are not shared by everyone. We are therefore grateful to be part of a civil society in which private citizens are free to express and act in conformity with their own individual beliefs.
What scientific research is this? Paul Cameron's? Maybe eHarmony just has better PR people, but I can roll with their explanation that they don't understand the dynamics of same-sex relationships and don't want to hold themselves out as doing so when what they are promising is your Soulmate. I cannot condone Adoption.com's relatively hands-off approach to facilitating adoptions that still manages to discriminate against same-sex couples. Homosexuals are the only people who can be approved by the state yet not use Adoption.com, while people on their fourth marriage, too old to chase after small children easily, and many others who would not be considered "best" parents by some standards** (like China's!) are totally OK for Adoption.com. That doesn't come across as a sincere attempt to do what's best for the children getting adopted; it comes across as bigotry and discrimination against homosexuals.

* I know those who have read my posts about same-sex marriage immediately are going to think, "If eHarmony doesn't have to restructure itself to accommodate same-sex couples, why should the legal institution of marriage have to do so?"

1) eHarmony is a single provider in a massive market of dating websites, and there are dating websites that cater exclusively to homosexuals. The plaintiff in this case has plenty of options to find a mate online. She doesn't have plenty of options to get married offline. The market is working; the government is not.

2) The government has a higher obligation not to discriminate than the private sector does, particularly in the provision of benefits. Homosexuals pay the same taxes as heterosexuals.

3) The government has to recognize marriages if they meet certain basic requirements (the parties are of age, not closely related, not already married). eHarmony would be completely different if it just threw up a bunch of profiles and let whoever hook up with whomever. Its business model is based on having Dr. Neil Clark Warren's algorithms decide who's your ideal mate.

I often say that opposites do attract, and then they attack. It is downright exciting to find that someone who is quite different from you is very attracted to you. But, over time, when you have to negotiate all these differences and try to find one compromise after another, the task often becomes daunting.
It is so much better to find someone to love who is a lot like you. We have dozens of empirical research studies that stand behind this statement. ...
Similarities in areas that are really crucial to persons are the most critical similarities of all. If spiritual orientation, for example, is highly defined and passionately held for a person, it would be a mistake to try to match them with someone with a significantly different spiritual orientation. The same is true of politics -- and any other body of convictions and values about which people often feel very strongly.
I bet Dr. Warren's calculations don't stretch to encompass having people who describe themselves as evangelical Christians go off with fundamentalist Muslims, yet the government's marriage laws do.

4) There is no way in which legal marriage would have to be changed to accommodate same-sex couples. As I've said many times, marriage law has become essentially gender-less. In some state laws, men still are described as husbands and women as wives, but the duties and benefits each receive from marriage are the same. Men can get custody of children, women may have to pay alimony, and they are equally responsible for the support of the other during the course of the marriage.

** I once had a reasonably sane person suggest to me that boys needed fathers because the boys would reach an age, while still a minor, where they would get too big and strong for the average woman to be able to restrain them physically. Coincidentallly, my parents know a couple who are much smaller than their youngest child grew up to be, and when he went through a wild phase, they were indeed unable to cope with him physically and ended up sending him to a military school. If Adoption.com also thinks this is a necessary quality in a father, presumably they are discriminating against couples where the father is in a wheelchair or lacking in upper body strength. I'm not really sure how you predict a man's body strength in 15 years compared to where his infant son will be at that time, but I'm sure the sophisticated scientific research Adoption.com accesses can provide some answer.

June 3, 2007 10:37 PM | TrackBack
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