Mary Cheney—Unfit Parent?

First published in Between the Lines on December 14, 2006

Mary Cheney is pregnant. Wish her well.

That’s what good folks do when presented with an expectant mother. Behind the scenes they may say or think whatever they like, but publicly they wish the mother-to-be well.

Which puts right-wingers in a bit of a bind. Many of them claim that same-sex parenting selfishly deprives children of a father or a mother. But when one of your own (or at least the daughter of one of your own) is a pregnant lesbian, it’s a bit awkward to bring that up.

Not that that’s been stopping them. For example, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America writes that Cheney’s action “repudiates traditional values and sets an appalling example for young people at a time when father absence is the most pressing social problem facing the nation.” According to Crouse, Cheney’s child “will have all the material advantages it will need, but it will still encounter the emotional devastation common to children without fathers.”

Aw, heck—why not just lock Cheney up for child abuse and get it over with?

Actually, I shouldn’t joke about this. Accusing people of deliberately harming children—particularly those to which they are about to give birth—is pretty serious. But is the accusation cogent?

We don’t know what role, if any, the father will have in Baby Cheney’s life (beyond the obvious biological one). But let’s assume for the sake of discussion that Mary and her partner intend to raise the child without him.

Crouse’s accusation has two parts: first, Cheney harms society by promoting fatherless families, and second, she harms her own child by causing it “emotional devastation,” among other problems. Let’s take these in order.

No one denies that “fatherless families” are a serious social problem, if by them Crouse means the typical cases of poor unwed teenaged mothers who are abandoned by males that they probably shouldn’t have been with in the first place. But one doubts that when these lotharios are pressuring their girlfriends to have sex, the girlfriends are thinking, “Hey, Mary Cheney and other famous lesbians are raising children without fathers—why can’t I?” Indeed, one doubts that “thinking” comes into the picture at all.

To compare such situations with that of professional women in a 15-year partnership is ludicrous on its face. Cheney’s example may encourage other “fatherless families,” but these, like Cheney’s, are likely to be of the carefully planned variety.

Crouse cites not a shred of evidence to suggest that planned fatherless families have the problems typical of the more common accidental ones. She can’t. Insofar as such things have been researched, the evidence is squarely against her. So says the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, and every other mainstream health organization that has commented publicly on the issue.

Which pretty much takes the wind out of the sails of her other argument, that Cheney’s decision harms Cheney’s child by assuring it “emotional devastation.” The available research says otherwise.

None of this is to deny that fathers are important in their own unique ways or that, in general, fathers bring different (and important) things to childrearing than mothers do. But it is a huge leap from those claims to the claim that lesbian parents “deprive” their children of something.

This past year my maternal grandmother died. Grandmothers are special, as those who are fortunate enough to have them will usually tell you. And in general, they’re special in somewhat different ways than grandfathers, just as grandparents are special in somewhat different ways than parents. But if a motherless person were to choose to have children, we wouldn’t describe her as “depriving” them of a grandmother—even if we thought that, all else being equal, it is better for children to have them. So even granting for the sake of argument that it is “ideal” for children to have both mothers and fathers, it does not follow that it is wrong to bring them into the world otherwise.

Wish Mary Cheney well. It’s the right thing to do.