Seeking sanity on Planet Massachusetts

Posted: Mar 09, 2005 12:00 AM

There was a time not so long ago when a sane person could say, "Children need a mom and a dad," and the townspeople would yawn, roll their eyes and wonder why some folks insist on sharing such prosaic insights.

This might still be true in some parts of the world, but not in Massachusetts, where the water apparently is tainted with more than old tea, and where stating the obvious - as Gov. Mitt Romney recently did - will get you labeled a hate-mongering radical wing nut.

Actually, it's worse than that. For his support of the traditional, two-parent, heterosexual family, Romney has been accused of being like President George W. Bush. Now them's fightin' words, for sure.

In a damning editorial, the Boston Globe criticized Romney for taking "a page from President Bush's illogic by insisting that every child 'has a right to a mother and a father,' implying that two women or two men could not possibly do the job."

Actually, Romney's statement implies nothing of the sort. Two men and two women can raise children, just as one woman or one man can raise children. But neither case provides an ideal environment, which is Romney's point as well as the opinion of a majority of Americans.

Romney, who made his remarks during visits to Utah and South Carolina, doesn't get a free pass. Some of his remarks were, shall we say, not well considered. In one instance, the governor said that same-sex marriage is "a blow to the family." In another, he noted that some same-sex couples are "actually having children born to them."

As excerpted, that last statement sounds as though Romney were discussing some alien species that somehow managed to replicate human progeny. But within the larger context of the same-sex marriage debate, his meaning might be understood as something else. Not that gays have no right to families of their own, but that (ITALICS) in principle, children's interests are best served by having both a mother and a father.

Most Americans agree with that statement - which is imminently reasonable and which surely is just as true for gay children as for straights. How many gays or lesbians, after all, would prefer to have had no mother, or no father, as the case may be?

For purposes of discussion, no abused children are allowed to respond. Clearly, we're talking about ideals and principles, not worst-case scenarios, as The Globe editorial does in one of its most fallacious arguments, posed as questions:

"Would Romney support dissolving that child's family?" the editorial asks, referring to the child of a same-sex family. "Would he prevent gay couples from adopting needy children - products of often abusive homes or dissolved heterosexual unions?"

Again, nothing Romney said suggests either that he would break up gay couples or try to prevent abused children from finding a safe home, even with a same-sex couple. Believing that children are best off with a mother and a father is a principle, not a strategy for hurting people who happen to be homosexual.

The Globe editorial also relies on the testimony of children to make a case for same-sex marriage. Doubtless these are lovely children who love their parents, but they ARE children. One, an 11-year-old boy whose parents are lesbians, spoke at a recent demonstration outside the governor's office, saying:

"My family is just an ordinary family, and I don't know why we can't live together and be happy."

Again, no one has said this child can't live with his two mothers or that he can't be happy. What traditional-family advocates believe is that an 11-year-old boy also would benefit from having a dad. By endorsing same-sex marriage, society effectively declares otherwise.

Obviously, he's better off without a dad who is also an abusive, pill-popping, philandering drunk. But once again, the worst dad possible should not be our standard for defining family policy.

Ultimately, there may be no resolution to these differences in perspective. No one can fault gays and lesbians for wanting spouses and children of their own. We all - hetero and homo - seem to be equally deranged on that score. But the essential question is not what adults want, but what is best for children.

In principle if not always in practice.