Gay Marriage and School Bathrooms

Will same-sex marriage turn public schools into orgies of sexual confusion?  Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has connected the dots.

The Supreme Court is wrestling with two cases about same-sex marriage.

Conservatives have long insisted that same-sex marriage would lead to a breakdown in the value of marriage itself.  One commenter recently called same-sex marriage the threshold of an “abyss of nihilism.”

Ham’s analysis sexualizes that nihilism and brings it right into public schools.  Ham, America’s leading young-earth creationist, insists that same-sex marriage is only part of an “evolving sexual agenda.”  (Ham is a smart guy, so I am confident he chose that word—“evolving”—intentionally.)

In Ham’s recent piece, he argues that the next step after gay marriage will be a profound and aggressive attack on all traditional gender norms.  As evidence, he cites recent public-school guidelines in Massachusetts.  As we’ve noted on ILYBYGTH, these new school rules allow students to identify their own gender identity and require schools to respect those identifications.

As Ham writes, the trickiest part of this school rule has become bathrooms.  If a student was born a boy but identifies as a girl, Massachusetts schools must respect that choice. Ham worries about a boy who pretends to identify as a girl just to get access to the girls’ locker room.

Ham is not the first conservative thinker to make this connection between same-sex marriage and a sexual free-for-all in public schools.  But for those of us non-conservatives who try to understand conservatism in American education, Ham’s argument offers two important reminders.  First, schools are tied into every culture-war argument.  Though marriage laws seem relatively distant from education policy, conservative (and liberal) arguments against same-sex marriage often rely on the harmful effects gay marriage will have on children and schooling.  Second, for those outside the orbit of American creationism, Ham’s argument underscores the fact that creationism is an outgrowth of conservative Christianity, not the root.  Besides Ham’s use of the word “evolving” to damn the same-sex marriage “agenda,” this article does not talk about creationism or evolution.  Rather, Ham concludes that the main reason to oppose same-sex marriage and the abandonment of gender rules is more broadly Christian.  As Ham argues,

As Christians, we should affirm our children’s God-given genders and cultivate godly masculinity and femininity in them, rather than encouraging them to abandon the gender God gave them in the womb . . .

For Ham, as for many creationists, Christianity comes first.  Creationism is only one important element of the crusade.  Ham himself has often reminded readers of this fact.  Nevertheless, it is common for outsiders like me to pigeonhole Answers in Genesis as narrowly interested in establishing the case for a young earth.

As Ham’s recent argument proves, AiG’s sort of young-earth creationism has a much broader conservative agenda.


Porky’s Revenge: Gender Identity and School Bathrooms

Remember Porky’s?  I looked it up, and found a surprisingly thorough plot summary on Wikipedia.  Before I looked it up, though, I had only a hazy memory from my teenage years of a group of boys trying to look into a girl’s shower.

According to some conservative commentators, the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) has sunk to Porky’s level in a misguided attempt to avoid discrimination.

In November, 2011, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  If someone identifies as something other than the gender that person was assigned at birth, whether as a male, female, neither, or other, that person may not be discriminated against in any way.

Recently, MDOE issued some guidelines for school implementation of the new law in public schools.  Public schools must make all students feel welcome and valued, regardless of gender identity.

Predictably, some commentators focused first on the restroom ramifications of the new law.

Writing for Fox News, Todd Starnes noted that parents reacted with outrage to the notion that someone born as a boy could identify as a girl and use the girls’ restroom, or vice versa.  Starnes also critiqued the rule’s enforcement policy.  If a student does not adequately recognize a fellow student’s gender identity—in the way the fellow student wishes—he or she could face punishment for bullying.  That is, if a student calls a fellow student “he,” or a “boy,” when the fellow student identifies as a “girl,” or “neither,” it could count as bullying.

One parent told Starnes, “It doesn’t treat all students the same. . . .  It has a greater preference to gender-identifying children. That concerns me a great deal.”

In the pages of Public Discourse, lawyers Adam J. McCloud and Andrew Beckwith took a different approach.  This sort of policy overreach, McCloud and Beckwith insist, is nothing more than a predictable outgrowth of America’s penchant for redefining marriage.

Changes in law and principle can take a while to unfold as policy and practice, they note.  “Redefining marriage to eliminate sexual complementarity as an essential characteristic,” they argue,

“doesn’t automatically commit a state to forcing girls to share locker rooms with boys. But there is a logical connection. One of the premises justifying the redefinition of marriage also grounds these new regulations, that is, the view that sexual difference is irrelevant to the practice of marriage.

“But if sexual difference is irrelevant to marriage, then how can it be relevant to any practices? Once the state has determined that sexual difference is no longer a legitimate reason to extend special recognition to man-woman monogamy, there is no reason in principle to maintain sexual distinctions in less intimate practices. If one’s anatomical reality isn’t relevant to one’s marriage, it’s even less obvious why it should be relevant to one’s bathroom choice.”