Yes, I’ve heard the arguments against re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples. I know that, legally, it eliminates the only civil institution that unites children with their biological parents. I’m aware that it reduces marriage to the level of liaisons that lack procreative potential. I recognize that it views families as socially constructed units based on choice, rather than natural communities rooted in reality. I realize that it denies children the complementary gifts of motherhood and fatherhood and puts them at risk of being treated as if they belonged to the state. I understand that it threatens religious freedom.
But I’m not sure of the impact on the arts, whether visual, performing or literary. Consider, for example, the famous American portrait “Whistler’s Mother” and the controversial Estonian sculpture “Father and Son.” Will they now become “Whistler’s Parent One” and “Parent Two and Son” or, more politically correct, “Parent Two and Offspring”?
Might the textual revolution give us an English play “Voyage Round My Parent Two” and an American film Throw Parent One from the Train? Will the magazine Mother Jones change its name to Parent One Jones? What about Mother Goose with her fairy tales and nursery rhymes? I don’t even want to think about the awkward changes fairy godmothers may be in for.
To accommodate the textual revolution, authorities in some jurisdictions have replaced mother and father with parents one and two in official documents. Can we expect bureaucratic censors to do the same in lyrics of folk, country, jazz and rock songs, not to mention Broadway and Hollywood musicals?
On St. Patrick’s Day, will we have to sing “God bless you and keep you, Parent One Machree” or on International Country Music Day, will we succumb to “Silver Haired Parent Two of Mine”?
Somehow, the revised versions fail to preserve the emotional texture of the originals. Where, pray tell, is the drama in “I Saw Parent One Kissing Santa Claus,” especially the closing lines, “Oh, what a laugh it would have been if parent two had only seen parent one kissing Santa Claus last night”?
Although a long-time jazz fan, I’m not particularly fond of “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar” or “I’m the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” But I don’t dislike them enough to replace the personal with the political. The same goes for “Your Mother Should Know” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” even though, as I’ve never been a rock fan, I’m not fond of them at all.
Has anyone thought about the collateral damage political replacements might entail? Well I have. In descriptions of radioactive decay from mother to daughter isotopes, some scientists already use parent instead of mother. For political reasons, might others use parent one? In other words, might marriage decay affect radioactive decay?
Or in mitosis, instead of a mother cell dividing into two daughters, might a parent one cell be said to do it? That is, might the re-definition of marriage lead to a re-description of biological cell division? Stranger things have happened in sexual politics.
One of the strangest is same-sex polygamy. If you can change the sexual nature of marriage, why not the numerical? This no doubt motivated a “throuple” of Thai men to be united in what has been billed the world’s first three-way gay wedding. Plural marriages, of course, have long had multiple parents, albeit in opposite-sex relationships; and British lawmakers have opened the way for genetic engineers to create three-parent embryos. Can you imagine what such genetic hubris could do to the arts? Never mind trying. It’s probably unimaginable.
As for collateral damage, I wouldn’t miss clichés such as “the mother of all battles, storms, pandemics …” and “the father of philosophy, basketball, the atomic bomb …” But I’d lament the disappearance of adages such as “Necessity is the mother of invention” and “Experience is the father of wisdom.” As for Mother Nature and Father Time, I can take them or leave them, as I can mother of pearl.
Fortunately, Mother’s and Father’s days are standing their ground, at least for now. As a child, I remember celebrating my mother in song: “M is for the million things she gave me” and so on through the other five letters. “Put them all together they spell…” not parent one, I’m relieved to say.