Author: Naomi Cahn


Personality Types, Creativity, and Same-Sex Marriage

Co-authored with June Carbone 

UCLA’s Williams Institute has just issued two studies on the economic effects of gay marriage. The first study, on the relationship between a state’s approach to marriage equality and population migration – documents that members of the “creative class” —  people who “create’ as their job – who are in same-sex relationships were much more likely to move to Massachusetts following the Goodridge decision and the legalization of same-sex marriage. The study’s author suggests that this could improve help the state’s economy in the long-term. A second study shows that same-sex weddings have added over $100 million to the Massachusetts economy  (although this is not even a drop in the bucket in the $300 billion spent in Massachusetts in, for example 2004). Serendipitously, David Brooks wrote an op ed in the New York Times today, “In Praise of Dullness,” discussing  a different study that found the ideal C.E.O. is ” humble, diffident, relentless and a bit unidimensional,” in short, “not the most exciting people to be around.”  This study complements the work of journalists and political scientists, such as Bill Bishop and Andrew Gelman,  who increasingly find that the high tech centers of the country (including the Boston corridor) attract that same creative class open to new ideas and approving of same sex marriage, while the conscientious, more religious, and conventional family oriented types are drawn to other regions – regions that tend to oppose same-sex marriage.

Do these divisions suggest that opposition to same-sex marriage is in our genes – or at least our personality types? The CEOs and the creative class of the new economy may not belong to different tribes, but they tend to see the world through different lenses that color  their  perceptions.      Read More


Change the Subject

The juxtaposition of the controversy over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame, a newly released Gallup poll finding that a majority of Americans are anti-choice, and a governmental report on the increasing rate of nonmarital childbearing highlights the challenges of reproductive rights in American life and politics. Abortion is an intrinsically divisive issue, and it has become a focal point for values conflict. What we really need to do is to change the subject, from abortion to contraception.

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the analysis of red families v. blue families I’m writing with Professor June Carbone. Reproductive issues – specifically abortion – retain their ability to rally the red paradigm base. Conservatives can’t stop talking about abortion; abortion is, in the words of one political commentator, “their meal ticket.” It remains the family values issues least amenable to compromise. Indeed, the Gallup poll measuring abortion views found little change in the views of Democrats. Instead, the increase in pro-life attitudes comes from those who identify as conservatives and moderates. Read More


Braking Away

One of the benefits of being at GW is that I get to talk to Dan Solove in person. When I saw him on Wednesday, he reminded me that blogging doesn’t always have to be about my past books or future projects. Thanks, Dan!Traffic Sign

Depending on where you live, today or tomorrow is “Bike to Work” Day.  Bicycles have been around the US since at least 1866, when Pierre Lallement received patent no. 59,915 for a velocipede.  I’ve been an avid year-round bike commuter for 8 years now (aside from my 2 years in Kinshasa, Congo, when I couldn’t walk around the block without an escort), and, like most zealots, I like to proselytize. Now that I’ve converted to a bike commuter, I extol the economic and environmental benefits of riding:  bicycles don’t use any fossil fuels to get you from one place to another; an 8-mile bicycle trip keeps out about 15 pounds of pollutants from the air we are breathing; and somewhere between 6-20 bikes can be parked in one car parking space (mine is parked as a piece of art in my office).  Just as importantly, however, bike commuting is really fun. It is fast: even at my pace on the bike of 10-15 mph, I breeze right past people in cars. And it’s wonderful for my mental health. One of my friends interviewed me for a story she wrote for Good Housekeeping magazine (!) about how people find serenity. I told her I find serenity through writing articles and blog posts, but she wasn’t convinced; not until I told her about my bike commuting did she put pen to paper. So, as one corporate sports giant might say, Just do it!


What’s in a Name, Part 2: Consider “half-siblings”

Ryan Kramer graduated from Colorado University’s aerospace engineering program on Friday, a program that is so tough that only about 50% of those who begin ultimately finish it.  Before he starts his master’s degree in engineering management  at USC this fall, one of his big summer plans is to meet two of his half-siblings; he has at least five others.

I’ve met Ryan once, and was incredibly impressed with him – I’m not surprised that he was able to complete his competitive college program nor that he is seeking out half-siblings and the man who anonymously provided the sperm that enabled Ryan to exist.  Ryan and I met at a conference on establishing a national donor gamete databank. Ryan and his mother, Wendy Kramer, have started the enormously successful Donor Sibling Registry, which is now responsible for connecting more than 6000 people with others who share some of the same genetic origins (disclosure: I have just become a board member of the DSR).

Donor-conceived offspring often – although not always – regret their lack of connection with their entire biological heritage. They want to know more about the often anonymous individual[s] who helped create them. As the secrecy around using “donor” sperm and eggs dissolves – in the past, parents frequently did not tell their children that they had been created by donor gametes — offspring and their parents are increasingly trying to get additional information and are advocating for disclosure of “donor” identities. Many have begun to use the internet to create an extended family that includes others who have used the same donor. Almost 150,000 people visited the DSR website in 2008, and more than 24,000 people have registered on it. It maintains an extremely active blog and message group.

The language in the donor world shows how these families are constructed. Offspring who share the same donor are typically labelled “half-siblings.  “Accidental incest” is a concern.   The word “donor” is itself a misnomer; gametes are typically sold rather than provided altrustically.   Read More


Our Newest Ambassador

I wasn’t going to say anything about Bristol Palin’s new job, but then a friend sent me a column in today’s New York Timesabout Ms. Palin. In case you missed this news item, Ms. Palin (18 and nonmarital mother of baby Tripp) has become a teen ambassador for the Candie’s Foundation, which is supposed to educate us about how we can fight teen pregnancy. To market its message, the Foundation is selling tank tops for $15 with the slogan, “I’m Sexy enough . . . to keep you waiting.” (Disclosure: I should note that I tottered around in my 3-inch Candie’s high heel shoes several decades ago, but have given them up for shoes from The Walking Company.)

The overall message from the website is that teens should wait. On its webpage, “Tips for Teens,” the Foundation asks, “What should you know?” and then replies:

Did you know that over 90% of teens believe that it’s important that they get a strong message about waiting to have sex? In fact, 60% of teens who have had sex wish they had waited longer and 75% don’t see anything embarrassing about admitting that they’re virgins. Clearly, teens in the 21st century are recognizing merit in putting off sex and the consequences – both physical and emotional – that are attached to sex.

I think encouraging teen abstinence is incredibly important, even more so now that my younger daughter has just joined the ranks of teen-agers. But I think it is even more important not to let encouraging abstinence get in the way of discouraging pregnancy. The U.S. has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed work — three in ten women will experience pregnancy before the age of 20, a very scary statistic. And those rates are almost certainly higher than they need be because of the energy we devote to encouraging abstinence. As Ms. Palin so clearly, vividly, and painfully shows, abstinence is not realistic.

June Carbone and I have observed that there is no evidence that abstinence-only education in fact makes abstinence until marriage more likely, or produces a decline in either teen or non-marital births.

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Red, Blue, and Lavender Marriage

While it may be too early to uncork the champagne bottle to celebrate the legality of gay marriage in New Hampshire and the District of Columbia, it is certainly not premature to buy some champagne, nor to celebrate the changing approach to gay marriage. On Tuesday (May 5), Maine’s House of Representatives voted out a bill that legalizes same-sex marriage in the state, sending it to the governor for signature; and on Wednesday, the governor signed it; New Hampshire’s legislature is considering a similar bill; and on Tuesday, the D.C. City Council also voted – 12-1, with former Mayor Marion Barry casting the dissenting vote – to recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions (my colleague, Mary Cheh, and a City Council member, was in the majority).  The Mayor has indicated he will sign the bill but, given D.C.’s peculiar Home Rule status, Congress has 30 days to review the legislation. Gay marriage is already legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, and New York, where the governor has introduced similar legislation, recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere.

As June Carbone and I have written in Red Families v. Blue Families (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), it is no surprise that all of the states to legalize same-sex marriage are blue. We have suggested that the new information economy is transforming the family, and has resulted in the development of two different family paradigms: red and blue. Those who live the “blue family” paradigm – they tend to marry later and have children later at an age when both partners reach emotional maturity and financial independence — are reaping handsome rewards.

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What’s in a Name? Consider “Embryos”

Dan first asked me to blog a few months ago, around the time my book, Test Tube Families: Why the Fertility Market Needs Legal Regulation, was hitting the market. Since then, we’ve had Nadya Suleman’s octuplets, President Obama’s lifting of the federal stem cell research ban (although this may only apply to embryos resulting from fertility efforts), and proposed new legislation in Georgia that would allow for embryos to be “adopted.” These events in reproductive technology are neither as newsworthy nor as profoundly disturbing as the torture memos or bailing out Wall Street — or, potentially, as swine flu. They are, nonetheless, critical to the cultural conflict over abortion, family formation, and gender roles.

Consider the proposed Georgia law, and almost copycat-like, legislation in Tennesse. The “Option of Adoption Act” is a Georgia bill that is now sitting on the desk of Ga.. Governor Sonny Perdue. This is the same Republican governor who filed his own brief in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder (the Voting Rights Case that the Supreme Court heard last week), arguing – among other things — that electing a black president indicates no further need for the type of scrutiny Georgia receives under Section 5; the Georgia attorney general had, apparently, refused to file such a brief. Anyway, the Option of Adoption Act, which was introduced in the Georgia legislature by an anti-abortion state representative, sets out methods through which people who create an embryo (when someone undergoes a cycle of in vitro fertilization, there are often embryos left over that ) can donate any leftovers to someone else. There may be up to half a million frozen embryos in the United States, although many of them are incapable of becoming viable fetuses. In Georgia, if the legislation becomes law, the recipients of any embryo transfer can then choose to petition a court for recognition that they are the legal parents of any child born to them.

.One of the bill’s advocates, Daniel Becker, the President of Georgia Right to Life, trumpeted that, “’This bill is monumental in that it establishes the adoption of embryos as children for adoption purposes.’” Indeed, there have even been claims that an embryo exchange should be the basis for eligibility under the federal adoption tax credit. As Sarah Lawsky and I painstaking show in Embryo Exchanges and Adoption Tax Credits, use of someone else’s embryo is not an adoption. Calling embryos “children” is problematic for a number of reasons.

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