Monday, September 28, 2009

Keeping the Young Folks Apart

In his New York Times Magazine column called "The Ethicist," Randy Cohen recently tackled a modern dilemma.

A mother wrote in to say that her daughter, in her late 20s, has a same-sex partner, a fact known to most of the large Catholic family. But the writer's in-laws, the lesbian's grandparents, don't know, and the rule at their summer home is that nonmarried younger folk may not share a bedroom with their opposite-sex partners.

Trouble on the Jersey shore. Or Cape Cod. Or the Maine coast.

The mother reported that her daughter and her daughter's partner often stay in a small room for two at the summer home, and the grandparents think of the girls, who live together, as good friends.

Well of course. Bosom buddies.

The writer's younger daughter is consternated that she and her boyfriend have to stay in separate rooms. With a family reunion looming, the mother asked whether she should have a chat with her in-laws about her older daughter.

Talk about the sandwich generation. This mother is getting squeezed by the old and new mores like a bike running over a PB&J.

The Ethicist responded that it's her daughter's decision whether to come out. He did allow for an emergency that might force the mother to tell, namely "a complicated science-fiction scenario in which thwarting an alien invasion demanded the intervention of some sort of heroic interstellar lesbian."

If her daughter "were reluctant to step up, well, then perhaps you could announce, 'She is gay enough to battle the slime creatures and save the planet.'"

But not until then.

Ethicist Cohen further said the grandparents make the law in their own home, and the daughter should mind the rule or stay elsewhere. "Your daughter should not exploit their obliviousness to cadge a free room."

The problem I see is that if she stays elsewhere she's essentially coming out. How else to tell her grandparents she's not staying with them anymore? The sheets are too scratchy?

She might not be ready to risk losing her grandparents over the truth. She might continue to lie about herself. But if her grandparents are the sort to reject her over her nature, that says little for them. Lying, rejecting--whose ethics are lesser? Now I remember why I didn't take philosophy.

On the bright side, Cohen, in telling the lesbian to vamoose, is also saying her relationship is on a par with the heterosexual relationships. Both orientations must adhere to the same rule. Both can groan about it equally.

This rule that nonmarrieds must sleep in different rooms is far from unusual. My parents enforced it for years. The obvious reason for it is to prevent unmarried opposite-sex couples from having sex. Or at least, to prevent them from having it within earshot.

In preventing couples from having sex before marriage, parents and grandparents uphold traditional morality, and prevent pregnancy. They've done their bit.

As positive as it is to have gay couples treated equally--in this case put in lockdown just like the straights—it's simultaneously more than a wee bit silly.

If you're looking to prevent a lesbian couple from having sex before marriage, you're going to be an acting warden for a long time, as long as it takes for gay marriage to be legal. Meanwhile the couple will be growing old and dropping a fortune at Motel 6.

Upholding traditional morality? Until recently gay relationships were considered the pinnacle of immorality. Housing a lesbian couple in separate rooms to prevent pregnancy? Unless the gals tote a turkey baster around, you need not worry.