Pete Buttigieg says US needs rethink on parental leave after being hit with abuse over paternity absence

First openly gay Cabinet secretary discusses homophobic attacks from Tucker Carlson

John Bowden
Wednesday 10 November 2021 19:38
<p>Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten </p>

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is calling for some Americans to update their cultural understanding of parenting after he faced bizarre homophobic attacks from Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Buttigieg addressed the remarks from Mr Carlson criticising his choice to take paid time off from the federal government to care for his two newborn fraternal twins, whom he and his husband adopted last month.

In particular, Mr Buttigieg honed in on the Fox host’s head-scratching suggestion that because Mr Buttigieg and his husband Chasten could not breastfeed, their presence was not needed to care for two infants who are just a few weeks old.

“Leaving aside the hospitalisation, part of me just wondered: how do they think my kids eat? They have two dads – do they think I just leave them with a can opener and directions to the fridge?” the secretary quipped.

America, he added, has “a lot of catching up to do” around modern concepts of parenting; the US is one of just a few countries to have no national standard for paid maternity and the only with no family leave policy among the largest of the world’s economies.

“We still have to contend with the view that the only justification for parental leave is for women to physically recover from pregnancy and childbirth, which is of course one very important reason, but it’s far from the only one,” Mr Buttigieg said. “I know in most parts of the world it’s probably puzzling that it’s even controversial.”

The transportation secretary has become one of the public faces of the Biden administration’s push to pass a major overhaul of US infrastructure, which passed in part last week. The White House is still pushing to get a second, larger bill dealing with family leave and a host of other policies over the finish line.

Paid leave emerged as one of the sticking points for that second bill, with conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin repeatedly stressing his opposition to including such a plan in the bill which is set to pass through the 51-vote budget reconciliation process.

That bill’s future is now uncertain, as progressives largely abandoned their vow to not vote on the bipartisan smaller package until the larger one was passed.

Mr Buttigieg stressed in his interview with The Guardian that much of the issue was a cultural problem of Americans not understanding the importance of parents being present and able to support their spouse of any gender following the birth of their children.

“Hopefully we are on a track to where this is no big deal, but this is about culture as well as policy,” he said.

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