The “Right to a Mom and a Dad” Debate

This blog is becoming my take on a collection of the arguments I’ve heard many times before. I’m grateful for your attention.

Many opponents of equal marriage (or supporters of “traditional marriage”, if you will) routinely argue that children do better in homes with a mom and a dad.  They then argue, on this basis, that same-sex marriage denies children a right to this ideal type of home, and should therefore be opposed.

This argument is fundamentally flawed for many reasons.  I illustrate a few here.

Not all homes with two opposite-sex parents are better for children. For the purposes of argument, let’s posit that opposite-sex parents are generally better (even though I haven’t been convinced by any “proof” of this.) That doesn’t mean that they always are. Just because Kelly has a mom and a dad doesn’t mean that that Kelly has better parents than Pat, who has two lesbian parents or Chris, who has a single father.  What if Kelly’s mother is an alcoholic and her father is abusive, while Pat’s mothers are both loving, educated women who work part-time so one can be at home all the time, and Chris’s father is a priest in the local church, and Chris’s grandmother lives in their home?

There aren’t enough “traditional” two-parent homes to go around. There are distressing numbers of orphans and children seeking permanent foster care placement.  It’s not as if these children are giving up homes with two loving opposite-sex parents to go to a home with two parents in a same-sex marriage.  There are more children who need loving homes than available loving homes.  According to UNICEF, in 2006, 143 million children in the developing world alone were orphans.  In the United States, a recent Health & Human Services AFCARS Report stated that 120,000 children were awaiting foster homes as of September 30, 2003.

Same-sex marriage strengthens same-sex relationships; if homosexuality is more accepted, gay people will be less likely to begin “traditional” marriages which often end in divorce. Lesbians and gay men don’t typically choose a way of life that will subject them to discrimination and attack; it’s clear that they don’t feel a lot of choice in the fact that they are attracted to members of the same sex.  I seriously doubt that lesbians and gay men would enter opposite-sex marriages because the same-sex option is closed to them.  They will enter into same-sex relationships anyway.  This creates further trouble when children are involved, because without marriage, the surviving parents have a much more difficult time keeping the family unit stable when a child’s biological parent dies.  How many “traditional” families  have been destroyed because one of the parents realizes that he or she is gay?  Normalizing same-sex relationships would help to eliminate such tragedies.

Granting equal marriage rights to same-sex couples does not mean people will marry children or animals. Civil marriage is a civil contract that may only be undertaken by consenting adults.  Children and pets are not permitted to enter into any other legal contract, so there is no reasonable expectation that making marriage equal to all would lead to such marriages.  Some have argued that this would permit brothers and sisters to marry.  I say, so what?  If they are consenting adults of sound mind, they should be warned about the risks to their children, but let them do as they please.  Some have also argued that loosening marriage restrictions might lead to polygamy.  Due to the significant tax survivorship benefits of marriage, I think the government can successfully argue that marriage can only be between two people, in order to prevent abuse.  Groups of people would just get married in order to avoid the estate tax.  An aside: would the LDS Church have a problem with legalizing polygamy? Another aside: the animal rights initiative on the ballot got over 60% support; perhaps animal marriage rights would be easier to pass? Kidding….

We do not prohibit opposite-sex marriages between men and women who cannot reproduce. If the only concern were that marriage should be an institution that permits procreation, then the government would only allow “fertile” people to marry and require a fertility test in addition to blood and STI tests already required in many jurisdictions.  I also find this argument demeaning to the families of opposite-sex couples who elect to adopt children (for any reason), and to the marriages of older couples who find love and companionship with someone new after their first spouses have passed on.  Marriage is much richer than a path to procreation.

The “science” supporting the superiority of opposite-sex parents is not strong enough yet, and only serves as a distraction. As already illustrated, there are many situations in which two same-sex parents would be superior to opposite-sex parents, or one parent, or no parents. Claiming science proves that opposite-sex parents are better in general distracts us from what we should be thinking about: the welfare of a particular child. This is like citing Murry and Herrnstein’s work claiming that some races have greater intellectual capacity than others. Even if it’s true, it only serves to demean a large class of people. There are many same-sex couples who make fantastic parents for children in need, and that’s good enough for me.

5 Responses to The “Right to a Mom and a Dad” Debate

  1. Phil M says:

    let’s try that again: every child deserves a mother and a father

    [Editor: Thanks, Phil. I’m adding context. Under the title “Every Child Deserves a Mother and a Father”, Dan Savage, nationally syndicated gay columnist, posts heart-wrenching news stories about what some terrible (heterosexual) parents have done to their kids. It illustrates the first argument I raise above.]

  2. Richard says:

    Actually there are several recent, solid studies demonstrating that children in same-sex families have outcomes similar to those in opposite-sex families. Except that children in same-sex families are guess what, more creative and more tolerant.

    Now we wouldn’t want that, would we, Phil.

  3. Wendy says:

    Studies were out in the 1940’s claiming that children of interracial couples were worse off than children of same race couples.

    Same old tactics here, new generation.

  4. Jurjen S. says:

    Whenever an opponent of same-sex marriage makes the claim that “studies have shown that children do better etc.” what they invariably fail to mention is that the studies to which they refer compared households with two parents of different sexes only to single-parent households, not to households with two parents of the same sex. Thus, the opponents’ conclusions are unwarranted, based on the available information. And as Richard rightly notes, when studies have been done that did look at households with two parents of the same-sex, they did no worse, and sometimes better, than households with two opposite-sex parents. In short, the evidence indicates that children do better in households with two parents rather than one; nothing more.

    Also, correlation does not equal causation. The fact that the children in a single-parent household do less well may be caused by external factors that also cause the household to be single-parent in the first place. Low socio-economic status is the most obvious “root cause.”

  5. MikeDice says:

    actually your blog is one of those i will bother to revisit. most i saw today are full of useless informations and advertising. thank you for providing some real content to the world :)

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