The Worst Argument Against Gay Marriage

From a comment at Volokh about the New Jersey ruling:

It's an undisputed assumption that marriage is important to the welfare of children. The NJ Supreme Court decision yesterday virtually ignored the impacts on children, merely because the current executive branch officials in NJ chose to do so.

We see this argument constantly and no one that uses it offers anything like a rational reason why it actually argues against allowing gays to marry. Here's the argument:

Person A: We should allow gay people to get married.

Person B: We can't do that, because marriage is a good thing, it protects and nurtures children.

Uh, okay. I agree, marriage is a very good thing and it protects and nurtures children. Now why doesn't that apply to children of gay parents as well? And since not one single person currently benefiting from marriage is going to have that situation changed in the slightest by allowing gays to marry, how on earth is this an argument against allowing gays to get married? No one ever seems to answer those two questions and I think there's a reason for that; there simply is no coherent answer to them.

The New Jersey court did not ignore the impact on children, they recognized, logically, that gay marriage will have a positive impact on the well being and security of those children whose parents are gay, by allowing their parents to form the kind of stable committed relationships, with all the rights and protections and responsibilitiest that come with them, that straight people form everyday. And they recognized that the tens of millions of children currently in families with married parents won't have that situation changed one iota if the gay couple down the block gets to marry too.


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I'd go so far as to argue that person B is wrong because marriage isn't necessary to nurture children. Living in a stable home is necessary and, although that can be created by marriage, marriage is not necessary. There are lots of common-law couples out there with kids.

Thus the "stop gay marriage because children in those households will suffer" argument is false. Marriage has little to do with it.

By Miguelito (not verified) on 30 Oct 2006 #permalink

I'm just going to toss an opinion out there and state that I have now taught 1000's of students in class and how a student performs seems to be more a result of an involved parent than their marital status. I will say though parents who live with a bf/gf do seem to struggle with the scenario more than those whose parents are either alone or married.

Granted this is an isolated sample.

There are lots of common-law couples out there with kids.

Just to nit-pick, only 9 states have any common law provisions and the vast majority of live in relationships don't qualify.

Miguelito said -
I'd go so far as to argue that person B is wrong because marriage isn't necessary to nurture children.

Two points.

First, those apposing gay marriage make the argument that married parents make for a more secure home life for a child. Yet they would deny the millions of children being raised by same sex parents that same stability that they claim marriage creates.

Second, while marriage is not the only way to provide stability in a childs life, it signifigantly increases the chance that a childs parents will stay together to raise that child. Even without parents being together it is still possible to raise a child in a caring reasonable environment - I like to think I am providing that for my son, but it is a signifigant challenge to juggle life, child and work around two households. I sincerely wish that I were a married parent, raising my child with his mother.

Thus the "stop gay marriage because children in those households will suffer" argument is false. Marriage has little to do with it.

Yes it is false. But marriage does have a lot to do with it. The reason it is false is that gay marriage will not have any signifigant impact on other mariages.

The ironic thing is that those who oppose gay marriage "for the sake of the children" clearly have no idea what they're talking about. Children have been and will continue to be raised in households with same-sex partners. The real issue is whether those children will have the legal protections that come with their parents being married. Inheritance rights, child support on divorce, wrongful death & survivors rights and benefits -- all of these are benefits that children of married people receive automatically, but that can be more difficult for children of same-sex couples to receive.

I like the solution that a number of other countries have achieved: "marriage" happens in church, while "civil union" is what the state does. To receive the legal rights and responsibilities, you must get a civil union from the state. Then, if you so desire, you can have a religious ceremony from the church of your choice (or something else if you want that). The state shouldn't be in charge of "sanctifying" a union any more than religious beliefs should determine what civil rights and responsibilities people should have.

By Kenneth Fair (not verified) on 30 Oct 2006 #permalink

The root of this thought pattern is the unspoken assumption that gay parents will somehow damage or traumatize children with their (obviously) unnatural and flagrant sexual practices--if they don't outright molest them. And even if the kids are able to escape this, they will eventually suffer self esteem issues and harrassment from other kids with "normal" parents.

Thus, keep the marriage outlawed, and there will be less stable, married gay couples able to adopt or raise children.

The number of false assumptions in this argument are numerous, but still spouted by those who don't know how to articulate their homophobia in any way other than "it's strange and makes me feel uncomfortable."

I recently debated Prof. Lynn Wardle at a Federalist Society event and this exact argument was made. Here is a summary of my response:

The list of respected doctors, psychologists, social scientists and related associations that support ending discrimination against gay couples is incredibly long. In the New York case, institutions such as the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychiatric Association, the Association to Benefit Children, and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, among other authorities, submitted briefs to the court calling for an end to marriage discrimination in the interest of children and families.

Just a few months ago the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in with an authoritative statement titled "The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children." Here is what our kids' doctors say: "There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with one or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families." On the other hand, no peer-reviewed, scientifically conducted study that has focused on gay parents and their children has found any harmful effects either in the quality of parenting or in the well-being of children. The peer-reviewed social science most often cited by marriage equality opponents is universally based on divorce and father-absence studies - which compare two-parent homes with single-parent homes, not heterosexual parents with homosexual parents.

The ironic thing is that those who oppose gay marriage "for the sake of the children" clearly have no idea what they're talking about. Children have been and will continue to be raised in households with same-sex partners. The real issue is whether those children will have the legal protections that come with their parents being married.

It goes even farther than that, Kenneth. Not only will children continue to be raised in households with gay and lesbian parents, but children will continue to be raised in households with single parents, unmarried-but-committed parents, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives serving as parents, in foster families and in adoptions. These families do not necessarily follow the man/woman married couple model that is preferred by the "pro-family" movement, and no matter what social policy is selected and followed by a government, these other types of families are not going to disappear.

And that is the way it has been throughout history, as death, and to a lesser extent divorce (always available to the rich and powerful), not to mention pre-marital sex, have created families that did not follow the dominant social model. Does the "pro-family" movement ever really believe we will create a society of nothing but married-couple families? Even if we did, do they really think such families would create some kind of new social idyll? Given the statistics on child abuse, neglect and abandonment even in married-couple families, we know that the social problems inherent in poor parenting will continue, no matter what the dominant form of the family is.

Given that non-married-couple families have been raising children for years (and no matter what social science you look at, not all such families produce bad outcomes for the children - it is entirely possible to raise good, decent productive citizens in any family structure), and will continue to do so, wouldn't it make more sense, from a public policy perspective, to strengthen support for all family types, rather than try to force everyone into one model?

In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, without specifically naming gay families, makes and argument for using social policy to "strengthen" marriage, using similar statistics to those used by "pro-family" activists. At the end of her op-ed she states: "Accepting the decline of marriage as inevitable means giving up on far too many of our children. They deserve better than that." (…) And she is both right and wrong. Our children, no matter what their family situation, deserve our support and protection, so that we can be better assured of productive citizens in succeeding generations. By focusing only on marriage as the desired social structure, the "pro-family" conservatives basically give up on all the children who will remain in families that don't fit that model, and that is simply shameful.

Thus the "stop gay marriage because children in those households will suffer" argument is false. Marriage has little to do with it.

Agreed. If they were really concerned about protecting our children, they would remove the "marriage" from "Stop Gay Marriage" and start fighting the real battle.

if god meant for man to marry man he would have given us adam and steve not adam and eve.

sam is keeping activist judges off the bench- finally! 40 years of liberals passing new laws from the bench. it started with marriage to when the court told virginia how to let people marry. then they legalized murder. then they legalize sodomy. i guess next child abuse will be legalized to make libreals happy.

I am getting sick and tired of the constant repitition of the praise of heterosexual families and how wonderful it is to be raised in one. What percentage of people in therapy are there because they are dealing with the scars left by their heterosexual parents? What proportion of racism, or other bigotries gets handed down from father to son? How many women who believe that it is their job to be nothing more than good wives and mothers, and who are guilty over their careers -- or, for that matter, are guilty over their discovery of their own sexuality, hetero- homo- or bi- just the fact that they are sexual, learned those lessons at their mother's knees? How many sons have had to fight the battles of their lives because their father has decided that they will 'grow up just like him' when they have other, greater, or just different aspirations -- or have spent their lives in a job they hate to fulfill their father's dreams for them? How many children have spent their whole lives wrecked and racked by feelings of failure because of their parents' demanding perfection of them, so they are 'never good enough?'

I won't go into specifics here, but among the closest people in my life, one has had to file for psychological disability because the problems her parents gave her have been too much for her.
One, in her fifties, has never been able to form any sort of close emotional attachment without wrecking it because of her parents.
One writer I knew was so wrecked by his mother and the sense of guilt she threw on him that he told me (he was 50 at the time) he'd never been able to have an erection unless he was being physically or verbally abused. (He eventually had to write a very vicious -- and bad -- book dealing with this problem and make his mother the assassin and villain of the story to try and exorcise this.
Another friend of mine was having Thanksgiving dinner with me when he was called and told that his father had died. I had to insist on him going home, it meant so little to him he wanted to stay.

I was lucky, damn lucky, to grow up in a lesbian household. A lot luckier that the friends of mine who grew up in straight ones. Because I might have attracted, as friends, the 'wounded duck' types, but I've seen others. How many can seriously say they escaped uninjured from their own growing up?

"I was lucky, damn lucky, to grow up in a lesbian household. A lot luckier that the friends of mine who grew up in straight ones."

I'm glad you had good parents. But raving that hetero parents are the root of all evil is not the answer either. As has been documented, one's ability to be a good parent is not dependent upon one's sexual orientation.

Insecurity issues which translate into either dominating/submitting to their partner, or trying to live through their children with overly lofty expectations/guilt trips, are found in people of all sexual orientations. Many of the "good housewife" lessons learned are also the teachings of specific religions/traditions, not simply applicable to the fact that a household is heterosexual (for example, I was raised in a heterosexual household, and my mother was a career woman who had multiple degrees).

I understand your ire, but you need to direct it to the real problem--bad parenting, and outdated/unnecessary modes of thinking.

I might also ask how many of the dysfunctional families that put people in therapy were dysfunctional because one parent was in the closet...

And then there's the question of whether heterosexual families are more likely to be bad for gay children (or children who, in some phobic parent's mind, look like they might become gay) in a world where gay couples are routinely stigmatized and denied normal rights, than in a world where gay couples are considered normal.

By trilobite (not verified) on 31 Oct 2006 #permalink