Gay Marriage: Do It For The Children

Glen Lavy, an ADF attorney, has a deliciously illogical column at about the New Jersey gay marriage ruling. Even if one grants his premise, his conclusion completely contradicts that premise: Here's the premise:

Those pressing for the legalization of same-sex marriage built a lot of their case on the notion that people in love have a right to get married, whatever their gender, and that the government has an obligation to protect and enforce that right.

In fact, the government has only one obligation, when it comes to marriage, and as recently held by three major courts - the New York Court of Appeals (in Hernandez v. Robles), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit (in Nebraska's Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning), and the Washington Supreme Court (in Andersen v. King County) - it's about what's best for children.

Okay, let's grant that premise for the sake of argument. Even if it's true, this is an argument for gay marriage, not against it. There are two groups of children to consider - children with straight parents and children with gay parents. Lavy is of course implying that allowing gays to marry will somehow negatively affect the children of straight parents. He doesn't explain how or why, of course, because there is simply no plausible argument to be made for that claim. Here's his closest attempt to do so:

Clearly, the state has a vested interested in providing the best possible environment for these future citizens and tax-payers, and the New York judges - like those at the 8th Circuit and the Washington Supreme Court - were persuaded that the ideal arrangement for children is a stable, loving, two-parent, two-gender family.

Again, even if this is true, he makes no attempt at making a coherent argument for why gay marriage has any effect at all on those children. Even if we grant that the ideal arrangement for children is such a family, how does banning gay marriage help bring that about? Does Lavy think that if gays are not allowed to get married to their gay partners, they'll just give up on being gay and go marry someone of the opposite gender and have traditional family? Sorry, that's not gonna happen.

Please show me how even one child who would have been raised in the non-ideal will then be raised in the ideal if we ban gay marriage. Or show me how one child who would otherwise be raised in the ideal will suddenly be raised in a non-ideal environment if gay marriage is allowed. They can't do that. They don't even attempt to make such an argument, precisely because they know they can't. They just skip right over the causal mechanism that allegedly leads from gay marriage to kids being damaged.

It's funny, sometimes the religious right acts as though homosexualiy has such an incredibly powerful pull that the mere mention of it will cause otherwise heterosexual people to turn gay if we don't make gay life brutally difficult to dissuade them from doing so. And other times, they act as though being gay was just a breezy choice one makes, like choosing which happy meal toy you want.

And all of this, of course, completely ignores the hundreds of thousands of children who are being raised by gay parents. If allowing parents to marry builds a more stable environment for children because of the range of privileges and protections and obligations imposed by marriage on the couple, then why does this suddenly not apply to the children of gay parents? If marriage is good for families, then it's good for families headed by gays as well as straights.

The religious right never mentions the children being raised by gays, have you noticed that? I think they're in a real bind. They really can't, at this point, come out and say that they think that no gay person should be allowed to raise children (though I'm sure a sizable portion of them think exactly that) and they can't get away with advocating for laws that take children away from gay parents; they'd lose all those moderate folks who are uncomfortable with gay marriage but not really all that anti-gay.

But they also can't admit that they exist, because then they're also forced to admit that they would be, at least statistically, better off with their parents married, with all the protections and obligations that come with marriage. And that's really the only choice. Gay parents aren't going to go away. Children are, whether the religious right likes it or not, going to continue to be raised by gay parents. And if they actually gave a damn about the security and stability of children, they would be on the opposite side of this issue, encouraging their parents to form stable, committed relationships with all the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Don't tell me how concerned you are for the children when you're ignoring the well being of hundreds of thousands of children to indulge your bigotry.


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What is "best for the children" when two people who, for reasons of age, health, or other conditions, know that they will be unable to conceive and bear children? Should there be an upper age limit on marriage?

Mr. Brayton, I've posted this once before here and never got an answer - but would it be possible for the son or daughter of a same sex couple to take the state to court on equal protection grounds, arguing that denying marriage to his/her parents is a violation of equal protection when children of opposite sex couples gain benefits from the state based on the marriage of their parents?

It would be amusing to watch some of the courts (specifically the NY one) try and back out of that one when on one hand they argue that marriage is about children, and then on the other hand, try and claim that the child of a couple doesn't have standing to argue for the marriage of their parents.

Soldats -
I think the problem with this is finding a case where the child is old enough to press suit and has been caused substantial wrong by the lack of marriage like protections for their gay parents.

I absolutely agree that this would be a great case to see and I think it put it into terms that the right can't really argue their way out of. I hope we see them come up frequently.

By the way, the reason I tend to shoot for older kids who are of age to press suit or close, because very few parents would be interested in putting a young child through the rigors of the courts. I also think it would be far more effective if it is clear that the child itself reasoned out the suit - not the parents, part of the gay "agenda."

But then, DuWayne, we'd have a case where an innocent child was brainwashed by the gay agenda into seeking marriage protections for his/her sinful, ungodly gay parents! I can hear it now: They're mind-controlling our children! :O

I assure you, the right can and will spin such a case into a total dehumanizing circus. It's the only choice they'd have, really. A better-case scenario, I think, would be a child of majority seeking marriage protections for his/her gay parents on behalf of younger siblings.

Excellent append, and the clearest dissection of the silliness of the "harm-based" arguments about gay marriage that I've seen.

Thanks ...

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

Glenn said -
But then, DuWayne, we'd have a case where an innocent child was brainwashed by the gay agenda into seeking marriage protections for his/her sinful, ungodly gay parents! I can hear it now: They're mind-controlling our children! :O

I am certain that some would try to argue that but they would lose a vast portion of their supporters who are more moderate - especialy if the plaintiff could show obvious harm, brought on by their parents being restricted from marriage.

A better-case scenario, I think, would be a child of majority seeking marriage protections for his/her gay parents on behalf of younger siblings.

I think this would be a wonderful route as well.

The fundamentalists use children as cover for their underlying desire to discriminate against gays in every way possible - in jobs, housing, etc. They want gays to be miserable people. Marriage for gays would also undercut their line that they are not against gays per se, but they are against sex outside of marriage for anyone, gay or straight (so they aren't actually singling out gays because they also abhor straight people who have sex outside of marriage). They try to make it sound so reasonable. I think you really have a problem when your agenda has to be under such deep cover (which is probably why they project a deep cover agenda on the gay populace).

This is really an example of the "false dichotomy" logical fallacy. The implication is that children not raised by gay parents would, automatically, be raised by straight parents.

But of course those are not the only two alternatives. There are foster homes and other less than ideal situations in which children are raised.

Even if, as you suggest, you grant the premise that straight parents are somehow better than gay parents, these other alternatives also have to be evaluated against a family with gay parents.

There's another thing, too: what about the gay children? Aren't they worse off in a world where they are told they'll be treated as second-class citizens? And doesn't that status reinforce the tendency of certain straight parents to brutalize their gay children, or children whom they think might turn out gay if not sufficiently beaten?

But, oh, I was forgetting that being gay is a choice, so we need to make really sure people are scared into staying in the closet. That will make their spouses and children better off. Everyone knows that closeted men make great husbands and fathers.

By trilobite (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

Even if, as you suggest, you grant the premise that straight parents are somehow better than gay parents, these other alternatives also have to be evaluated against a family with gay parents.

But, there is absolutely no reason to grant that. We actually have research, and what the research shows us to date is that there are very few differences between kids raised by straight couples and those by gay couples. However, in those areas where there are significant differences, they tend to favor the same-sex couples. Kids in those households tend to feel more loved and cared for, and they tend to be more open-minded and accepting. (See Judith Stacey's work.) We queers appear to be better parents.

To play devil's advocate, there is at least one scenario where children would be harmed as a result of gay marriage. Instead of there being just straight and gay couples who raise children, there's also couples where one person is gay and one straight. If one assumes that gay marriage would encourage homosexuals to come out of the closet (maybe true, maybe not), then it would follow that some families where either husband or wife is gay would then be broken up.

Which is what the religious right clear wants: homosexuals to be shamed into pretending to be straight. That's what the ex-gay community is all about.

Not sure if anyone has put their finger on it yet, but I think that this objection is yet another version of the "gay marriage delegitimizes heteromarriage" argument. In other words, if you make gay marriage legal, it makes hetero married couples think less of their own marriages, thus resulting in more divorce among hetero couples, thus (potentially) causing the harm of children of hetero married couples.

I've often thought that there should be data about divorce rates before and after gay marriage has been made legal, in places like Mass., Vermont (?), various European countries, and so forth. These data would provide a relatively straightforward way of addressing this concern. Not sure how the data look, but I'm willing to guess that divorce rates don't rise after gay marriage is legalized. II'd be willing to bet that divorce rates go down. But as I like to tell my students, "it's an empirical question"

Can someone here point us to the relevant data?

By boojieboy (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

There's another thing, too: what about the gay children? Aren't they worse off in a world where they are told they'll be treated as second-class citizens?

These are pretty much the same people who want to keep gay kids out of the Boy Scouts. You know, that wonderful group where kids learn leadership, camping skills, and the value of helping out the community? Not for homosexual boys -- like atheists, they're not good citizens and don't deserve to be included in character-building activities.

Given this, I wouldn't expect your argument here to be carry much weight.

BTW, in case any of your were confused, my posting of the NRO link should NOT be construed as my support for the writer's position.

Another link from a statement prepared by the Catholic church can be found here that makes basically the same assertion, as in this section:

How would allowing homosexual marriage threaten heterosexual marriage?

One of the downsides to redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would be the weakening of the meaning of marriage, which would cause more divorces. Human nature being what it is, if the meaning of marriage is weakened, it will be psychologically easier for even more people to divorce.

Again, I'm not endorsing the arugment, just identifying it's thrust. I would like to mention its very similar to the one put forward more forcefully by Stan Kurtz, although here and in Kurtz' writings I have yet to see any actual data, just lots of "would" statements. Gay marriage WOULD result in more divorce.

But, hey, gay marriage is out there. DOES IT IN FACT GO WITH INCREASED DIVORCE RATES?

Here's a link that discusses some relevant research, but seems to spin it in the opposite direction. This essay is sort of old, does anybody here know how that debate has evolved in the interim?

Jonathon Rauch has a book on the topic and seems to favor (OK, clearly favors the opposite view. Haven't read the book yet, but I'd be interested to, now that I've seen the general thrust of the data.

Still, all this concern with data presupposes the view that if gay marriage affects the marriage/divorce rate for hetero couples either way, this could be used as a legitimate argument for or against what should be an individual right. I don't think it does, I just think that if the data go against the "gay marriage hurts straight marriage" hypothesis, then they could be used to disarm conservatives in opposition to the idea.

By boojieboy (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

Not to, like, try to support this douche, but I think what the New York decision said was that if straight marriage provides a benefit for children (They get to be raised by opposite sex parents! The joy!) and gay marriage doesn't provide a benefit for children (They don't beget kids, and the ones that adopt etc have their kids raised by same sex parents. The agony!) then the state only has the OBLIGATION to provide for the one that brings a benefit to kids. Even if gay marriage does absolutely no harm, if it doesn't bring this concrete benefit to kids, the state has no obligation to support it.

Of course I disagree that a) marriage is an institution that should be legislated based on what it does for kids and b) gay marriage doesn't provide a benefit for kids, but I don't think he's arguing so much that gay marriage does a disservice rather than that it fails to provide the same service straight marriage does.

By ThePolynomial (not verified) on 01 Nov 2006 #permalink

Just curious. Amongst all of the punditing and emotional battle-cries on the subject, has anyone any interest at all in actual research and analysis into the effects of sex-same marriages on children, marriage, and divorce rates over time? Boojieboy notes some claims in that area, but... are they any more than just subjective claims, at this point?

Just wondering how, e.g., the information presented at would (1) hold up under objective scrutiny, and (2) affect the overall same-sex marriage debate in the U.S.

I think there is a danger of over-analyzing this. Having lived in both rural and big-city environments, I have to say it is hard to see, let alone meet and talk to, an out-of-the-closet gay or lesbian in many small towns. In rural and small town American I think it is a simple (and horrible) case of fear of the unknown. Many people there really believe gays are bad people, and many young (and older) men have an insane fear/disgust regarding men engaging in kissing, oral sex, and anal sex. They really do think men doing these things, even desiring to do them, are "perverts" to use their terminology. To them, gay-marriage amounts to saying the very behaviors they find so repellent are okay.

So I don't think people like this even get to thinking about the children of gay couples. They are worried about their own children getting an "official" message from society that homosexual behavior is okay.

It's a really tough problem that's going to take a long time to fix. How can views change if people never interact with someone who they know is gay?

Just curious. Amongst all of the punditing and emotional battle-cries on the subject, has anyone any interest at all in actual research and analysis into the effects of sex-same marriages on children, marriage, and divorce rates over time?

Well, that would be a little tough in the American context since we've only had marriage equality in one state for just over two years.

However, we do know, as I stated above, that children raised in households with same-sex couples as partners tend to turn out as well or better than their peers raised in households with opposite-sex couples as parents:

Research to date finds lesbian and gay parents to be at least as effective, nurturant, responsible, loving and loved, as other parents. The rare small differences reported tend to favor gay parents, portraying them as somewhat more nurturant and tolerant, and their children, in turn, more tolerant adn ampathic and less aggressive. (Judith Stacey, In the Name of the Family, p. 130

Unfortunately, the courts in NY and WA turned their attention not to the affects that may influence actual children, but on the fact that heterosex can lead to babies where homosex doesn't. Doesn't matter that children are being raised in gay homes, and are put at more risk because the familial ties cannot be formalized under the law. Nope, it's all about the possible, "oops, we're pregnant." Children, for these courts and for the right, are a rhetorical tool and nothing else.

Hang on a second! Hasn't anyone pointed out yet that gay children are the product of straight marriages? Doesn't that mean that seeing two adults locked together by the bonds of law changes children into gays? Or how about the trauma endured by a gay child trying to talk about their feelings with straight parents?

One thing about gay kids in straight marriages -- they're about four times more likely to commit suicide. Maybe they should be allowed to "foster" with a more compatible family--the way we do with budding hockey stars now, who need to leave home quite young to get the hockey experience they need.

Or how about just knowing that one or two of the couples on the street are gay -- wouldn't that give a gay child of straight parents a friendly ear to talk to?

And how in hell could seeing other people happily married harm my marriage?