Let me remind everyone that I support the Church’s position opposing same sex marriage. That said, that doesn’t mean that every argument one could make for opposing SSM is a good argument. The purpose of this post is to explore one argument that I keep hearing being made in opposition to SSM that is not a good one. It goes something like this: “SSM is bad for children because studies show that children do best in families with a mother and father.”
First problem: these studies (almost always) compare “families with a mother and a father” to single-parent families. I think everyone is now clear on the fact that single parents have a much harder row to hoe than two-parent families, so these study results are not surprising. But using these studies to oppose SSM is not appropriate because the real issue is whether families headed by two opposite-sex parents are comperable to families headed by two same-sex parents. My understanding (And I would be happy to be corrected! Link away!) is that these studies are in their infancy but show either similar results or a slight edge for same-sex families. It is not at all surprising that studies would show better parenting outcomes for same-sex couples, and we should expect that the data will continue to skew in their favor.
A good number of opposite-sex couples have children by accident and we should not be surprised that their parenting is sub-par. It’s pretty hard for a same-sex couple to accidentally have a child, and that deliberateness alone will eliminate a lot of bad parenting outcomes. Adoptive gay families have the additional hurdle of requirements that will screen out all sorts of problematic behavior and situations that don’t stop opposite-sex couples from leading families. Lesbian-headed families are likely to benefit from the absence of males and their violent tendencies. Couples using surrogates or artificial insemination must first pass a financial hurdle that suggests a measure of stability. No one should be surprised when the studies come out showing better outcomes for children raised in same-sex-headed households. Even if being parented by a same-sex couple is in fact detrimental to children (and I suspect that it is), that effect will almost certainly disappear beneath the advantages that same-sex families confer and the data will suggest that same-sex couples are better for children.
And then what? Do you want our opponents on this issue quoting our old “we must prohibit marriages that are shown to be harmful to children” arguments to gleefully call for the end of heterosexual marriage? Don’t make arguments now that will embarrass us in ten or twenty years.
Further, do you really want to make the argument that “Group X has bad parenting outcomes therefore they should not be allowed to marry?” Even if it is true–and it is certainly true that one could comb the data and find that certain ethnicities, educational levels, religious groups, what have you, make worse parents than the norm–does it seem consistent with the American commitment to individual rights that we would bar certain groups from marriage because they didn’t meet certain criteria for parenting outcomes?
And, most importantly, is our defense of marriage based on what sociologists find is best for children–or is it based on what God has revealed is best for children? If sociologists find that pre-marital sex creates stronger marriages, should the Church encourage it? If they find that family religious behavior is detrimental to the well-being of children (and it is in my family, where ensuring quiet in family home evening often involves threatening the life and/or limbs of my children), should we stop? These stupid hypotheticals are designed to show that we aren’t in bondage to what the statisticians find improves parenting outcomes. So why are we pretending that we are on this issue?
I want to reiterate: I support the Church’s opposition to SSM. But that does not mean that every argument made against SSM is true or wise. This one certainly isn’t.