Now first off it is worth pointing out that, unlike most bad ideas, gay marriage is charged with positive emotion. This makes absolute sense, for marriage is — to the most extent — recognized as a beautiful good. One can understand why this video was so popular:
But we all need to take a deep breath and look at the issue with a little more boredom in our hearts. The answer to this cannot be a slogan yelled to the other side. It takes some thought. In fact, if you are incapable of anything but high-charged emotion over this issue — which I understand entirely, as I’m often far too emotion-driven in the abortion debate — go watch this, no matter what side of the debate you’re on, let it all out, and come back.
The first question has to be: Why do governments recognize marriages at all? If the goal of the gay-marriage movement is for gay marriage to be legally recognized and receive all the benefits of that legal recognition, this must be answered.
Now shockingly, the answer is not that the government just really, really wants to affirm the love between husband and wife. I suppose that’d be nice, if we got tax breaks because we loved really freaking well. It’d also be drastically stupid. No, governments recognize the institution of marriage as the primary institution responsible for the creation and raising of its society’s members. If the family falters, the society as a whole falters. Governments depend on stable families for the health of the society they govern.
It might seem self-evident, that the breakdown of the family leads to the breakdown of society, but just in case: One only need look at the rise of the welfare state, the rise in adolescent suicide, or at the rise in crime to see this. We have a record prison population (2.4 percent of the population in 2003), record numbers of teen suicides, and — not coincidentally — a record number of “alternative” families. According to Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.” When the nuclear family breaks down into divorce, cohabitation etc., society as a whole pays.
Now to be clear, this is not an argument against gay marriage quite yet. Rather, my argument relies on this foundation: That the reason marriage is recognized by the government is because the health of any society is directly affected by whether or not children are being raised healthily. (Duh.) Given this, the second question must be: Can children be raised just as well by two members of the same sex as by a biological father and mother?
There is not enough research to definitely show that homosexual parenting is worse than traditional parenting. Similarly, there is not enough research to definitely show that homosexual parenting is equal to traditional parenting. Of the research that exists, on both sides of the debate, most is inadequate due to failure to meet the the basic criteria for sample size, a lack of random sampling, lack of anonymity of research participants, and general presentation bias. So what are we to do? Since family is so crucial to the health of society, it’d be an idiot who says, “We don’t know therefore let’s just legalize gay marriage” and it’d be a jerk who says “therefore lets just ban it.” No, we need to look at other information.
This I maintain, that it has been shown time and time again that children thrive best with a biological mother and father because of the very nature of the parent’s opposite sexes. Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization, summarized the scholarly consensus as such: “[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.”(1) If this is true, it follows that removing that dynamic of two opposite sexes would be detrimental to the raising of children. This is all but admitted and bemoaned when it comes to divorce, single parenting and cohabitation. It is contested when applied to same-sex parenting. Let’s run through a couple of the benefits to children that arise solely out of the complementary nature of the two sexes, shall we?
Thanks to pregnancy and breastfeeding, women experience high levels of the hormone peptide oxytocin, a chemical that bonds them to their children. As a result, “mothers are more sensitive to the cries, words, and gestures of infants, toddlers, and adolescents, and, partly as a consequence, they are better at providing physical and emotional nurture to their children.”(11, 2, 3)
Fathers, on the other hand, “excel when it comes to providing discipline, ensuring safety, and challenging their children to embrace life’s opportunities and confront life’s difficulties. The greater physical size and strength of most fathers, along with the pitch and inflection of their voice and the directive character of their speaking, give them an advantage when it comes to discipline, an advantage that is particularly evident with boys, who are more likely to comply with their fathers’ than their mothers’ discipline” (11). This is not incidental to their gender; it is the result of it. The increased testosterone of men gives them this dominance and assertiveness. Thus two essential elements to the development of children – nurture and discipline – are fulfilled in the two sexes.
This is not to say that a gay couple could not play that missing role essential to the development of a child. It is simply to say that it is not innate, and thus not as likely to be fulfilled as would be in a traditional marriage. The evidence that being raised by just one sex is detrimental to a child can be seen in the children of single parent homes. A Cambridge study found that 37 percent of children born outside of marriage and 31 percent of children with divorced parents dropped out of high school, compared to 13 percent of children from intact families headed by a married mother and father. (4) A study of the entire population of Swedish children found that Swedish boys and girls in two-parent homes were about 50 percent less likely to suffer from suicide attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, and serious psychiatric illnesses compared to children reared in single-parent homes (5).
I suppose it could be argued here that this is simply because single-parent families are less likely to be wealthy. (UPDATE: This argument would essentially be saying that the problem that hurts children is not the lack of a particular sex but the lack of the economic stability that comes with having two people raising a child, and not just one. This update is necessary because folks in the combox keep saying “you’re mixing up single-parent families with gay families!” So to all those of that mindset, read and and understand:) But according to a review of all available American data/literature, family structure has more of a consequence on a child’s psychological and behavioral outcomes than poverty. It seems that the lack of money just doesn’t compare to the lack of a Dad or a Mom (6). Sex matters. The lack of a Mom and a Dad has been shown to be the foremost problem in single-parent families. Same-sex marriages — by default, not by failure — lack in this same regard.
But lesbian parents — and anyone else — who use artificial technologies and sperm donation to become pregnant have to face a serious truth. According to Yale psychiatrist Kyle Pruett, ART children by and large have a “hunger for an abiding paternal presence” (9). This was struck home to me by the website AnonymousUs, that includes stories about ART-produced children’s struggle for identity.
In the absence of good research on homosexual parenting, we have to look at the research on parenting in general. And this research consistently points to the fact that the best family situation is one with a faithful father and mother. It is a fact that the introduction will not lead to more father-and-mother families, and I sincerely doubt that the introduction of gay marriage will lead to more faithful families in general. General Social Survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and based at the University of Chicago, concludes that there is about a 25 percent lifetime infidelity rate amidst couples. Compare this to the 50% percent of gay men in Vermont entering civil unions who said that fidelity is not important to their relationships (10). Obviously, this is a single location, but it fits with the overall lack of fidelity in homosexual relationships. If there is a single study that shows homosexuals relationships to be equally as faithful as heterosexual relationships, and not drastically less, I have not found it.
The goodness of the nuclear family is a small part of why I think gay marriage is a bad idea. This is not to say that I believe the government should do this or that, it is simply to point out that — if our society depends on families — we should avoid undermining the family in favor of an “anything with love goes” mentality. Obviously, one can scarcely stand against gay marriage in this way without standing against divorce and cohabitation. I do stand against these. It’s not about gays not being accepted, or not being worthy, or not being in love enough. My life is full enough of awesome gay people to know that this is mere bigotry. It’s about the very purpose of marriage, and how well a mother and father fulfill it. But obviously, I’m a heterosexual and thus innately biased, so I’d like to take the opportunity to point out a couple of Catholic SSA men who strongly oppose gay marriage. There very existence should give the gay-marriage movement pause:
And of course, read this:
1. Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, 2002. “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can be Done about It?” Research Brief, June 2002. Washington, DC: Child Trends. p. 6.
2. Eleanor Maccoby. 1998. The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together. Cambridge: Harvard University
3. David Geary. 1998. Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, DC: American
4. Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up with a Single Parent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wilcox et al. 2005. Elizabeth Marquardt. 2005b. Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. New York: Crown.
5. Gunilla Ringback Weitoft, Anders Hjern, Bengt Haglund, and Mans Rosen. 2003. “Mortality, Severe Morbidity, and Injury in Children Living with Single Parents in Sweden: A Population-Based Study.” The Lancet 361: 289–295.
6. Sara McLanahan. 1997. “Parent Absence or Poverty: Which Matters More?” In G. Duncan and J. BrooksGunn, Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York: Russell Sage.
7. Bruce Ellis. 2002. “Timing of Pubertal Maturation in Girls: An Integrated Life History Approach.” Psychology Bulletin 130: 920–958.
8. McLanahan and Sandefur. 1994. Bruce Ellis et al. 2003. “Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?” Child Development 74: 801–821.
9. Kyle Pruett. 2000. Fatherneed. New York: Broadway. P. 207. See also Marquardt. 2005b and David Popenoe. 1996. Life Without Father. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
10. Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solomon. 2003. Civil Unions in the State of Vermont: A Report on the First Year. University of Vermont Department of Psychology.
11. Most of my understanding — and subsequent quoting — came from this awesome review of marriage in relation to the public good. Read it.