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Why Marriage Is Important To Children

Jim Burroway

July 6th, 2006

Pawelski, James G.; Perrin, Ellen C.; Foy, Jane M., et al. “Effects of marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership laws on the health and well-being of children.”Pediatrics 118, no. 1 (July 2006): 349-364. Free full text available at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/1/349.

The Board of Directors of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) commissioned a study last year on the challenges same-sex couples and their children face as a result of a public policy that excludes them from civil marriage and (in most states) second-parent adoption rights. That study appears in this month’s edition of the journal Pediatrics. It has also been made available for free to the general public via the journal’s web site. This report is highly readable, and provides an excellent rundown on all the reasons why marriage and civil unions are crucially important to the children of gays and lesbians.

Pediatricians have a very rich professional perspective on the importance of marriage in the family, and specifically, the special issues facing gays and lesbians. The authors note:

Because many pediatricians are fortunate to care for 2 or more generations of a family, we are likely to encounter and remain involved with our patients, regardless of sexual orientation, as they mature and mark the milestones of establishing a committed partnership with another adult, deciding to raise a family, and entrusting the health and well-being of their own children to us.

Data from the 2000 census shows that the highest concentration of same-sex couples raising children is found in the South, where 36% of lesbian couples and 24% of gay couples are raising children. The second highest percentage is in the Midwest. These regions represent the bedrock of what we often consider to be “family values,” where the data clearly shows gays and lesbians are living examples of those values despite the obstacles.

The State of the Union
The report begins with an excellent overview of the state of marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership laws across all fifty states and the District of Columbia, including descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the various definitions of civil union and domestic partnership that exists in many localities. Also included is a overview of the famous list of 1,136 federal provisions identified by the Government Accountability Office related to the rights, protections, benefits and obligations related to marriage.

The authors also note the obstacles to adoption and foster parenting placed against gays and lesbians. Coparent or second-parent adoptions are recognized only in nine states (California, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont; and the District of Columbia). Most children raised in same-sex households were originally born into a heterosexual relationship, before one or both parents came out of the closet. This means that later, when that parent enters into a relationship with a same-sex partner, that parent is the only one recognized as the child’s legal parent. The partner often has no parental rights available whatsoever.

When coupled with barriers to marriage rights, this situation places very serious and sometimes dangerous barriers between the non-biological parent and the child. For example:

  • That parent cannot consent to medical care or authorize emergency medical treatment for the child. This can be crucial if the legal parent isn’t available.
  • That parent cannot necessarily rely on visitation rights while the child is in the hospital.
  • That parent cannot exercise the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for the child.
  • That parent is not legally recognized as a parental authority in the child’s school.
  • That parent may not be able to continue to care for the child, or even assert visitation rights if the partnership is dissolved or the child’s biological or adoptive parent dies.
  • That parent cannot accompany the child while traveling abroad without special authorization from the child’s legal parent.
  • The child is not eligible for that parent’s Social Security survivorship benefit in the event of that parent’s death.

These are just a few of the many barriers that stand between parents and children in same-sex families. Others include ongoing acts of discrimination and hate crimes which serve to cast a pall on the atmosphere surrounding the child as he or she grows up in the world.

The article concludes with a rundown on the usual studies on the psychological well-being of the children of gay and lesbian parents, and summarizes the position statements of several organizations. Overall, it is an excellent, easy-to-read source for information on the the importance of marriage for the well-being of children.

The authors conclude:

Gays and lesbian people have been raising children for may years and will continue to do so in the future; the issue is whether these children will be raised by parents who have the rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage. …

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.

Conservatives Are Right: Marriage Protects Children
Opponents to marriage equality for gays and lesbians often invoke the positive, supportive role marriage plays in families and children. The Heritage Foundation produced The Positive Effects of MArriage: A Book of Charts (PDF: 296KB/56 pages), which demonstrates the many ways in which marriage benefits are crucial to children’s well-being. So all of this begs the question: If marriage provides so many vital protections for children, how can conservatives continue to deny these very protections for the children of gay and lesbian couples? Are these children somehow less deserving?

Social conservatives are correct when they say that marriage protects children. It is time we offered all children that measure of protection.

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