Marriage Is for Children

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2006

Glenn T. Stanton, senior analyst and Director of Global Insight for Cultural and Family Renewal at Focus on the Family, offered some thoughts on same-sex marriage in a book review on Christianity Today’s web site. In his review of The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals (Robert P. George, Jean Bethke Elshtain, eds.), Mr Stanton discusses one of the chapters:

Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt, self-described religious and political liberals, assert that “same-sex marriage is unjust in many ways and that liberals should be cautious about endorsing it.”

Unjust? Yes, by changing the focus from the needs of children and the larger society to the desires of adults. They warn that civil marriage for homosexuals would change marriage from being concerned about raising a community’s next generation to being concerned about close, personal adult relationships.

After which he adds his own thoughts:

We are moving from this natural, universal model to a greater embrace of what I call “disembodied procreation” in same-sex unions, where sperm and egg meet only in a Petri dish and foreplay is a legal contract.

This has become a growing argument among opponents of same-sex marriage, that gays and lesbians who want to marry are elevating their own desires above the needs of children, especially since, on their own, they cannot have children biologically as a gay and lesbian couple.

Yet gays and lesbian couples become parents through many different means; most of them are the result of a previous heterosexual marriage. The American Academy of Pediatrics note that according to the 2000 census:

— Same-gender couples are raising children in at least 96% of all US counties.

— Nearly one quarter of all same-gender couples are raising children.

— Nationwide, 34.3% of lesbian couples are raising children, and 22.3% of gay male couples are raising children (compared with 45.6% of married heterosexual and 43.1% of unmarried heterosexual couples raising children).

— Six percent of same-gender couples are raising children who have been adopted compared with 5.1% of heterosexual married couples and 2.6% of unmarried heterosexual couples.

— Eight percent of same-gender parents are raising children with special health care needs, compared with 8.3% of heterosexual unmarried parents and 5.8% of heterosexual married parents.

— Of same-gender partners raising children, 41.1% have been together for 5 years or longer, whereas 19.9% of heterosexual unmarried couples have stayed together for that duration. …

It is difficult to determine exactly how many children are being raised by a gay or lesbian parent or parents because of many of the same factors that impact the determination of the number of same-gender couples. Estimates range between 1 and 10 million. The majority of these children were born in the context of a heterosexual relationship.

These statistics are instructive. They point out that the impulse to marriage and to raise children is a distinctly selfless impulse. Not only are gay men and lesbians more likely to adopt children who don’t have homes, they are more likely to adopt hard-to-place children than heterosexual couples overall. Gay parents don’t blithely choose to raise children as if they were deciding to take in a homeless puppy — nobody adopts hard-to-place children on a lark. Instead, these couples have demonstrated a selfless willingness to do the hard work and make the commitments necessary to take on the arduous task of raising a child who needs a family. You can bet that these couples are very much “concerned about raising a community’s next generation.”

But what’s more, the impulse to marriage is also a distinctly conservative impulse. Even though these couples are not bound together by a marriage license, they are much more likely to stay together than heterosexual couples who are not bound together by a marriage license. And we know that marriage is a stabilizing influence in a family. Think of how much more stable these gay- and lesbian-led families would be if they were supported by the same civil protections, rights, and responsibilities afforded to and expected of heterosexual couples.

Mr. Stanton’s arguments willfully ignore the simple fact that gays and lesbians have always been parents and they will always be parents. There is nothing in history that says otherwise, nor is there anything in the future that will ever change that reality. And as much as we like to talk about the importance of marriage to gay and lesbian couples, we cannot ignore how vital it is for their children, the vast majority of whom, unlike those of Mr. Stanton’s imagination, were not conceived by the “disembodied procreation” of a petri dish. And because marriage is vital to these children, it is, in the end, a tremendous benefit to society overall — especially the society that our community’s next generation will inhabit.

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