One of the most heated and controversial debates happening in our culture right now is over gay marriage. In a culture that is ever increasingly guided by relativism, progressivism and hedonism it is to be expected that the traditional definition of marriage (that is, a monogamous and publicly recognized relationship and commitment between a man and a woman) should be challenged. Marriage should be “whatever we want it to be” and anything that two consensual adults agree to is “no one else’s business.” ProCon.org provides some of the most common arguments in favor of eliminating any objective standard defining “marriage,” including:
“It is no one else’s business if two men or two women want to get married. Two people of the same sex who love each other should be allowed to publicly celebrate their commitment and receive the same benefits of marriage as opposite sex couples.”
Now, from a libertarian perspective, the pro-gay marriage crowd seems to have the upper hand. After all, libertarians love contracts: if two consenting adults want to enter into a contract then, as long as no harm comes of it, they should have every right to do so. Government should stay out of the “marriage business.” But what if marriage isn’t just a matter of business? Certainly there is a legal, contractual aspect to marriage but what if its more than just a contract?
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., Founder and President of the Ruth Institute and the author of Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, makes the case that 1) marriage is more than just a contract, 2) Libertarians should oppose the privatization of marriage because it will actually expand the role of the State, and 3) privatization of marriage is unjust to children.
It is the third point that is the most important. Traditional marriage is important, not because straights are better than gays or because gays cannot be allowed the same rights as straights but because, as Morse states “Marriage is society’s institutional structure for protecting these legitimate rights and interests of children.” Traditional marriage does this by “attaching mothers and fathers to their children and to one another.” Furthermore, Morse argues, “This is an irreducibly public function” and, therefore, as a public institution it must be defended by the State in promotion of the common good.
Morse argues that we must approach the issue of marriage from the perspective of children.
We can’t begin our lives as objects to which other people have rights, and somehow, magically, become persons with rights of our own. Yet, the redefinition of parenthood is doing precisely this: treating children as objects. The idea of “contract parenting” is becoming the new institutional structure proposed by people who want to “get the government out of the marriage business.” Under this concept, two or more adults negotiate among themselves for parental rights. Perhaps the sperm donor will be a friend of the lesbian couple. They all agree he will be called “uncle” and get to see the child once a week. Or perhaps one woman will “donate” the egg, which is implanted in another woman’s womb. The women agree that they will both be mothers, and exclude the anonymous sperm donor father.
These cases suggest that there is something fundamentally flawed about the contractual approach to children. Rather than just recoil from the weirdness of it all, let me spell out these conceptual flaws.
You can read the rest of Morse’s argument in her article, Privatizing Marriage Is Unjust to Children.
Morse’s conclusion is that privatizing marriage to mean “whatever we want it to” is unacceptable because it violates children’s rights and does them harm. Now, while Morse offers strong reasons why this is the case, many proponents of gay marriage will argue that “the evidence” proves that children outcomes are the same or even better in gay marriages than in traditional marriages. The evidence, however, would be against them.
First, the evidence cited in favor of the “no difference” thesis is insufficient for making any such claim. Family studies scholar Loren Marks of Louisiana State University reviewed the 59 studies that are referenced in the 2005 American Psychological Association brief that came to the conclusion that there are “no differences.” Marks concludes that “not one of the 59 studies referenced … compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way.”
Second, sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, presents new and extensive empirical evidence that shows there are differences in outcomes between the children of a parent who has same-sex relationships and children raised by their married, biological mother and father. This new evidence was gathered by Dr. Regnerus, the lead investigator of the New Family Structures Study (NFSS) of the University of Texas, which in 2011 surveyed 2,988 young adults for the specific purpose of collecting more reliable, nationally representative data about children from various family origins. (The Witherspoon Institute provided funding for this study.) Already, the NFSS has been acknowledged by critics to be “better situated than virtually all previous studies to detect differences between these groups in the population.”
In response to Regnerus’ findings The Witherspoon Institute concludes:
On 25 out of 40 outcomes evaluated by Regnerus, there were statistically significant differences between children from IBFs and those of LMs in many areas that are unambiguously suboptimal. On 11 out of 40 outcomes, there were statistically significant differences between children from IBFs and those who reported having a GF in many areas that are suboptimal. The “no differences” claim is therefore unsound and ought to be replaced by an acknowledgement of difference.
Acknowledging the differences between the children of IBFs and those from LMs and GFs better accords with the established body of social science over the last 25 years, which finds that children do best when they are raised by their married, biological mother and father. At the turn of the millennium, social scientists widely agreed that children raised by unmarried mothers, divorced parents, cohabiting parents, and step-parents fared worse than children raised by their still-married, biological parents. Although data on gay and lesbian parenting were not yet available at that time, it was difficult to imagine that gay and lesbian parents would be able to accomplish what parents in step-parenting, adoptive, single-parenting, and cohabiting contexts had not been able to do, namely, replicate the optimal child-rearing environment of married, biological-parent homes.
Furthermore, there is the evidence provided by the personal accounts of actual flesh-and-blood people. One bisexual man tells his story of growing up with two moms and the effect that it had on him. Robert Oscar Lopez’s testimony is powerful and I recommend that you read the whole thing.
In his testimony he does not say that it was a bad family environment that led to his poorer outcomes, making his case indistinguishable from other kids brought up in a bad traditional marriage. No, he argues that it was his non-traditional upbringing specifically that caused him so much harm. Furthermore, Lopez goes to great lengths to defend Regnerus’ study. Far from condemning it as homophobia thinly-veiled as research as many gay activists have, Lopez views it as one of the few doses of honesty to penetrate the LGBT rhetoric. With that, I’ll end with a quote from Robert Lopez:
I thank Mark Regnerus. Far from being “bullshit,” his work is affirming to me, because it acknowledges what the gay activist movement has sought laboriously to erase, or at least ignore. Whether homosexuality is chosen or inbred, whether gay marriage gets legalized or not, being strange is hard; it takes a mental toll, makes it harder to find friends, interferes with professional growth, and sometimes leads one down a sodden path to self-medication in the form of alcoholism, drugs, gambling, antisocial behavior, and irresponsible sex. The children of same-sex couples have a tough road ahead of them—I know, because I have been there. The last thing we should do is make them feel guilty if the strain gets to them and they feel strange. We owe them, at the least, a dose of honesty. Thank you, Mark Regnerus, for taking the time to listen.