My mother and her partner have been together since I was 10, soon after my parent’s divorce. Since that time much of my life was spent in their home, surrounded by their community of women. They were deeply involved in my childhood and adolescence, and I have fond memories of them attending my concerts, sporting events, plays, graduation, bridal showers, wedding, baby showers and holiday gatherings. They continue to be a loving and supportive fixture in my family.
None the less, I oppose gay marriage. The foremost focus of my opposition to gay marriage is the rights and well-being of children.
I want to be clear that my advocacy against gay marriage and for the rights of children will never include condemnation of my mother and her partner or details about their private lives. Unlike the gay lobby who often uses children as pawns to forward their cause, I will not be sharing specifics about my parents to advance my arguments. What you need to know about my parents and their partners/spouses, is that I love them. They are worthy of dignity, respect and privacy.
Some adult children with gay parents shy away from making their thoughts about marriage public because we do not want to jeopardize our relationships with those to whom our hearts are tethered. Unfortunately, the gay lobby has made gay marriage the sole badge of loyalty to our gay family and friends. The label of bigot or hater have become very powerful and effective tools to silence those of us who choose not to endorse the marriage platform of the gay lobby. However, those tactics are no longer strong enough to keep me silent. Advocating for the rights of children, and how they relate to the institution of marriage, is not something that anyone should be timid about.
As our country moves toward redefining marriage into a genderless institution, the primary question is: What is society’s interest in marriage? Why do we promote this relationship above others? Is it to validate the emotional bonds of adults? Is it to stabilize partnerships? Is it an instrument with which to give a stamp of equality to our gay brothers and sisters? Adults can, and should, be able to form consensual relationships of their choosing. Barriers to a partner’s bedside in the hospital, shared property rights, and freedom to live the life they desire should never be imposed upon by government. That is why many of us supported civil unions for gays and lesbians. If society’s concern in marriage is adults, then by all means we can redefine this institution which has spanned centuries, cultures and religions to suit that perception.
But the reality is that society’s interest in marriage is children and our elected government’s primary role in this, and any legislation, is one which protects the rights and best interest of its citizens. Especially the well-being of those who cannot advocate for themselves. What more vulnerable individual exists requiring such protection than children? Children do not have powerful lobbies, flashy publications, and lawyers tripping over one another to offer pro-bono services for their cause.
Each side of this debate argues on the case of someone’s “right.” Those in favor of redefining marriage speak of the “right to marry” and “the right to parenthood.” Unfortunately, rights have lost their true meaning. They are now popularly employed as a label for anything that someone really really wants. This is simply desire based reasoning which is entirely incorrect. What I am referencing here is true rights. Rights which cannot be given by government, but which exist pre-government. Rights which are self-evident, as our founder fathers would say.
When you look at a newborn- if there is no hospital chart or adults cooing over her, cards from friends and family, a birth certificate in your hand- what do you know about that child? What is absolutely undeniable just from that baby’s existence? By counting her fingers and toes you cannot know her housing situation, the number of siblings she has, her living conditions, what school she is zoned for, or her access to food and water. What you know as you gaze at that wondrous and precious child is that she IS. What did that require? It required that nine months earlier a man and a woman came together to provide the ingredients for her existence. That is all. Until the world starts to tell Baby Girl’s story for her thorough whatever cultural or religious context she has been born into, there are two things that are true about that child. Two things entitled to her because, just because, she is crying and squirming and breathing and yawning. Two rights that every child, EVERY child, shares when they arrive in this world.
First, the right to live. Second, the right to have a relationship with their father and a mother.
When a child loses their right to live, at least on this side of the womb, we severely punish the perpetrator. The loss of that right is nothing that government or any human agent will be able to repay or restore. The same is true of the second right- the right to belong to one’s parents.
The law upholds the natural right of parents to have a direct, custodial relationship with their offspring, provided they do not neglect or abuse them. In fact, even a parent who does not wish to be involved in his/her child’s life is required to help support that child financially.
Assistance programs and social service agencies – largely government-funded – go to great lengths to keep families of origin together, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. Presumably, one could argue that some (even many) of these children would be “better off” by certain objective measures if they were quickly removed from their family of origin and placed for adoption. But the burden of proof lies with the government to establish that parents are neglectful or abusive before terminating their natural rights. Parents who wish to place children for adoption must freely consent to having their natural rights terminated, and indeed when this consent has been uninformed or deceptively obtained (or even just regretted after the fact), heart wrenching custody battles between biological and adoptive parents have ensued.
Surely a parent’s right to be in a direct, custodial relationship with his/her offspring lies not within the realm of property law, as if the child were something owned. Rather, this right is a natural one that is universal and self-evident. The child’s right to be in a direct, nurturing relationship with his/her parents is its reciprocal. Children “belong” to their parents only to the extent that parents “belong” to their children.
Connections with birth parents matter to children. Why has there been a dramatic shift toward open adoption? Because there has been a near universal recognition that children benefit from having as many connections with their family of origin as possible. It is why many states now require that adoption records be open to children.
Step back from the gay marriage debate for a moment and look at the lives of children you know. Perhaps look at your own life. When a parent has been lost because of death, abandonment, estrangement, or divorce there is harm. There is pain. The child grieves, is angry, and mourns. Whether it is a longing to know the mysterious missing half of one’s heritage or a life-long gaping wound, losing a parent brings pain. It is a loss that cannot be restored by government or any human agent. No mentor, teacher, grandparent, Head Start program or case worker can take the place of that absent mother or father. Even if the parent resurfaces later in life, each day that the parent was absent has been permanently lost.
This is how one gay father describes his daughter’s loss:
SOMETIMES when my daughter, who is 7, is nicely cuddled up in her bed and I snuggle her, she calls me Mommy. I am a stay-at-home dad. My male partner and I adopted both of our children at birth in open domestic adoptions. We could fill our home with nannies, sisters, grandmothers, female friends, but no mothers. My daughter says “Mommy” in a funny way, in a high-pitched voice. Although I refer the honors immediately to her birth mom, I am flattered. But saddened as well, because she expresses herself in a voice that is not her own. It is her stuffed-animal voice. She expresses not only love; she also expresses alienation. She can role-play the mother-daughter relationship, but she cannot use her real voice, nor have the real thing.To institutionalize something is not just to permit it, to “live and let live.” With the redefinition of marriage, we are not simply allowing people to form relationships of their choosing. They have been doing so for decades. I can assure you that in the eighties and nineties, the community of women with whom I had extensive contact were free to love whomever they chose to love. That has been the case for decades in every place where gay sex has been decriminalized.
When we institutionalize same-sex marriage however, we move from permitting citizens the freedom to live as they choose to promoting same-sex headed households. In doing so, we ignore the true nature of the outcropping of marriage. Now we are normalizing a family structure where a child WILL ALWAYS be deprived daily of one gender influence and the relationship with at least one natural parent. Our cultural narrative becomes one that, in essence, tells children that they have no right to the natural family structure or their biological parents, but that children simply exist for the satisfaction of adult desires.
When marriage policy and cultural narrative deviates from the reality that one man plus one woman makes a baby, we end up with scenarios such as the one described by author Andrew Soloman:
When I met John, who is now my husband, he told me that he had had some friends, Tammy and Laura, for whom he had been a sperm donor, and that they had a son named Oliver, of whom he was the biological father. A few years later, they asked him to be a sperm donor again, and they produced a daughter, Lucy. A good friend of mine from college had gone through a divorce and said that she really longed to be a mother, and I said how much I would love to be the father of her child. And so we decided to produce a child through an IVF process. John and I then wanted to have a child who would live with us all the time, and we decided to use an egg donor, and Laura, the lesbian who had carried Oliver and Lucy, offered to be our surrogate as a way of thanking John for providing her with a family. So the shorthand is: five parents of four children in three states.This is truly human trafficking. Manipulating children into existence to satisfy the desires of adults. In Andrew Solomon’s “post-nuclear” family, as he calls it, the four children living in three states were conceived with the intent to separate them from one of their biological parents. The desires of the five adults were satisfied. The rights of the four children- to be known and raised by their biological parents were not. The UN gets this one exactly right. Article 7 in their Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” The right to something that you cannot produce yourself is no right at all. As soon as a homosexual couple can produce a child without any assistance from others, then they absolutely have a right to have a child and the right to marry.
It is not just about a child’s rights, though that should be enough for any court, political initiative or piece of legislation. It is also a question of the child thriving. Beyond the superficial stereotypes, gender is a real phenomenon. Men tend to be risk takers, initiators, more active and aggressive and competitive, and continually seeking new enterprises and conquests. Women are more oriented toward relationship, tend to seek security, are naturally nurturing, more verbal, and prefer intimacy over action. So, it is no surprise that these gender differences manifest themselves in unique and complimentary benefits regarding child development. As children age, they benefit from daily interaction with their father and mother:
Men are more likely to play expansively with their children than to do mundane care taking; women tend to be more practical. Mothers tend to be more responsive to their child’s immediate needs, while fathers tend to be more firm, more oriented to abstract standards of justice (right and wrong). Mothers tend to emphasize the emotional security of their children, while fathers tend to stress competition and risk taking. Mothers tend to seek the immediate well-being of the child, while fathers tend to foster long-term autonomy and independence. Kids need both.Even during infancy, studies have shown that children respond differently to male and female faces and voices. For those who feel that there is no significant difference between men and women in a child’s life, I hope that they would take that philosophy into every other area of human interaction. They should not object to an all-male Supreme Court because women, after all, do not offer a unique perspective. We should not care if a low-income school district has all female teachers because strong male role models are unnecessary. And, if all of that is true, I expect to see our president surrounded by an all-female secret security entourage.
The reality is, that to say gender makes no meaningful difference in any scenario is silly. I am shocked when someone makes the case that genderless marriage will not affect the most vital societal import of all – child development. Children are most likely to thrive when they are raised by their mother and father. And if those parents are incapable of providing proper care of the child? The most appropriate approximation of the family unit is their right; a male and female union.
We have all the social evidence needed to authenticate the truth that children need both sexes represented in their parentage. When a child is raised outside of an intact family, specifically without the involvement of their father, we see that the likelihood that they will be incarcerated skyrockets, they perform poorly in school, live in poverty, fall victim to trafficking, are sexually active at an early age and experience both poor physical and mental health. Fathers and mothers are staples in the diet of emotional food that children require. Without one or the other, they are emotionally malnourished.
Allow me to address some common objections.
I am not saying that same-sex attraction makes you a bad parent. My mother was an exceptional parent. She modeled self-sacrifice, healthy communication, and was continually nurturing and involved. I never went through a phase where I was ashamed of her or her partner. Not even that morning when I was cornered by a crowd of girls who were taunting me for having “two moms.” I am grateful that both my mother and her partner are involved in my children’s lives. Conversely, being heterosexual does not a good parent make. Parenting is a skill that gay or straight can learn.
I am not saying that those in same sex relationships are incapable of commitment of fidelity. My mother and her partner could hold a clinic on both of those. Fidelity and commitment are daily choices that homosexual and heterosexual couples must make.
Some might object with, “But marriage has never been about children, because many heterosexual marriages don’t produce children.” If that is the case, then why have some gay marriage advocates sought, bought, and/or trumpeted the “studies” which are aimed at “proving” that children do not suffer any ill effects by being systematically separated from a natural parent? (None of those studies were conducted using randomly-derived participants, mind you.) Why then are gay marriage supporters so quick to point out that many gay couples are, in fact, raising children together, apparently as a means of demonstrating the suitability of same-sex relationships for the institution of marriage and driving home the moral necessity of legally recognizing their relationships? If marriage isn’t about children, who cares?
If they are right, that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and one or the other is unnecessary, then perhaps Hollywood should make another Parent Trap. In the re-make Hayley Mills stays in London because, obviously, her longing to be known by her father is invalid. She is actually very happy only knowing her mother. She is wrong to want a relationship with her father. Tell the other Hayley Mills that she doesn’t need her mom either. She is perfectly happy with only her father regardless of what her heart tells her. Tell them both that their feelings are baseless and unfounded. For that matter, you should tell every child who has an absent parent through death, divorce, abandonment or third-party reproduction that their sense of loss is illogical. Have you met any of those kids? Are they unaffected by the loss of their parent? Truth is, you will not find a child in those gay marriage affirming “studies” that have come to their same-sex parents through any means other than death, divorce, abandonment, or third-party reproduction. And yet the “studies” show no ill effects? These are quite obviously mutually exclusive outcomes.
What if we looked at it another way? Consider the heterosexual couple that chooses not to have children. Does it follow then that they do not have a real marriage? Again, we need to take our cues from the self-evident. Not every romantic union can or will produce a child. But every child has a mother and father. If marriage is a child-centric institution, then we do right by children when public policy reflects this biological reality. Children are made by a man and a woman. In the optimal scenario, they are also raised by them. As a society, we should make policy to reflect that reality. The ideal.
Some argue that two loving and caring men make a better home than a drug-addicted single mom. What fool would disagree with that? I actually traveled internationally with two women who were willing to adopt a girl with special needs. Those two women were game to take on a child that no heterosexual couple in her home country, or ours really, would adopt. Clearly, that precious child will have a far better life with my friends than in an under-staffed, under-funded foreign institution.
But let’s be clear, in all the above scenarios we are talking about degrees of brokenness. For the child, there is no such thing as an “intact” home when they are in a same-sex headed household. Just because in a few cases a child who has found themselves in a horrific situation would be better off with two parents of the same gender does not necessitate writing out of civil code the right to a relationship with one’s natural parents. Just like the children I know who are being raised by their aunt and uncle because their parents neglected them. Or the grandparents who are raising their grandson because his mother is an addict. Or the child who is being raised by her single mother because her father broke both of her mother’s legs and now the two are constantly moving to stay away from him. Brokenness finds children and the people in their lives do their best to pick up the pieces. However, we do not institutionalize or incentivize the grandparent-headed household, or the aunt-and-uncle-headed household, or the single-parent headed household. Why? Because public policy should not encourage or endorse brokenness for a child because a couple, or “throuple” wants to have a family. Children are entitled to parents. Not the other way around.
I understand and lament the personal and emotional challenges and hardships that many same-sex attracted people have suffered in their lives. I grieve over the decades that some have spent “closeted” or feeling as though they could not be honest about their inner turmoil or attraction. The way to right those wrongs is throw open our hearts and homes to our gay family and friends. It is to hire people based on their experience, qualifications and education and not their sexual orientation. It is to include them in our activities, parties, and Thanksgiving dinners. It is to give them the freedom to establish relationships and communities of their choosing. But the remedy does not lie in eliminating or minimizing the rights of children.
I am not so naïve as to say that gay marriage is the biggest or only threat to children having access to their mother and father. Pre-marital sex, cohabitation and divorce are statistically a greater risk to children. But please note that there are no wide-spread efforts to institutionalize, glamorize and legally incentivize those family arrangements. Frankly, if there were? I would oppose them too.
If marriage is for adults, then what institution is for children? Maybe your answer is public education. The problem with that argument is that a student who isn’t having their emotional needs met at home is more likely to flounder in school, as any teacher will attest. But if you get the family right, then you get a higher likelihood of academic health thrown in with the deal. In fact, a married “in-tact” home is the single greatest weapon that that society has in the fight to lower incarceration rates, to reduce the number of children living in poverty, curtail child trafficking, promote mental and physical child wellness, and so on.
If society’s interest in marriage is children, then why are we promoting a family structure where a child would have to be denied a relationship with their mother or father just so the adults can have the “family” they desire? Why, if some believe that they are “born gay,” does the gay lobby seek to legally sever the much more self-evident truth that children are “born” to both a mother and father? Why, if the gay lobby’s mantra is that they do not want the government to tell them “who to love,” would they tell children that being loved by one of their natural parents is unnecessary?
For much of my adult life I was content to keep my opinions on the subject of marriage to myself. I was (and still am) sickened by the accusation that I was bigoted and anti-gay for my belief in natural marriage. For many years those tactics kept me quiet. I didn’t seek a venue where I could share my views. But I have come to realize that my silence, and the silence of others, has allowed for the conversation to be dominated by those who claim that only animus, ignorance, or indoctrination could lead one to oppose “marriage equality.”
If you are one of those who support the redefinition of marriage which promotes a family structure that necessitates the permanent loss of the rights of children, what counter-balancing measures will you take? How many laws will you have to introduce to ensure that children will not be systematically separated from the natural order of parenthood in order to satisfy the desires of adults? Will you outlaw third-party reproduction? Will you compel adoption agencies to consider gender as a qualification for adoptive couples? Will you repeatedly state that despite the newly redefined institution of marriage, that children should not be separated from their natural parents except in extreme cases of abuse or neglect?
Or will you possibly recognize that you cannot have it both ways? Truth is, you cannot redefine marriage AND recognize that fathers and mothers are both critical to child rights and child flourishing. What you will find yourself doing is political double-speak as President Obama did in a speech last February. Our President, who intimately understands the pain of fatherlessness, first said that “there’s no more important ingredient for success… than strong, stable families, which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood.” But because he has now “evolved” on the subject of gay marriage, he had to add that “loving, supportive parents” can include gay and straight parents. So how do you “promote marriage and encourage fatherhood” when some marriages will not include fathers? You can’t.
You can either believe that fathers and mothers are valuable and children have a right to both, or, you can redefine marriage to promote a family structure where a father or mother will never be present. Period. When gay couples have “equal access” to the institution of marriage it means that children will not have “equal access” to parents influencing and raising them the way nature intended.
You must either side with adult desires or side with children’s rights.
You cannot do both.