Thursday, August 23, 2012

An outline of a secular argument against SSM (Part III)



III: The other horn of the dilemma

So far, we’ve been speaking about marriage as a specific relationship that has a specific function in society.  But moreover, we’ve been talking about traditional marriage, i.e., one in which one man and one woman remain together for twenty years or more, and in which all children are products of that same union.

However, traditional marriage is not the only context in which children are raised.  For example, 1 in 3 American children are raised in a single-parent home, including two-thirds of black children, over half of Native American children, and two-fifths of Hispanic children.[1] Forty-two percent of all American adults have at least one step relative: a step or half sibling (30%), a living stepparent (18%) and/or a stepchild (13%).[2]  Many children are being raised by both biological parents, but not within marriage or any understood long-term commitment (11% of all children under 1, diminishing to 2% of children from 6 to 11 and 1% of adolescents).[3]

In Part II, I alluded to the rise of alternative family arrangements, such as cohabiting parents, single parents, grandparents-only, and blended families, to illustrate the point that gay marriage is “a solution without a problem”.  Traditional marriage may have sentimental pride of place, but if it’s no longer necessary, then gay marriage isn’t necessary, either.  In fact, it has all the appearance of awarding the happy couple a free cruise on the Andrea Doria.


However, this horn of the dilemma is contingent on the alternatives being “as good as” traditional marriage in bringing up children healthy and well-adjusted.  If we’re all the good Darwinists we’re supposed to be — this is supposed to be a secular argument, after all[*] — we should be suspicious of any claim that “mother” and “father” are roles anyone can be plugged into as substitutes for the biological originals without noticeable difference in outcomes.

Sure enough, even when we limit our gaze to mixed-sex couples, it turns out that blended families, cohabiting couples and grandparents-only family arrangements don’t produce outcomes as consistently good.  For instance, “[although] most adopted children are healthy, adopted children have been shown to be at elevated risk for adjustment problems, externalizing behaviors, conduct disorders, and attachment disorders.”[4]  Or this: “On every health indicator except those identifying allergies, children in blended step families had poorer health than children living with two biological parents.  Children in blended adoptive families [i.e., families where the non-biological parent adopted the biological parents’ children] did not differ on physical health status from children living with both biological parents (except on dental health) but showed many of the same disparities in mental health and special health care needs as children in step families.”[5]  This is but a quick sampling, constrained by time and resources; if called on to flesh it out, though, there are plenty of studies on the subject to back me up.

Keep in mind that we’re not looking at data on same-sex parents.  Both sides regularly accuse each other of fudging the research data to fit their agendas; as I said before, I have no taste for playing “My scientists can beat up your scientists”.  Moreover, the GLBT lobby has shown that it will do everything in its power to squelch any study that doesn’t support the Preferred Narrative; science can’t take place where politics determines the only results allowable.  Finally, it’s not my intention to assert that the outcomes are universally bad; alternative families do produce healthy, well-educated and well-adjusted adults … just not as often as do traditional families.

However, with the evidence working against the supposition that blood relationship has nothing to do with parenting, the proposition that a same-sex partner can step into the role of the opposite-sex genetic parent without any negative effect is already at a disadvantage … at the very least, the odds are against.  Contrary to the beliefs of the TQs of the alphabet soup, there is some hard-wiring involved in being either male or female which operations, hormone therapy and wishing really intensely don’t overcome.  And so much evidence has been gathered regarding the negative effects on children of an absent/disengaged father[†] that, when it’s suggested that the role of the father can be dispensed with altogether (as at least one feminist paper has done),[‡] skepticism must give way to outright disbelief.

So here is the other horn of the dilemma: If traditional marriage is the most successful environment to raise children in, then why would we want to encourage and subsidize a bunch of “second- and third-bests”?  All things considered, the default policy ought to be to reinforce success, and that would mean privileging traditional marriage above other family structures.  On the other hand, if we argue that no familial arrangement ought to be privileged over others, then there’s no reason for us to privilege gay unions through the instrument of same-sex marriage.

By the GLBT lobby’s own admission, though, the push for SSM isn’t about children; it’s about equal rights and equal protection under the law.  I don’t phrase it that way to make it sound selfish; self-serving motives aren’t by definition bad or evil motives, and pure selflessness is — sadly — hard to come by.  No, the final segment of this outline must deal with the equality issue.

But if there’s a constant to the first three segments, it’s that children are at the heart of marriage because reproduction is at the heart of sex.  We need not blame these other family structures for the degradation of traditional marriage.  But it’s also clear that these alternative structures, taken separately or together, can’t match the value of traditional marriage.  In this sense, calling a gay union a marriage, and privileging it with the benefits reserved to traditional marriage, wouldn’t make gay parenting any more effective than alternative hetero structures.  It could only reinforce the fact that we have lost sight of marriage’s true function and worth.


[*] Properly understood, evolution poses no inherent conflict with equally understood Christian teaching.  Period; paragraph; end of rabbit hole.
[†] For a collection of relevant stats, see “Parenting Statistics” at DadsWorld.com: http://www.dadsworld.com/parenting-statistics/importance-of-fathers.html.
[‡] Silverstein, L.B., & Auerbach, C. F. (1999). Deconstructing the essential father. American Psychologist, Vol. 54 No. 6, pp. 397-407.  This paper was the basis for the 2010 National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), which claimed to find that lesbians made better parents than hetero or male gay couples.


[1] Source: Population Reference Bureau, 2010, cited in Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=107.
[2] Parker, Kim (2011, January 18). A Portrait of Stepfamilies.  Retrieved August 22, 2012 from Pew Research Center: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1860/survey-stepfamilies-demographics-opinions.
[3] Kreider, R. M. & Elliott, D. B. (2009). The Complex Living Arrangements of Children and Their Unmarried Parents. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from US Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/complex-poster.pdf.
[4] Bramlett, M. D., Radel, L. F., & Blumberg, S. J. (2007, February). The Health and Well-being of Adopted Children.  Pediatrics, Vol. 119 Supplement No. 1, pp. 554-560.  Retrieved August 22, 2012 from Pediatrics: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/Supplement_1/S54.full.
[5] Bramlett, M. D., & Blumberg, S. J. (2007, March). Family Structure and Children’s Physical and Mental Health. Health Affairs, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 549-558. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from Health Affairs: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/26/2/549.full.