Redefining Marriage Would Put Kids of Heterosexuals At Risk
by Gene Schaerr
The metamorphosis of marriage from a gendered to a genderless institution would send the message that society no longer needs men to bond to women to form well-functioning families or to raise happy, well-adjusted children. That would be bad news for children of heterosexuals on the margins: the poor, the relatively uneducated, the irreligious, and others who are susceptible to cultural messages promoting casual or uncommitted sex.
During oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry—the Supreme Court case involving California’s Proposition 8—Justice Kennedy asked a very important question: In its potential impact on children and society, wouldn’t imposing same-sex marriage on unwilling states be akin to “jumping off a cliff” and subjecting the nation and its children to whatever unseen dangers might lurk at the bottom?
According to a group of 100 academic marriage scholars, Justice Kennedy was right to be concerned about the harmful social effects of such a redefinition of marriage—especially on the children of heterosexuals. In fact, according to an amicus brief recently submitted in the pending Supreme Court marriage case that I filed on behalf of those scholars, the results of such a ruling could well be catastrophic. As the brief demonstrates, based on data from nations and US states that have adopted same-sex marriage, it is reasonable to predict that, over a generation, a forced redefinition of marriage would produce at least a 5 percent reduction in heterosexual marriage rates. That would result in an increase of nearly 1.3 million never-married women, and an increase of nearly 600,000 functionally fatherless children.
But why would redefining marriage reduce heterosexual marriage rates? Is it really plausible that the marriage of a lesbian couple might cause a heterosexual young adult next door to forgo marriage altogether? According to the marriage scholars’ brief, mandatory same-sex marriage would create a substantial risk of reduced heterosexual marriage rates—not because of individual same-sexmarriages, but because the institutionalization of same-sex marriage necessarily requires replacing the gendered “man-woman” definition with a genderless “any qualified persons” definition. And that change from a gendered to a genderless understanding would undermine some of the key, secular norms that, among other things, encourage heterosexuals to marry.
- The Man-Woman Understanding of Marriage Benefits Society and Children
Marriage is a complex social institution that, like all social institutions, regulates and encourages certain human behaviors. Without effective social institutions, no amount of law and law enforcement can make a society function properly. Marriage reinforces particular values and actions that benefit society, both broadly and individually. As Professor Amy Wax has observed: “Marriage’s long track record as a building block for families and a foundation for beneficial relations between the sexes suggests that ordinary people desperately need the anchor of clear expectations, and that they respond to them.” Or, as the Sixth Circuit put it, at least some citizens “may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish.”
That is why states have traditionally supported man-woman marriage, an institution that has historically and universally been linked to procreation, marking the boundaries where sexual reproduction is socially commended. This underlying message helps achieve a principal purpose of marriage: any children born will have a known mother and father who have the responsibility to care for them. Even ancient Greek and Roman societies understood this. Despite encouraging same-sex intimate relations, they limited marriage to man-woman unions.
Of course, marriage provides benefits to adults as well. But these are secondary to the main purpose of an institution that, in the words of revered psychologistBronislaw Malinowski, is “primarily designed by the needs of offspring, by the dependence of the children upon their parents.” Indeed, as the religious skepticBertrand Russell candidly observed, “But for children, there would be no need for any institution concerned with sex.”
From this purpose—ensuring the care of any children born to man-woman unions—flow several specific secular norms, norms that are “taught” and reinforced by the man-woman definition and understanding of marriage:
1. Biological Bonding and Support: Where possible, every child has a right to be reared by and to bond with her biological father and mother. And every child has a right, whenever possible, to be supported financially by the man and woman who brought the child into the world.
2. Gender Diversity: Where possible, a child should be raised by a mother and a father who are committed to each other and to the child, even where he cannot be raised by both biological parents.
3. Postponement: Men and women should postpone procreation until they are within the committed, long-term relationship of marriage. This is alternatively called the “responsible creation” or “channeling” norm.
4. Valuing Procreation/Child-Rearing: Within the protection and stability of marriage, the creation and rearing of children are socially valuable.
5. Exclusivity: For the sake of their children, men and women should limit themselves to a single procreative partner.
All of these specific norms are grounded in and support the more general norm of child-centricity: Parents and prospective parents should give the interests of their children—present and future—equal if not higher priority than their own.
Common sense and social science show that these norms provide immense benefits to children, their parents and society. In short, children generally do best emotionally, socially, intellectually, and economically when reared in an intact home by both biological parents. More specifically, as the brief documents in detail, compared to any other family structure, children raised by their biological, married parents are less likely to commit crimes, experience teen pregnancy, have multiple abortions, engage in substance abuse, suffer from mental illness, or do poorly in school. They are also more likely to support themselves and their own children in the future. No other parenting arrangement comes close (on average) to that of a child’s biological, married mother and father.
This is true because of the power of the norms stemming from man-woman marriage. For instance, biological bonds between parents and their child deepen their investments in their relationships with each other and with the child. Further, having both a mother and a father provides crucial gender diversity for a child’s social and emotional development. As famed anthropologist (and atheist) Margaret Mead noted: “One of the most important learnings for every human child is how to be a full member of its own sex and at the same time fully relate to the opposite sex. This is not an easy learning; it requires the continuing presence of a father and a mother.”
Vibrant child-centricity and biological support norms lead to less physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and divorce. And parents who embrace the procreative exclusivity norm are unlikely to have children with multiple partners—a phenomenon that leads to social, emotional and financial difficulties for children and their mothers. Similarly, people who embrace the postponement norm are less likely to have children without a second, committed parent—another well-established predictor of psychological, emotional and financial heartache.
On the other hand, a culture that largely rejects the social value of creating and rearing children jeopardizes a society’s ability to reproduce itself. It is thus not surprising that some courts have deemed man-woman marriage “the fundamental unit of the political order … [for] the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.”
- Removing the Man-Woman Definition Would Create Enormous Risks ...
- Courting the Collapse of Marriage ...