So, then, what is the harm? To pick up right where we left off, as a revisionist might put it, “how would gay civil marriage affect your lives, liberties, or opportunities, or your own marriages?” Remember that from the beginning I have said that this debate is not about homosexuality, but about marriage. I’ll show later how the conjugal view respects same-sex-attracted people’s equal dignity and basic needs. In this article it will be shown how the revisionist proposal would harm marriage and much else also. Our argument depends on three simple ideas: law tends to shape beliefs; beliefs shape behavior; beliefs and behavior affect human interests and human well-being. If all can agree on these truths, then, it will be shown that an unsound law of marriage will breed mistaken ideas that will harm not just marriage but parenting, common moral and religious beliefs, and even friendship.
To begin, let’s discuss the harm to marriage and parenting. Remember the law affects our ideas of what is reasonable and appropriate. You might think more of marijuana use if it were allowed, state subsidies of heavy metal music promote a different view of musical merit than chamber music, and a school board curriculum of quack science and chauvinistic history impart a different message about knowledge than one with more rigorous standards. Revisionists are on board with all of these ideas. In fact they find civil unions insufficient even when these offer same-sex unions all the legal benefits of marriage. Redefining marriage though, would change its meaning for everyone. Legally wedded opposite-sex unions would increasingly be defined by what they had in common with same-sex relationships. Marriage, the human good, would be harder to achieve; one can realize marriage only by choosing it, for which you need at least a rough idea of what it really is!
Obscuring the good of marriage to make it harder to live out is the first harm of redefinition: other harms are the effects of misunderstanding, and failing to live out, true marriage. By warping people’s view of marriage, revisionist policy would make them less able to realize this basic way of thriving–much as a man confused about friendship will have trouble being a friend. As more people absorb the new law’s lesson that marriage is fundamentally about emotions, marriages will increasingly take on emotion’s instability. Since there is no reason that emotional unions should be permanent or limited to two, these norms of marriage would make less sense. It might seem far-fetched to predict that values as cherished as permanence and exclusivity would wane, however even leading revisionists now agree that if sexual complementarity is optional, so are permanence and exclusivity. If marriage is primarily about emotional union, why privilege two-person unions, or permanently committed ones? Also, because children fare best when reared by their wedded biological parents, the same erosion of marital norms would adversely affect children’s health, education and general formation. Additionally the size of the state would balloon, adjudicating breakup and custody issues, meeting the needs of spouses and children affected by divorce, and attempting to contain and feebly correct the challenges these children face. Marriage policy could go bad, and already has in some ways, especially by the introduction of no-fault divorce laws which make marriage contracts easier to break than contracts of any other kind.
Conjugal marriage laws reinforce the idea that the union of husband and wife is the most appropriate environment for rearing children. Recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages would legally abolish that ideal. No civil institution would reinforce the notion that men and women typically have different strengths as parents, or that boys and girls tend to benefit from fathers and mothers in different ways. Revisionist marriage laws would diminish the social pressures and incentives for husbands to remain with their wives and children, or for men and women having children to marry first. Yet the resulting arrangements–parenting by divorced or single parents, or cohabiting couples–are proven to be worse for children, as has been shown in the previous two articles. And mothers and fathers do both bring necessary strengths to the table for children. There is a preponderance of evidence for example, showing that girls are likelier to suffer sexual abuse and to have children as teenagers and out of wedlock if they do not grow up with their father. For their part, boys reared without their father tend to have much higher rates of aggression, delinquency, and incarceration. Rutgers University sociologist David Popenoe states, “we should disavow the notion that mommies can make good daddies, just as we should disavow the popular notion…that daddies can make good mommies… The two sexes are different to the core and each is necessary–culturally and biologically–for the optimal development of a human being.” A University of Virginia sociologist found much the same: “…the best psychological, sociological and biological research to date now suggests that–on average–men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise, that children benefit from having parents with distinct parenting styles, and that family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live.”
There is lots of research out there and not much of it is top-notch. Top-notch research contains large, random and representative samples observed over time (longitudinal). Not one study of same-sex parenting meets this standard of research. By contrast, a 2012 study was completed that was based on a large, random and nationally representative sample regarding outcomes in adulthood of various family structures. Compared to children of parents at least one of whom had had a gay or lesbian relationship, those reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators, and worse on none. Penn State’s professor Paul Amato said the study’s methodological advantages still make it “probably the best that we can hope for, at least in the near future.” Ultimately, we have two reasons to expect that same-sex parenting is generally less effective: first, every alternative to married biological parenting that has been examined in high-quality studies has consistently been shown less effective, and second, reliable studies suggest that mothers and fathers foster–and their absences impede–child development in different ways. Princeton and Wisconsin sociologists found, based on four longitudinal studies of nationally representative samples including 20,000 subjects, “Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents…regardless of whether the resident parent remarries.” This reinforces the idea that the state’s primary interest in upholding marital norms is to keep biological parents together.
In short: redefining marriage might make it more socially acceptable for fathers to leave their families, for unmarried parents to put off firmer public commitment, or for children to be created for a household without a mother or father. But whatever the cause, there will be a cost to depriving children of the love and knowledge of their married mother and father. Please understand, none of these points implies that men and women in same-sex relationships have weaker devotion, or less capacity for affection. It is no insult to heroic single parents to point to data showing that mother and father together is more effective. What are compared in all cases are the outcomes of various parenting combinations, not individual parents. The next article will cover the consequences to moral and religious beliefs, and friendship.