Monday, June 18, 2012

One More Go: Same Sex Marriage and Children

Sometimes when I reread my blog posts, I realize that my desire for philosophical precision (and the writing habits developed in my academic career) have gotten in the way of making my main point fully accessible to people unused to the things philosophers like to do (such as lay out arguments premise by precisely formulated premise). This seems to be the case with my recent post about the idea that same-sex marriage is bad for children.

So let me offer a companion post—one that makes ssentially the same points I made in the earlier post, but in what I hope is a more accessible way. Here goes:

There’s this recent study out there by sociologist Mark Regnerus. It seems to say that children of gay and lesbian parents have more psychological problems than do those raised by their married biological parents. In fact, however—as John Corvino has argued—the study is terribly misleading.

Although I didn’t explore this in the last post, here’s the problem with the Regnerus study (as pointed out by Corvino): it doesn’t compare kids raised in stable same-sex families with kids raised in stable heterosexual families. Instead, it compares the following two groups: (a) kids raised in all sort of families—stable and unstable—whose only common theme is that one parent or another at some time or other had gay sex; and (b) kids from stable, heterosexual, biological families.

And so the only conclusion we can reach is that if you compare kids who come from homes with varying degrees of stability against kids coming from stable environments, the kids from the stable environments do better. This is something we already knew.

And we also know that, in general, kids who are raised by same-sex couples in a stable, loving environment do just fine. Hence, the Regnerus study would at best show that, all else being equal, kids raised by married biological parents do a bit better than kids raised by stable same-sex parents. The study doesn’t do even that, but let’s suppose—contrary to reality—that it does. Would this be a reason for same-sex marriage to be illegal?


Consider an analogous case. Suppose that kids raised by their married biological parents had fewer psychological problems, on average, than kids who are adopted by a comparably stable heterosexual family. I suppose this is possible, since adopted kids often have concerns that don't occur to kids raised by their blood relatives. Would this be a reason to outlaw adoption? Of course not. After all, the kids who are adopted are generally those who don’t have a biological family that’s as stable and loving as the family into which they are adopted. If they did, they wouldn’t have been adopted.

So how do you get from “kids in general do better when raised by their married biological parents than they do when raised by comparably stable same-sex parents” to “same-sex marriage should be illegal”?

You don’t.

To get there, you’d have to assume all sorts of nutty things. You’d have to assume that, were same-sex marriage legal, there’d suddenly be a significant number of kids being raised by same-sex couples who would otherwise have been raised by comparably stable and loving biological parents. But why think that? How does legalizing same sex marriage tear kids out of loving biological homes and ram them into the homes of married same-sex couples?

Not only that, you’d have to assume that the children who are currently being raised by same-sex couples without the stabilizing benefits of marriage wouldn’t benefit from the stabilizing power of making marriage available to their parents. Huh? Or, maybe, you’d just need to assume that none of the same-sex couples with kids, none of these people clamoring for marriage rights, would actually get married if they had the chance. Huh? Or, maybe, you’d just need to assume that if these couples did get married and their kids did benefit from the stabilizing effect of that, this effect wouldn’t outweigh the harm done by the supposed droves of kids who would suddenly for unknown reasons find themselves wrenched away from their biological families to be raised by same-sex couples.

In other words, even if Regnerus’s study showed what it in fact doesn’t show, you’d have to assume all kinds of truly absurd things in order to get from these supposed results to the conclusion that we should oppose same-sex marriage. As I see it, the only way to make a case against same-sex marriage based on child welfare would be if stable, loving same-sex couples raised kids who would have been better off had they been taken from these loving parents and raised in foster care.

And no study claims to show that. Because it’s simply not true.

For those who want to explore these and other arguments in more depth, I suspect that John Corvino makes similar points with his characteristic balance of clarity, accessibility, and philosophical substance in his contributions to Debating Same Sex Marriage. I can't speak to the quality of the opposing arguments offered by his co-author Maggie Gallagher, since I'm still waiting on my copy of the book and haven't otherwise witnessed her try to make her case in the face of an accomplished philosophical interlocutor.

No comments:

Post a Comment