October 29, 2008

Marriage and Children: Rights and Wrongs

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

In a September 19 Los Angeles Times opinion piece, author David Blankenhorn writes that “the rights and needs of kids are being lost in the debate over gay rights and Prop. 8.” (Proposition 8 is a California ballot measure that would include a statement in California’s constitution that only marriages between a man and a woman will be valid).

He makes many points, but his main idea is that marriage must be restricted to a man and a woman since that combination creates children, and therefore this is best for kids. His rationale includes having those two people present in children’s lives to “love and raise” them and, citing the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to “know and be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world.”

After reading his flawed argument, I feel the need to point out how his argument falls off a logical track. While he states his reasons as not fueled by homophobia – he believes in the “equal dignity of gay and lesbian love” – yet his conclusions would further harm many children and their (same-sex) parents.

First, I must acknowledge that his statement that marriage exists for the purpose of creating children is correct – among other reasons. Marriage is also a license for having sex and for passing property on to one’s survivors – functions that are related to children but certainly different. 

clip_image002[5]As I see it, there are two fundamental flaws in his argument – that the man and woman who create a child are always there to “love and raise” it and that a man and a man or a woman and a woman cannot create a child.

Many children are “created” by married heterosexual couples, but those children may not live in the situation that Blankenhorn idealizes. While he is really arguing that marriage exists as an institution to provide that situation of parents caring for their children, marriage does not ensure that this happens, nor does it have any power to enforce such behavior. It is not an effective institution to perform this function in a satisfactory manner. Kids can be abused and clip_image002neglected by those biological parents and they can also be loved and raised by people other than those biological parents.

We discuss in sociology classrooms how norms give us guidelines for expected behaviors, yet the numbers of people who actually conform to them is a different issue. Pointing to the many kids who are abused or neglected by their parents or who are loved and raised by people other than their biological parents doesn’t negate the importance of marriage as an institution. 

However, norms are changed by the degree to which they are held and practiced – and written into law to reflect the strongly held opinions of the day. Thus, a historical view of marriage laws across time and cultures shows that such laws do change and accommodate different situations, e.g., monogamy and polygamy. It is no accident that industrial nations have primarily monogamy as their form of legal marriage and nations with agricultural (or “developing”) economies have had polygamy as theirs. These very different forms of marriage create very different fertility patterns that support and reflect the economic needs of the society and households. How societies define marriage – even considering the number of participants – is not limited to a two-person different-sex marriage.

Now for the biological issue. The U.N. Convention that Blankenhorn cites guaranteeing the right of children “to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into the world” is worded very differently in the actual text. 

Article 7 states that “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 care for by his or her parents.” Article 9 continues, “a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will” unless proper legal procedures take place in the best interest of the child. 

In neither of these articles is there a mention of the number, gender, or biological relationship of those parents to said children. Thus, assuming that the parents mentioned are biological is just that – an assumption.

clip_image002[7]The many children who are adopted and loved and raised by their adoptive parents provide a counterpoint to Blankenhorn’s argument. If we are to privilege biological children in our culture, won’t that create yet another form of stratification in our society? What to do in a family with both biological and adoptive children – do those biological children get more and better presents, much as cousin Dudley and Harry Potter are treated by Dudley’s parents. (Apologies to those who haven’t read or seen Harry Potter.) 

While some individuals may have those opinions about so-called ”natural” children, adoptive children and step-children, society can’t afford such an attitude. Ensuring that all children can be raised and loved by any adult(s) is much more important than privileging how they come to be related.

And lastly, let’s deal with the assumption that same-sex couples cannot have children. This is blatantly false. Sperm banks, surrogacy, fertility specialists, and generous friends can assist women and men who want to conceive and parent children with their partners. 

Taking the “biological parents alone should have the right to marry” argument to an extreme, does suggest that some people who are married should have that right taken away? 

What about heterosexual couples who use technology to give birth to a baby using donor sperm and ova? What about heterosexual couples who use technology to have a baby using a surrogate egg donor/mother and a donor father? Are those really their biological children? If not, the argument seems to suggest that we shouldn’t let them get married at all. By the same logic, couples who don’t have their own biological children shouldn’t have the right to legal marriage. Do we really think that couples who are infertile or who choose not to have children shouldn’t have the right to marriage?

OK, this may be taking things a bit far but these are the logical extremes to the author's argument. To assume that taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry to protect the rights of children based on an assumption is not logical, nor is it based on any facts.

A 2001 analysis examining 21 different parenting studies illustrates that children raised by same-sex parents, (primarily lesbian couples with their biological children) are as emotionally healthy as children raised by different-sex parents. While there are some interesting social differences, these are by no means negative.

I often wonder about the obvious hypocrisy of people who value and support the idea of two people who love each other and want to create a home and, possibly, a family, but oppose that option for two people of the same gender.

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I completely agree with Raskoff’s opinion on the article written in the Los Angeles Times. I’m confused at house someone who claims to be in favor of equal rights for gay/lesbian couples can justify not allowing them to marry. I’m in favor of any couple coming together in marriage and I’m completely mystified at the thought of a child being in harm under the love and care of two men or two women. I also do not understand why people take the liberty to decide other people’s lives when it has no personal effect on them. I agree that it may be a different environment to grow up with same sex parents, but children as they grow older can make their own decisions about who they spend time with. People are so stuck on tradition that it’s becoming hard for our society to change the norms that are still in place.

I was very interested in Sally Raskoff blog about “Marriage and Children: Rights and Wrongs.” I do agree with your opinions that a man and women were created to reproduce a child. However, as David Blankenhorn makes it seem that when the child is created between a women and men, so therefore a child should be with their birth parents in order to be raised in a loving home. I like how in the blog argues that is not always the case but, how children can be abused and neglected by their own biological parents.
Another good point that was brought up is that there are cases that a men or women can not reproduce, so they need help by surrogacy, sperm banks, good friends and fertility specialist. So why is it ok when a heterosexual couple goes into these types of treatments and not homosexuals? I know that there are lots of conservative people who have a problem with society not fallowing the traditional norms the way of bring up a family between a husband and wife. Who are we judge, who are better parents? The only thing that should matter is that the child is going to have shelter, food and love from their parents. I believe that homosexual couples will go the extra mile to provide a good future for a child.

This is a wonderful article and blog in general. Another point that I would like to add is that gay and lesbian couples are (more often than not) "purposeful parents." The application processes and steps involved to become foster or adoptive parents are extremely thorough and often very emotionally tiring. In my experience, adoptive parents must be very committed to having children just to make it through the process itself. Sometimes it seems a shame that young, unprepared, and/or unequipped heterosexual undividuals can find themselves raising children, while people who ache for the chance to love and raise a child are denied solely because they have different romantic preferences.
To deny homosexual parents the rights of marriage is to deny the CHILDREN of homosexual parents the rights and protection that *all* kids not only need, but deserve. Having homosexual parents inherently does not harm a child; the absence of equal rights provided to these children is what actually harms them and leaves them at a severe disadvantage.

"I often wonder about the obvious hypocrisy of people who value and support the idea of two people who love each other and want to create a home, and possibly, a family, but oppose that option for two people of the same gender." Yes! I couldn't agree more. I feel children raised by same-sex couples would have a broader view on life and diversity than most others later in life. I don't understand how anyone can justify denying two people the right to a happy life. I can't decide which argument I like best.

I do think that a child will grow in the best environment when it has a mother and father to care for it, but I think that if a child had a mother and a mother or a father and a father they would be raised fine. As long as the love they gave the child was sufficient. The child will love the parents no matter what as long as they are caring for them properly.
When a child is given up for adoption by it's birth parents the parents knew they wouldn't be the best parents for the child so they decided to give them up for adoption and if the child is getting love and care by a family of a mom and dad or a family of a mom and mom I don't think it matters as long as they are loved.

I completely agree with this essay, as one cannot assume that two men or two women cannot raise children as well as well as the biological mother and father can. The actual relation between children and parents is not as important as how long the child has been with the parents. If the child has lived with their gay/lesbian parents since they were an infant, they will not be any worse off then a couple who had a child. Gays and lesbians can raise children just as well as biological parents, as long as the same level of care and support is found in the family.

Blankenhorn's statement is vague and easily manipulated to extremes, as you so deftly proved. Any assumption about child-rearing should be put to rest, particularly in light of the research in 2001, proving the equality in emotional health for children of same-sex couples. Denying the children of same-sex couples the rights and protection allowed by marriage is the possible harm done here - there will always be children in same-sex relationships, regardless of the law's view on same-sex marriage. The mention of norms in societies being dependent upon each society's needs is also very insightful. In our society, where same-sex relationships are becoming increasingly common as prejudices are lost, our marriage norms may be due for a change, permitting same-sex marriages.

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