Making the leap from parenting ability to marriage rights

“But what about the children?” is a common refrain among opponents to same-sex marriage. “Children need a mother and a father,” they maintain.

Research doesn’t support this claim. But let’s imagine that maybe future studies will discover significant differences between opposite-sex parenting and same-sex parenting, and even that there are disadvantages for children raised by same-sex parents. Supposing the predictions of Blankenhorn and Popenoe are borne out, maybe overall the kids of lesbians will be less independent, self-reliant, competitive, and confident. Maybe the kids of gay men will be less emotionally expressive and sympathetic. As a society, how should we use that knowledge?

Perhaps we should save those children from such unfortunate circumstances, either preventing them from ever being born or ensuring that they never get adopted into such households. Perhaps we should also bar those potential parents from ever getting married, so that they’re not tempted to demand the right to bear or raise children once they have a state-supported union.

By that reasoning, we should exclude many other groups of people from having children or even getting married.

Let’s start with the well-documented achievement gap. Blacks and Latinos have poorer outcomes on test scores, high school graduation rates, college enrollment and completion rates, and lifetime earnings. Perhaps their parents should not have been allowed to marry.

Ah, but you say, it’s not their parents’ fault, it’s society’s fault for relying on culturally biased tests, providing them with inexperienced teachers and ill-fitted schools, and discriminating against them in hiring and compensation practices.

Then in addition to education, let’s consider physical and mental health. Family poverty predicts lower educational attainment, shorter lifespan, and anxiety and depression, so perhaps poor people shouldn’t be allowed to marry. On the flip side, those with higher incomes are more likely to use assisted reproductive technologies instead of reproducing naturally, so perhaps they also should be forbidden to marry.

No, you patiently explain, even though it may seem that economic worth represents a person’s ability and effort, it’s complex and also reflects differences in circumstance and luck.

That still leaves many parental behaviors that predict negative child outcomes. Reduced nutrition and health, lower school achievement, and teen pregnancy are all associated with lower parental education. Substance abuse is linked to dad’s alcohol consumption, while infant mortality is higher when mom smokes. Youth violence rates are higher in urban areas and in communities with greater turnover and ethnic diversity. The most important factor predicting adolescent suicide is the presence of guns in the household. Childhood depression is associated with greater household density and low maternal social support.

So perhaps the government should evaluate educational attainment, drinking and smoking habits, neighborhood of residence, gun ownership, anticipated family size, and number of close friends before allowing prospective partners to obtain marriage licenses.

That’s ridiculous, you say. Those trends are just averages and don’t apply to every member of the group. None of those characteristics is a guarantee that one’s children will suffer those particular consequences.


© Copyright 2011 Norma Ming. All rights reserved.


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