It's About the Kids, Stupid!
By Nicholas P. Miller, Esq.
David Blankenhorn, marriage and family policy advocate, is a Christian. He takes the Bible seriously. He just disagrees with what it says about homosexual practice. He thinks that principles of equality mean that practicing homosexuals should be treated with full acceptance and affirmation in America today. But he firmly opposes gay marriage. He does so for one fundamental reason: he believes strongly that “every child has a right to a mother and a father.”
A few years ago, this statement would have been considered a truism—so banal as to hardly be worth mentioning. This is no longer the case. Blankenhorn wants to re-direct the marriage debate to focus on children. Staffers for Bill Clinton in the ’92 election kept their team focused on the key campaign issue by coining the term “it’s about the economy, stupid.” Blankenhorn’s book argues that in the gay-marriage debate the key mantra should be—he uses the idea though not the phrase—“its about the kids, stupid.”
Blankenhorn’s book, The Future of Marriage, argues that the raising of kids by their parents stands as the core concern and reason for the societal institution of marriage. Many close, personal, even intimate relationships exist in society, but for some reason the marriage relationship has been singled out by society for special acknowledgement and protection. Blankenhorn uses history, sociology, and current empirical, scientific evidence to support an argument that the societal institution of marriage has as its core, public value the effective raising of children. He makes a strong case, using data from 35 countries, that in those countries where gay marriage is accepted, commitment to marriage and family as the proper context for raising children is significantly weaker than in those countries where only traditional marriage is allowed.
Blankenhorne’s book is a must read for all those that sense there is something important, even vital, for society in the traditional institution of marriage, but have trouble articulating that belief in other than religious or Biblical terms. Many people think that the definition of marriage as a man and a woman is purely or at least primarily a Biblically-based concept. They think—including even many Christians—that enshrining that model into law is akin to imposing spiritual values on non-believers. This, they argue, would violate America’s fundamental commitment to the separation of church and state.
Blankenhorne convincingly shows why this argument is wrong. He begins by revealing that marriage existed well prior to the Biblical culture of the Israelites, and that at very early point in the historical record it already served as a fundamental societal unit for the rearing of children. He demonstrates that while sexual activity existed in a number of different forms and ways in different societies, that marriage was a way that societies consistently elevated the role of women and protected the rearing of children. More than half a millennium before Moses wrote the Torah, Lipit-Ishtar, ruler of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley and promulgator of one of the world’s first legal codes, proclaimed, “I made the father support his children. I made the child support his father. I made the father stand by his children.” Almost a quarter of Hammurabi’s 275 legal provisions in his famous Code—written centuries before Moses—are concerned with traditional marriage and family life.
Not only did traditional marriage exist prior to the Hebrew culture, but it also existed, and exists, pervasively outside Judeo/Christian cultures. Indeed, Blankenhorne argues that marriage, traditional marriage between a man and a woman, is a universal concept or rule. Virtually all cultures and societies have had this concept of marriage, and the concept has almost invariably involved the care of children by their biological parents. In a fascinating cross-cultural analysis he shows how certain obscure groups within certain societies, the Nayars in southwest India, the Nuer in eastern Africa, have for limited periods of time under extreme pressures modified the traditional arrangement. But these exceptions are generally very limited, often short-lived, and are the exceptions that prove the universal rule. They are recognized as exceptions because the rule is so pervasive, both through time and across societies and cultures.
The Bible certainly supports the notion of the traditional family unit, with spouses in a mutual relationship of love and care, with roles of support and care for their children. But the Bible itself, which did not begin to be written until after the 15th century BC, did not originate the traditional family unit. Certainly, arguments for the family are not limited to the Bible. On the contrary, cultures, societies and civilizations through time have seen the importance of the family unit to children and to society. What most societies have seen through instinct and experience, we in our modern age have demonstrated through scientific studies.
Blankenhorne cites leading family scholar, David Popenoe, as summarizing the evidence this way: “Few propositions have more empirical support in the social sciences than this one: Compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children.” Everything from educational outcomes to mental health to cognitive development to social stability to avoidance of risky social and sexual behaviors to educational and employment success is positively affected by a child living with his or her own mother and father. Another leading family expert put it this way, “research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage . . . Thus, it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”
Blankenhorne shows that commitment to marriage as an institution suffers in a society that accepts gay marriage or even civil unions. In perhaps the most compelling part of the book, he shows that the statistical support for marriage and child-rearing in the context of marriage is significantly weaker in countries that accept either gay marriage or same sex unions. He reports the results of the International Social Survey Programme that reported responses in 35 countries to a wide range of questions on marriage and family life. Almost without exception, countries that had same-sex marriage viewed marriage as less important generally, and less important to raising children in particular, than countries with only traditional marriage. In countries that allowed gay marriage, only 21.5% of those surveyed believed that “Married people are happier,” versus 43.5% of those in countries with only traditional marriage. Similarly, in gay-marriage countries, only 37.8% of respondents believed that “People who want children should marry,” whereas 60.3% of respondents in traditional-marriage countries thought so.
Blankenhorne acknowledges that this study shows correlation rather than cause, but to him correlation is very important. The attack on the traditional family-child rearing unit is multi-pronged. Teasing out what elements are responsible for what amount of decline is not necessary to know that all correlated variables, insofar as reasonably possible, should be avoided and minimized. He is convinced, through the testimony of both family and anti-family advocates alike, that those on both sides of the discussion see gay marriage as weakening the commitment to marriage generally and traditional forms of child-rearing in particular. He is willing to sacrifice what he views as the lesser good of marital equality for gays, for the greater good of healthier, happier, more successful children.
Blankenhorn’s book has gaps in it. He relies perhaps too heavily on expert assertions that biological parents provide the best environment for child rearing. He could have discussed some of the data presented in the underlying studies that he cites. He also does not explain why he is willing to accept less-than-ideal, stop gap measures such as step-parenting and adoptions, but not parenting by two parents in a committed gay relationship. His oversight here is somewhat surprising, as his earlier book, Fatherless America, has been termed the “bible of the Fatherhood movement.” There are plenty of studies showing the importance to the health and welfare of a child of the influence and involvement of parents of both genders.
For instance, an Australian study showed that children from traditional-marriage households outperform children from unmarried heterosexual households, and that children from both forms of heterosexual households outperformed the children living in homosexual households.
Similarly, a recent study found that teenagers living with their two biological parents have significantly improved mental health and academic achievement, and significantly lower rates of serious behavioral problems at school, compared to teenagers living in single parent households or “blended families.” This study was sponsored by the Urban Institute, which has published material in favor of same-sex marriage, but frankly concludes that “the most favorable outcomes we observe are for teenagers living with their biological parents who are married to each other.”
The American Psychological Association’s Review of General Psychology, recently contained an article that concludes that there is overwhelming evidence that the love of mothers and fathers differs in significant ways, and that the receipt of both kinds of love is very beneficial to children.
Also, Blankenhorn does not really explain why opposing gay marriage rises to the level of a moral imperative. In an imperfect world, we accept all sorts of arrangements for child rearing that are less than ideal. Given that some children are orphans, and many are raised by poor, single parents, why should society in principle object to the alternative of an affluent, stable household of two mothers or two fathers raising children? Absent from Blankenhorn’s book is a discussion of morality. Indeed, the words “moral” or “morality” do not appear in the index. Perhaps this is to escape the labeling of the book as a religious argument. But ultimately any argument about opposition to gay marriage, and the prevention of adoption by gay couples, that hopes to be successful must involve a discussion of morality.
Our society is confused about the status of morality in relation to law. Often people say, “you cannot legislate morality.” But we do, all the time. Laws against murder, theft, and public nudity all involve implementation of moral principles. These have to do with civic morality, right and wrong that directly and primarily impacts others. What the state should not involve itself in is morality that is primarily religious, such as acts or conduct that primarily involves our relation to God, e.g., prayers, religious rites, days of worship, etc. So the fundamental question becomes is the question of homosexuality and gay marriage a question of civil or religious morality?
Despite not framing his discussion in these terms, Blankenhorn provides materials and data that strongly support the view that gay marriage involves questions of civic morality. The universal nature of traditional marriage, the importance of biological parents to both conception and child-rearing, the importance of both genders to the raising and formation of healthy children, and the weakening of marriage and family in those countries where gay marriage is accepted all provide support for the notion that the state has a civil moral interest in affirming traditional marriage and preventing gay marriage. To make the argument more complete, one would need to venture into the world of the dynamics and results of the gay relationship.
Government statistics have shown that gay persons are between at least five to ten (depending on gender and relationship status) more likely to experience domestic violence with their partners than heterosexuals. Rates of domestic violence among lesbian relationships approach fifty percent in a number of studies. It is well known that the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is far higher in the gay community. The sexual practices of that community are far riskier and associated with, among other negatives, higher rates of eating disorders, depression and suicide. Indeed, according to the International Journal of Epidemiology, participants in the gay lifestyle lose an estimated 8 to 20 years in lifespan.
Institutionalizing gay marriage would not only weaken traditional marriage and family, as Blankenhorn demonstrates, it would also provide legitimacy and affirmation to that lifestyle in the eyes of children. More people would be raised in gay households, and children in public schools would be educated that such a lifestyle was an acceptable, viable alternative lifestyle. Studies have shown that children raised in gay-led households suffer from higher levels of gender disorientation, and that girls engage earlier in sexually risky and promiscuous behavior. It is not just unwise, but wrong, to knowingly place children where they face these sorts of increased risks to their health and welfare.
Several thousand years of nearly universal experience has shown that traditional marriage, with all its flaws and shortcomings, is a very good way of raising children. Gay marriage has nearly a zero track record in this regard. The scant evidence that does exist is troubling. Given the instabilities and pathologies associated with gay relationships, whatever their sources, should we bet our society’s future—our childrens’ future—on gay families providing an equally good child-rearing environment?
Some will argue that these pathologies and instabilities are caused, in some part, by societal discrimination. These arguments overlook the fact that in our coastal cities, where the gay population is the greatest, acceptance of the gay lifestyle has been widespread for many years now. But still the troubling tendencies detailed above persist. At the least, it would seem wise to let gay relationships go through a period of time with some sort of civil union, to see if they can provide a track record of stability and reliability, before we bestow on them the honor of carrying out society’s most delicate and important task—the raising of our children. Because fundamentally, it is not about equality, or sameness, or self-actualization, or self-affirmation, or self-respect, or self-anything, rather, it’s about the kids, stupid.