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Same-Sex Marriage and Child Well-Being


One focus of the Prop 8 trial testimony today is child well-being, specifically the assertion that “having gay and lesbian parents does not make children more likely to be maladjusted than children raised by heterosexual couples” Putting aside the widely acknowledged concerns with methodology (here, here, here, here, and here) and the glaring absence of some data (such as the near total lack of studies of children raised by male couples or the paucity of comparative studies involving married couples), there are a couple of problems with this line of argument.

First, it addresses the wrong question. To a court asking whether there is any conceivable reason other than bigotry for a state’s marriage law, the question of whether children will lose something if the idea that their own mother and father ought to take responsibility for them could be relevant. The question of whether it is possible for a person attracted to others of the same-sex to be can be a good parent is not. What would be important to know for children’s sake is whether family structure matters, not whether a parent’s orientation matters. Indeed, the answers to the questions of (1) whether children benefit from husband/wife marriage and (2) whether an individual of whatever orientation can be a good parent could both be answered affirmatively without any conflict between the two propositions.

Trying to explain away research that suggests benefits to children of being raised by married biological parents by characterizing the research as supporting the need for two adults is also unavailing. There are lots of reasons a single-parent home might, on average, provide some disadvantages for children which might not be corrected by merely adding a second unrelated adult. The most obvious is that there may be a value in ties to one’s own biological parents. In addition, there is research that shows that stepfamilies may experience heightened risks which directly rebuts the idea that the problems of a single-parent home would be solved just by adding another person. In fact, a same-sex couple-headed household shares a key characteristic with a stepfamily home — in both cases a child in the home is being raised by one parent in the absence of another and in the presence of an unrelated adult.