Same-sex marriage arouses fierce passions. Let’s work through the arguments one step at a time.
The other day another MercatorNet reader threatened me with the following statement: “I swear Dr. Fitzgibbons one day somebody is going to read your remarks about how children are abused if they have same gendered parents, and they are going to pursue you for those comments.” (Ed: the comment has been deleted.)
To “pursue” has many connotations. Not too long ago a supporter of same-sex marriage entered the Washington DC headquarters of the Family Research Council and shot and wounded a security guard. In the light of that, references to “pursuit” are highly inappropriate. Substituting threats for logic closes down the argument. I’d like to keep it open and defend my views on the abusive nature of same-sex marriage.
Let me begin with my first premise: Whenever children are deliberately (deliberately) deprived of a major theme of development, the children are being abused. Food, clothing, and shelter are “major themes of development.” If parents make children sleep on the streets, refuse to ever to wash their clothes or feed them exclusively on soda, this is abusive. Legislation supporting this would be state-sanctioned abuse.
To deliberately deprive children of a biological mother or father or both (and to legislate in favour of it) deprives children of a major theme of development. Decades of scientific research show that children develop well when raised by the biological mother and father in a stable relationship. A child fares less well when not raised by the biological mother and father in a stable situation.
Evolutionary theory also supports this view. A biological mother should do a better job of caring for a child because she has a stake in passing her genes on. A biological father will be the best protector of a child because his genes are being passed on. When a mother lives with a man who is not the biological father, there is a greater chance that a child will be physically harmed. I mention science and evolutionary theory to be sure that there are no accusations of faith-based “bias” in my reasoning.
My second premise: To deliberately deprive children of the biological mother or father through legislation is to deliberately deprive children of a major theme of development.
From which the conclusion follows: therefore a legal partnership which deliberately deprives the child of a biological mother or father is abusive. Same-sex marriage deliberately deprives children of a biological mother or father. And because it is legal, encouraged, and celebrated, it must be considered state-sanctioned abuse of developing children. This is not a personal reproach. It is a conclusion that logically follows from the premises.
In support of my premises, I would like to summarise social science findings in four areas: the vital importance of the role of the mother and the father to the healthy development of children, the risk to children when the biological father is not present, the risk to children from unstable parental relationships involving a gay or lesbian parent, and the instability of same-sex unions.
Mothers’ unique talents
Among mothers’ distinctive talents, three stand out: their capacity to breastfeed, their ability to understand infants and children, and their ability to offer nurture or comfort to their children. Numerous studies indicate that infants and toddlers prefer mothers to fathers when they seek solace or relief from hunger, fear, sickness, or other distress. Mothers tend to be more soothing and more responsive to the distinctive cries of infants. Mothers are better able than fathers, for instance, to distinguish between a cry of hunger and a cry of pain. They are also better at detecting the emotions of children by looking at their faces, postures, and gestures.
Children who are deprived of maternal care for extended periods in their early lives lack feeling, have superficial relationships, and may exhibit antisocial tendencies as they develop into adulthood. (1) Motherlessness, while not studied as extensively as fatherlessness, causes even more severe damage to a child.
Fathers’ unique talents
Fathers also have distinctive talents (2). They excel at discipline, at play, and at challenging children. They are essential role models for boys. Their presence in the home makes a child feel safe. Extensive research on the serious psychological, academic and social problems in fatherless families corroborates the importance of a father in the home for healthy child development (3).
The risk to children when the biological father is not present
A report on child abuse by the US Department of Health and Human Services (4) found that children living with two married biological parents had the lowest rates of harm — 6.8 per 1,000 children — while children living with one parent who had an unmarried partner in the house had the highest incidence, at 57.2 per 1,000 children.
A study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated that children in households with unrelated adults were nearly 50 times as likely to die of injuries than children living with two biological parents (5). Children in households with a single parent and no other adult in residence had no increased risk of inflicted-injury death. Another study revealed that the cohabitation experience for adolescents (6) is associated with poor outcomes and that moving into a cohabiting stepfamily from a single-mother family decreases adolescent well-being.
Risks to children from unstable parental relationships involving a homosexual parent
Other studies have raised serious concerns regarding the psychological health of children raised with one or more parents with same-sex attractions. Admittedly, none of these compares intact same-sex unions with heterosexual marriages. Thus, the findings are not definitive. But it should be noted that same-sex unions are characterized by instability (discussed in the next section).
In a well designed study of 174 primary school children in Australia with 58 children in married families, 58 in heterosexual cohabitating and 58 in homosexual unions, married couples offered the best environment for a child’s social and education environment, followed by cohabiting couples and finally by homosexual couples (7). Although some have tried to rebut this finding because the homosexual participants started in heterosexual unions, this “fluidity” of sexual orientation is not atypical, especially for lesbians.
In a study published in 2007 of 36 adults raised by one LGB parent and one exclusively heterosexual parent, 15 of them (42 percent) described challenges relating to their ability to trust other people (8). In a study of 68 women with gay or bisexual fathers and 68 women with heterosexual fathers, there was a statistically significant difference between the two groups. Women (average age of 29 in both groups) with gay or bisexual fathers had difficulty with adult attachment issues in three areas: they were less comfortable with closeness and intimacy; they were less able to trust and depend on others; and they experienced more anxiety in relationships compared to the women raised by heterosexual fathers (and mothers) (9).
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that “children in same-sex parent families scored lower than their peers in married, 2-biological parent households” on two academic outcomes and that these differences can be attributed to higher levels of family instability. This study was also based on a large, nationally representative, and random survey of school-age children; moreover, the same-sex parents in this study lived together (10).
The instability of same-sex unions
Same-sex unions are unstable. One of the largest studies of same-sex couples revealed that only seven of 156 couples had a totally exclusive sexual relationship. Most relationships lasted less than five years. Couples with a relationship lasting more than five years incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity. The psychologists wrote, “The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the 10-year mark is the lack of possessiveness... Many couples learn very early in their relationship that ownership of each other sexually can be the greatest internal threat to their staying together.” (11)
Partner instability is also present in lesbian relationships (12). In a 2010 report, the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, 40 percent of the couples who had conceived a child by artificial insemination had broken up (13). Lisa Diamond reported in her book Sexual Fluidity that “more than two-thirds of the women in my sample had changed their identity labels at least once after the first interview. The women who kept the same identity for the whole ten years proved to be the smallest and most atypical group.” (14)
Possible rebuttals to my reasoning
Obviously those who disagree with me have arguments of their own. Here are three of them.
Challenge 1: Divorce and same-sex marriage both deprive children of parents. But divorce is legal. What harm can there be in legaising same-sex marriage? Yes, divorce deprives a child of a parent and it is legal. However, divorce is clearly an admission that a relationship has failed and the state recognizes that the outcome is not optimal for children. But in the case of same-sex marriage the state is happy to allow children to be deprived of a mother or a father. Both divorce and same-sex marriage are, by definition, abusive to the children. Should the state be in the business of deliberately creating an abusive situation for children and then calling it good?
Challenge 2: The purpose of marriage is not the creation and raising of children. This is a false premise, which I refuted in a recent MercatorNet article. I wrote:
“The endpoint or purpose of marriage has always and without exception been this: mutual loving support of each other and -- and -- the creation and support of children… If the purpose of marriage is only mutual loving support, it follows clearly and unambiguously that the essence of marriage can and must include polygamy, polyandry, and man-boy ‘love’. Why? Because each of these social structures fits within the definition of your purpose for marriage with no contradictions whatsoever. By defining the purpose of marriage as you have, you have changed its essence and allowed for some very strange social structures, such as man-boy "love", of which you probably do not approve, but must logically accept.”
Challenge 3: My statements insult those in same-sex unions who have children. I have not denigrated particular families and children. I have not singled out a particular same-sex couple and told them that they are being abusive. Finger-pointing has nothing to do with this argument. I am only pointing out the weakness of this new social arrangement.
(1) Whenever children are deliberately deprived of a major theme of development, they are being abused.
(2) Same-sex “marriage” deliberately deprives children of a major theme of development.
(3) Therefore, it follows that same-sex marriage is a situation in which children are abused (in this case, by the state which deliberately sanctions this situation).
I stand by the comment which led to someone threatening me, that same-sex marriage must be regarded as state-sanctioned abuse of children. The logic will not permit a different conclusion.
Richard Fitzgibbons is the director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, PA. He has practiced psychiatry for 34 years with a specialty in the treatment of excessive anger. He co-authored Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, 2000, for American Psychological Association Books.
(1) Kobak, R. (1999). "The emotional dynamics of disruptions in attachment relationships: Implications for theory, research, and clinical intervention". In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver. (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment (pp. 21-43). New York: The Guilford Press.
(3) Blankenhorn, D. (1996) Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Serious Social Problem. Harper Perennial.
(4) Abuse, Neglect, Adoption and Foster Care Research, National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4), 2004-2009, March 2010, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.
(5) Schnitzer, P.G. (2005). Child deaths resulting from inflicted injuries: household risk factors and perpetrator characteristics. Pediatrics 116:697-93.
(6) Brown, S. L. (2006) Family structure transitions and adolescent well-being. Demography 43:447–461.
(7) Sarantakos, S. (1996) Children in three contexts. Children Australia, 21(3), 23-31.
(8) Goldberg, A.E. (2007) (How) Does it make a difference?: Perspectives of adults with lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77: 550-562.
(9) Sirota, T, (2009) Adult Attachment Style Dimensions in women with Gay or Bisexual Fathers. Arch. Psych Nursing, 23: 289-297.
(10) Potter, D. (2012). “Same-Sex Parent Families and Children’s Academic Achievement.” Journal of Marriage and Family 74: 556-571.
(11) McWhirter, D. and Mattison, A. (1985) The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. Prentice Hall.
(12) Schumm, W. (2010) Comparative Relationship Stability of Lesbian Mother and Heterosexual Mother Families: A Review of Evidence Marriage and Family Review, 46: 499-509.
(13) Gartrell, N. & Bos, H. (2010) US national Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents, Pediatrics, Volume 126, Number 1, July 2010, 28-36.
(14) Diamond, L. (2008) Sexual Fluidity. Harvard University Press