The bare facts are these: (1) Children have not done all that well throughout history in any century and virtually in every country. (2) Even in the United States, where we think we do well, current social conditions include high rates of unwed childbirth, which conclusive research shows disadvantages the children. Further there are significant amounts of child abuse and other forms of mistreatment and abandonment. All this while other segments of our population are so hungry for children they will travel far and wide for opportunities to adopt. (3) Research about marriage indicates that more couples are becoming less “child centered,” preferring to not have children or to have someone else rear their children rather than do it themselves.
Now the Supreme Court is considering the civil rights of same-sex partners and whether this includes the same legal status as traditional marriage. The conflict is well known. One side believes they deserve equal rights with other couples, and the other side argues in favor of reserving the term “marriage” for those couples who are men and women who procreate. I have read arguments favoring both positions and diminishing each position as well. It centers on “civil rights” and whether there is equality or inequality. I have also been an observer of the hatred that seems to be a part of this contest, which has been directed at gay people and which also has been directed by gay people at anyone who appears to differ with their point of view. This shows up in media, which, if it is possible, further sensationalizes the whole contest. Having read different accounts, including some scholarly attempts to define the legal and social implications of this affair, it occurred to me that people, including myself for a time, have gotten so caught up in the arguments pro and con and the extreme feelings involved that we have forgotten the children whose futures are intimately tied to any decision that is made. It is very similar to a married couple with conflict in their marriage that so draws their attention they forget about the impact on their children. Do children have rights, and is anyone seeking to consider, advance their opportunities, and protect them? I hope so, but I am not encouraged. To promote that end, however, I propose the following:
1. Before any decision is made legalizing same-sex marriage, there should be conclusive evidence that shows that two women or two men living together as partners can advance children as successfully as successful heterosexual married couples. This will require a form of longitudinal research across more than one generation. You can see the effects of parenting over at least two generations and maybe three. The Supreme Court is being asked to make a decision that has far-reaching and long-lasting implications without having any accurate conclusive data about the effects on children. I wonder if we would tolerate the same sort of process if the rights of adults are being discussed with so little reliable information.
2. We do have a lot of evidence that children, both girls and boys, have the right to access parents of both genders. The research is very clear. When fathers are absent, children do far less well than when fathers are present and competent. This research, however, deserves a new clarification. It is not just the presence of fathers. The real impact of a father’s influence is when a mother is also present as model and example. This is because the most powerful family relationship in terms of benefitting the children is a healthy triangle, where the interplay between all parts of this three-person relationship includes the child and the interplay between father and mother, father and child, and mother and child in the child’s behalf. Same-sex couples can argue that they have the same number involved, but they cannot adequately argue that they can duplicate the interplay between a male and female parent, where the children are concerned.
3. Anyone with the power of making an influential decision that impacts children should have to spend time to see how children function best. Very few legislators who make decisions about schools and children, for example, have themselves spent much time teaching children in schools. Quite frequently the decisions they make are not what school teachers would make. If I could prescribe what these powerful people need to know, it would include taking a course on child development and understanding families, schools, churches, friends, summer camps, and etc. They need to be expert in how children develop so they can understand different types of development (e.g., cognitive, emotional, social, etc.), how vulnerable children are in different periods of their lives, and how they are influenced positively or negatively during these stages. Lastly, it would be a good thing for them to apply their decision-making power to make decisions in behalf of children rather than the adults who are squabbling over their own “rights.”
Do I think anyone will pay attention to the children? I doubt it. I expect that the decision, whatever it is, will be mediated by some combination of political, legal, social, and popular opinion. None of these fully take our children into account. Many of our kids already suffer because they are not mentored well, provided for, and helped along the way. But it would be very nice to see a groundswell of support for the kids that is focused on their success and well-being.