As far as I know, FPR has never had a SSM post, and I think that we are somewhat proud of that fact. Despite this record, I am so confused by the document that the Church put out today, called the Divine Institution of Marriage, that I simply must break the silence about this for the purposes of clarification. This document suggests that as a result of the court decisions in MA and CA (the legislative decisions legalizing marriage and civil unions in other states are not mentioned), “The institution of marriage will be weakened, resulting in negative consequences for both adults and children.” The text continues: “traditional marriage is essential to society as a whole, and especially to its children.” While there are a number of different arguments raised in this document explaining the church’s opposition to SSM, my question has to do with the relationship between SSM and the argument concerning the raising of children. The document explains that “if children and families are to be protected,” one must reject SSM. While I have heard this argument raised before by opponents of SSM, and church statements have alluded to this argument before, this document by far represents the most clear official statement on the subject of the threats to children. The threat to children constitutes the most prominent argument offered in this text.
This document is fascinating, and should be read in full. It contains a number of interesting points, including the pro-life statement that “abortion has taken the lives of over 45 million innocents.” There are also a number of threats to the Church outlined, including the assertion that the church’s tax exempt status is threatened by SSM. This claim deserves investigation since the church is not required by law even to perform all heterosexual marriages, it is unclear why SSM would alter that right of the church. Though the text cites the EU as an example of the infringement of religious rights, the exceptions offered the Catholic and Lutheran churches to such requirements are not mentioned. Further, though the text suggests that one must love homosexuals, but not “tolerate” their behavior, the precise form of this commanded intolerance is supposed to take is not stated. (Presumably, the church does not oppose the legal right of homosexuals to have sex.) Despite the unclarity of the injunction towards intolerance, I must say that I am relieved by this statement in the document: “The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people.” Though there are also a great number of other fascinating statements concerning gender, I wish to focus my analysis on the argument concerning children.
As I read the document, the argument concerning children has two separate prongs. First, SSM should be opposed because these unions do not have the possibility of producing children. Second, SSM should be opposed because children should be raised in heterosexual homes. I see these two arguments in fundamental tension to the point of apparent incoherence. Inasmuch as the church offers these as substantive arguments, I hope that they may be safely investigated on their merits.
After an exegetical preamble explaining that God approves mixed-sex marriage (is this really in dispute?), the text presents the first secular argument against SSM: “Only a man and a woman together have the natural biological capacity to conceive children.” This argument is repeated later, stating that marriage is “legally protected because only a male and female together can create new life, and because the rearing of children requires a life-long commitment, which marriage is intended to provide.” Marriage should be restricted to heterosexuals because “marriage and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults.”
The exceptions are acknowledged, since heterosexual couples are still allowed to marry despite not having children “by choice or infertility,” offering an explanation of why my menopausal mother could get married but homosexuals cannot despite their identical status as non-reproductive. As the text explains, “By definition, all same-sex unions are infertile, and two individuals of the same gender, whatever their affections, can never form a marriage devoted to raising their own mutual offspring.” Though geriatric and other non-fertile marriages are still permitted by law and even performed by the church, these assertions indicate that because marriage is about having children, and because homosexuals cannot have children (I will deal with this assumption later), therefore marriage should be restricted only to those who can have children.
After this argument, the text shifts to a second argument concerning children. The text asserts: “extensive studies have shown that in general a husband and wife united in a loving, committed marriage provide the optimal environment for children to be protected, nurtured, and raised.” Heterosexual marriage, as contrasted to heterosexual couples in general, is asserted to constitute this “optimal environment.” At this point, the text makes a lengthy caveat that the church allows for single parents to have children despite their failure to measure up to the “optimal” family. In fact, though they offer two quotes from studies that condemn single parents only (it is not clear that any studies considering same-sex families are consulted), the document insists, “In an ideal society, every child would be raised by both a father and a mother.” Though the text admits of “the substantial personal resources that two parents can bring to bear on raising a child,” (emphasis mine) the reader is supposed to conclude that two parents of the same sex are worse than one parent of one sex. We are not supposed to oppose the legal rights of single parents to raise their children (despite the conclusions of the studies offered that such situations are also not “optimal”), but rather we are to oppose the legal right to two people of the same gender to raise children as a married couple (the church does not legally oppose same-sex families from raising children as unmarried couples). Because there is no reason on face why SSM would alter the obligation for heterosexual parents or for mixed-sex marriages to raise children, the text forces one to conclude that homosexual parents of children are better off raising their children as single parents than in relationships with a second person, even in a “loving, committed relationship” or a “life-long commitment” that parallels a heterosexual relationship.
At this point, the tension between these two arguments should be clear. If homosexual marriages are not going to result in children, why should they be opposed because they are not the ideal place to raise children? Either one admits that homosexual marriages will not result in children, and therefore the argument that children shouldn’t be raised in such relationships does not apply, or one admits that homosexual couples will have children, and the argument that such marriages don’t result in children does not apply.
Of course, the fact is that homosexuals are parents in a number of different ways. Many have children from previous heterosexual marriages or relationships, many adopt either as single people are as a couple, and many have children through other reproductive methods while in long-term homosexual relationships. How does this document propose that the law deal with these specific situations? As far as I can tell, there is no opposition from the church to homosexual parental rights. (Though the text erroneously asserts that Catholic Charities stopped performing adoptions in MA because of SSM, the issue of gay adoption and gay marriage are only tangentially linked. The potential legal threat against religious adoption agencies’ right to discriminate against homosexuals rests on the basis of non-discrimination laws, not whether or not same-sex coupes are allowed to marry. CC left MA because of gay adoption, not gay marriage.) Indeed, these parental rights, either to care for their own children despite the fact that there is no possibility for them to be raised in mix-sex relationships, or for single homosexuals (or heterosexuals for that matter) to adopt children, are completely independent from the question of marriage.
Why doesn’t the church support legal opposition to gay adoption, or the legal removal of children from gay parents if it’s concern is about the welfare of such children? The legal status of SSM will have no affect on the question of gay adoption or gay parents raising their own children, let alone issues of insemination, surrogacy, and other reproductive methods that may be employed by homosexual couples. The only impact that it has at all is to reduce a child’s right to be raised by their same-sex parent to whom they are not biologically related or legally protected. Though a child may be raised by a person all their lives, without the protection that same sex marriage offers to such children, they may be taken from their parent should the other parent die.
In what way will children be affected if SSM is allowed? As mentioned above, the church’s position asserts that it is worse for a child to be raised to two parents of the same gender than by a single parent. Further, it results in the argument that children should not have legal protection by homosexual parents currently raising children who are not allowed to marry, and that it is better for them to be raised in the foster system than by their non-biological parent. Even though a heterosexual step-parent may raise a step-child whose biological or adoptive parent dies, a homosexual would not have a legal right to his or her partner’s child in the case of death.
Despite the repeated assertions that homosexual marriages cannot have children, the text later acknowledges that homosexuals in homosexual relationships do in fact have children. What then should be the policy regarding these children? The text declines to answer this question directly, and refocuses the issue thus: “the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation?” What remains unanswered in this question is the status of these children of homosexuals. Should “public policy” insist that they enter or remain in heterosexual relationships? If SSM itself is opposed, won’t these children be raised by long-term same sex relationships anyway, as they are in the status quo? Inasmuch as the church argues for the status quo regarding marriage and children, they fail to account for the status quo of the children in same-sex families that lack the legal protection of marriage. The only difference between SSM and the status quo for same-sex families seems to be legal protections offered to children who are raised in these families.
So, after reading this document, I admit confusion over what I see as inconsistencies and misdirected focus given the stated goals of protecting children from being raised in same-sex families. Have I misunderstood the contradictory assertions that SSMs won’t have children and therefore do not deserve legal status, and the claim that SSMs are a bad place for children? Have I misunderstood the defense of the status quo as a defense of same sex couples to raise children without the legal protection that marriage might offer these children? Are these threats convincing in some way that outweighs the opportunity for homosexuals to create more stable family environments for their children?
[Edit: for the readers of this thread, there are many excellent comments below. One particular exchange may be useful, and can be successfully summarized in comments 66 and 67.]