Steve Chapman

Gallagher insists that youngsters are better off in a home with both a mother and a father. But thanks in part to liberal divorce laws -- which conservatives are not mobilizing to repeal -- many children are already deprived of the model family.

Some kids are already being brought up by same-sex partners. Conservatives think children of straight couples are better off if their parents are married. So how can children of gay couples be better off if their parents are not?

The argument that gay marriage will increase family instability by pushing heterosexuals away from marriage is ingenious but unfounded. In this realm, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, a page of history is worth a volume of logic. Some European countries have allowed gays to enter into registered partnerships (which closely resemble marriage) for years, and the results are reassuring.

M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looked at the data from Scandinavia and the Netherlands and found, "Divorce rates have not risen since the passage of partnership laws, and marriage rates have remained stable or actually increased." It's true that out-of-wedlock births have risen -- but they were rising long before this change, and, reports Badgett, they rose just as fast in the countries that don't sanction same-sex unions.

William Eskridge Jr. and Darren Spedale document the same patterns in their new book, "Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse?" And they note that "children in Denmark and Sweden (and the Netherlands) are much more likely to be raised by their parents than American children." If banning gay marriage is supposed to help American kids, it isn't working.

There are lots of things that could be done in this country to encourage marriage, prevent divorce and improve the well-being of children. Keeping same-sex couples from the altar is not one of them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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