The message of same-sex marriage

Posted: Jan 08, 2004 12:00 AM
What message will same-sex marriage send to the next generation?

I got a foretaste recently while taking the shuttle back home from D.C. The young man sitting next to me was a college student, headed home for the holidays. Call him Matthew. We got to talking about the whole SSM thing.

"Why are you against it?" Matthew asked. So I told him.

Marriage is the place where we not only tolerate people having babies and raising children, we positively welcome and encourage it. Same-sex marriage will be a public and legal declaration that the state of Massachusetts believes that children do not need mothers and fathers. Alternative family forms are not only just as good, they are just the same as a husband and wife raising kids together.

"Don't you think that ideally, kids need a mom and a dad?" I asked.

"Not really," Matthew told me. "I don't think so."

He told me knew some kids at school who were being raised by a same-sex couple. They seemed OK to him. Besides, he said, his mom and dad were divorced. His older brother seemed to have some problems with it, he hinted, but that was probably just because his brother was older and knew his dad better before they divorced.

"Kids just accept whatever their family situation is. It doesn't matter," Matthew told me. After all, he was raised by a single mom and doing just fine.

Sure, he was doing fine, in a lot of ways.

But then I pulled out my big gun: "What about you?" I asked him. "Do you think you'll matter to your kids?"

Matthew seemed taken aback by the question. Obviously he had never looked at it from that perspective. He thought for a moment and then followed his train of thought to the only logical conclusion -- a train wreck:

"No," he said. "Not really."

Abandon your kids early enough, he implied, and fatherlessness is all they know. They won't need you. Kids adjust.

This has been, of course, the big message of the family diversity crowd since the dawn of the sexual revolution: Adults have awesome intimacy needs that must be met. Family forms, social norms, household arrangements all must be wound, unwound and rewound so the adults get what they need. Kids? Oh, they adjust.

One of the many ways in which same- and opposite-sex couples differ is on this thing called babies. Gays and lesbians can get children only after an enormous amount of effort and deliberate thought: through adoption, buying a baby from a woman (a.k.a. "surrogate motherhood") or artificial insemination. Babies don't just suddenly appear.

By contrast, the things that men and women must do to make sure they do NOT have children outside of marriage are difficult -- abstain from sex, have a shotgun wedding, use contraception consistently or have an abortion (in descending order of moral virtue, in my opinion). People won't avoid umarried childbearing in a society that says what same-sex marriage says: Children don't need mothers and fathers. Alternative family structures are just as good. Young men who are raised to believe that fathers don't matter to their children will not become dependable husbands and fathers themselves.

Marriage is our most basic social institution for protecting children. Same-sex marriage amounts to a vast social experiment on children. Rewriting the basic rules of marriage puts all children, not just the children in unisex unions, at risk. Do not expect boys to become good family men in a society of Matthews who believe, as they have been taught, that men are optional in family life.

Advocates of gay marriage are trying to persuade us that SSM won't affect anyone but the handful of gay and lesbian families. Don't believe it. Listen to Matthew, who has absorbed the message of SSM very well.

Fathers are optional. Children are resilient. Adults are fragile, and their emotional needs come first.