Briefs: Gay marriage would harm children

Baptist Press
Posted: Mar 22, 2013 5:52 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third part in a three-part series previewing the Supreme Court's gay marriage cases, which will be heard Tuesday and Wednesday. Read part 1: If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn. Part 2: Relig. liberty on line in marriage cases

WASHINGTON (BP) -- If the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage it would be sending a detrimental message to society that children don't need both mothers and fathers.

That's according to friend-of-the-court briefs filed by traditional groups and others urging the court to leave the issue of marriage to the states and to uphold both the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.

Baptist Press is previewing Tuesday's and Wednesday's gay marriage oral arguments by looking at the core arguments that defenders of traditional marriage are making in their briefs. Prop 8 is a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman in California, while the DOMA section in question defines marriage in federal law in the traditional sense. If both are overturned, then gay marriage likely would be legalized in all 50 states.

Of the more than 30 friend-of-the-court briefs filed supporting traditional marriage, the dominant theme ties the historical definition of marriage to procreation and childrearing.

A brief by the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel asserts that the definition of marriage on the state level has always been grounded in at least four facts: 1) only heterosexual unions can produce children, 2) children need a mother and a father, 3) mothers and fathers bring unique and complementary contributions to childrearing and 4) children raised outside of a mother-father home fare worse, on average, on multiple levels later in life.

"We live in a world demarcated by two genders, male and female. There is no third or intermediate category. Sex is binary," the Liberty Counsel brief reads. "By striking down Proposition 8, this Court will be making a powerful statement: Our government no longer believes children deserve mothers and fathers. In effect, it would be saying: 'Two fathers or two mothers are not only just as good as a mother and a father, they are just the same.'"

Mothers and fathers are "each uniquely important to a child's development," the brief says. Legalizing gay marriage would toss that logic aside.

"Many boys will grow up without any positive male influence in their lives to show them what it means to be a man, and many girls will grow up without any female influence to show them what it means to be a lady," Liberty Counsel says. "The repercussions of this are incalculable and will reshape the culture in which we live. Many children learn appropriate gender roles by having interaction with both their mother and their father and by seeing their mother and father interact together with one another."

Harvard University professor Robert P. George and two others warn in a brief that if the court legalizes gay marriage, "our law, public schools, and media would teach that mothers and fathers are fully interchangeable" and that "only bigots think otherwise." Such a widespread belief would be disastrous, diminishing "the social pressures and incentives for husbands to remain with their wives and biological children."

"here is significant evidence that mothers and fathers have different parenting strengths -- that their respective absences impede child development in different ways," the George brief says. "Girls, for example, are likelier to suffer sexual abuse and to have children as teenagers and out of wedlock if they do not grow up with their father. For their part, boys reared without their father tend to have much higher rates of aggression, delinquency, and incarceration."

A brief by the Family Research Council (FRC) asserts that "by definition, same-sex couples are unable to provide the benefits of dual-gender parenting."

The reason the government provides legal benefits and the title "marriage" to heterosexual couples is because of the unique benefits that such relationships provide to society, the FRC brief says.

A friend-of-the-court brief signed by 18 state attorneys general makes a similar point, saying, "States need not provide marital recognition to same-sex couples if doing so would not promote the state's reason for recognizing marriages in the first place."

The "basic rationale" for the traditional definition of marriage is to "encourage biological parents to remain together for the sake of their children," the attorneys general brief says.

"The hope is that the availability of marriage makes it more likely that unintended children, among the weakest members of society, will be cared for," the A.G. brief reads.

"Traditional marriage is not about imposing disadvantages on homosexuals, but about promoting behavior exclusive to opposite-sex couples, namely procreation through sexual intercourse where a baseline condition for optimal childrearing -- the cohabitation and mutual dedication of the parents -- is present," the attorneys general say. "In this regard, the laws of marriage generally reflect the state's interest in the welfare of children, their protection, and their well-being."

The attorneys general acknowledge there are heterosexual couples -- among them the elderly and the infertile -- who either can't have children or who choose not to have children. But the AGs say those couples, despite not having children, nevertheless "model the optimal, socially expected behavior for other opposite-sex couples whose sexual intercourse may well produce children."

Furthermore, the AGs say, a state's interest in protecting "the biological relationship between parents and children" does not "require a state to outlaw adoptions or otherwise to prevent parents from raising children" to whom they are not biologically related.

"It does, however, allow the state to express a preference for biological parents 'whom our society ... always presumed to be the preferred and primary custodians of their minor children,'" the AGs assert, quoting a 1993 Supreme Court opinion.

The George brief quotes research by University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox as saying "men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise" and children benefit from having parents with distinct parenting styles." The research further says that "family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live."

"In short," the George brief concludes on the topic, "it is at least reasonable to fear that redefining civil marriage would make it more socially acceptable for fathers to leave their families, for unmarried parents to put off firmer public commitment, or for children to be created for a household without a mother or father."

Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

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