How marriage bans teach children marriage isn’t necessary

Parenting took center stage in the closing arguments of the California Proposition 8 case on June 16. Attorney Ted Olson, by most accounts, made a superb argument for marriage equality. There was one point he left out, however, that is worth exploring.

Attorney Charles Cooper, speaking for the defenders of the same-sex marriage ban, argued that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples in order to “channel naturally procreative sexual conduct into stable and enduring unions,” and “to minimize what I would call irresponsible procreation.”

He was unclear, however, as to how allowing same-sex couples to marry would dissuade opposite-sex couples from doing the same. He spoke only of the “very important and very negative social implications” when children “are born into the world without this stable, enduring marital union, raised and responsibility taken for the offspring by both of the parents that brought them into the world.”

Olson did a stellar job refuting Cooper’s claim. He pointed out Cooper’s lack of evidence about the impact of same-sex marriages on opposite-sex ones, and noted that nearly 40,000 children in California were living in households headed by same-sex couples.

While Olson spoke generally of the legal and emotional benefits to children in same-sex headed households, however, he neglected to speak of how having married parents conveys certain things to children about the meaning of marriage itself — and what the long-term impact of that is on the institution of marriage.

The majority of the children of lesbian and gay parents will be straight. They will grow up to have the same “procreative sexual conduct” Cooper wants to channel. Will they be more likely to “channel” that into marriage if they see their parents raised them successfully without marriage, or if they see their parents got married in order to declare their love and for the rights and stability that marriage provides?

No matter what the outcome of the case, same-sex couples will continue to raise children. Open lesbians began seeking custody of children from previous opposite-sex relationships back in the 1970s. The term “gayby boom” dates from a Newsweek article in 1990. That’s a moving train of history that cannot be stopped.

The danger isn’t just to the millions of children with lesbian or gay parents. If their friends and classmates see that same-sex couples are raising happy and healthy children without marriage (as valid academic studies continue to show), they, too, may begin to wonder if marriage is needed for successful child rearing.

This argument also answers the question of why domestic partnerships or civil unions won’t do. They provide some or all of the rights and benefits of marriage, but they will not — by definition — show children what it means to be “married.” Instead, they will convey that an alternative is acceptable.

This is not to say that everyone will or should regard marriage as necessary. That is a personal choice faced by each person. The sweeping exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, however, takes it away from the realm of personal choice and makes the statement that it isn’t necessary for an entire group of people. That, as I see it, is far more damaging to the institution.

The ultra-right often claims that its anti-LGBT actions are done to protect children. They cannot, in this case, have their wedding cake and eat it too. If they believe that marriage is the best place for rearing children, then they must agree it is the best place for same-sex couples to raise theirs as well — or they must assert that same-sex couples shouldn’t raise children at all.

Many on the right do believe that — but such a belief, even more than marriage bans, is ceasing to have widespread appeal. Far more states allow same-sex couples to adopt or do second-parent adoptions than to marry.

Still, Dr. Gary Segura, professor of political science at Stanford University, testified in the Prop. 8 trial that as fewer states are able to challenge same-sex marriage via voter initiatives, gay and lesbian adoption will become “the new front line.”

I think it will be a harder sell than marriage initiatives. Even Arkansas, the latest state to institute an adoption ban, had to frame it as a ban on unmarried couples rather than on same-sex ones — and a state circuit court judge overturned it in April. (The state is expected to appeal.)

If the Prop. 8 case has shown us anything, it is that the ultra-right is running out of credible witnesses and logical arguments for limiting same-sex couples’ right to marry or parent children. It may still take time to achieve full equality — but when we do, it will strengthen the institution of marriage, not destroy it. n

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.

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