Caution: You may want to stop reading now if you have either strong emotions or strong religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage – you may be disappointed either way.
I’ve written and spoken about same-sex marriage before, but now that SCOTUS has taken two landmark cases on it, people are asking how I think they ought to be decided, as a psychologist, child-custody expert, and lawyer. Okay, I’ll tell you, but first, a couple of caveats:
Nothing about my opinion is rooted in any personal aversion to homosexuality. I have gay and lesbian friends, and some of them, certainly not all, agree with at least part of what I’m about to write, particularly as it relates to parenting.
Likewise, nothing about my opinion is rooted in religion. I’m a big-picture, non-denominational Christian who believes in the teachings and resurrection of Jesus as 1) a guide for how we ought to live among one another in this life, and 2) affirmation/warning that there’s life after this and that what we do in this life affects whether we get to go on (and here at Christmastime, I’ll add that it makes sense to me that it all happened at the time in human history that it did, under the circumstances that it did, because if it were all documented on video in 2012, i.e. if there were concrete proof of it – if there were no faith component – it would essentially deprive us of free will in that you’d pretty much have to believe and follow the teachings if you wanted to go on beyond this life). I don’t see how anyone who has homosexual desires could be blamed for those, and I have no religious belief whatsoever about the rightness/wrongness of homosexual behavior.
So, with that preface, here’s my opinion on same-sex marriage:
1) There’s really no “marriage inequality” in the U.S. Everyone has an equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex. The fact that some people would prefer a different right doesn’t mean that the rights we have are unequal.
2) This issue really isn’t “marriage” – it’s government-sanctioned marriage. I don’t care what anybody does (as long as it’s consensual and the parties are of age) in the privacy of their own bedrooms; I don’t care if same-sex couples want to wear rings and refer to themselves as “married;” and I don’t care if churches want to perform “marriage” ceremonies for same-sex couples. I’m only interested in this issue to the extent that our government is or isn’t going to be involved in it. I don’t really like the government getting involved in anyone’s love relationships. I’m straight, and if/when I get married, I’m not thrilled about the fact that I have to go and get a license from the government to make the marriage legal. The only rationale that I can accept for the government to be involved in sanctioning my or anyone’s love relationship is the state’s interest in promoting the co-parenting of healthy minor children, so that those children don’t end up with genetic problems (why you’re not allowed to legally marry your sibling), with avoidable potentially-life-threatening conditions in pregnancy (why you’re required in some states to get a blood test before a marriage license is issued), or as wards of the state.
3) I see no reason for the government to sanction love relationships that cannot produce children, e.g. same-sex relationships. Therefore, I’m not in support of equating same-sex and heterosexual marriage under the law. True, an elderly heterosexual couple cannot produce children either (barring some kind of “miracle”), but A) I’m not in support of the government probing into people’s fertility before issuing marriage licenses, and B) an elderly couple could adopt, for example, a grandchild whose parents were killed in a car accident.
4) I believe that the optimal parenting situation is a married mother and father who love one another and the child. I have absolutely no doubt that a same-sex couple can love a child every bit as much as a heterosexual couple, but I believe there are things that a heterosexual couple can give a child that a same-sex couple inherently cannot, for example: maternal and paternal formative influences, male and female role modeling, male/female relational modeling, etc. I also believe that same-sex parenting situations present children with sociocultural challenges that heterosexual households do not. Yes, all kinds of bad things can and do happen in heterosexual parenting situations (child abuse/neglect, divorce and remarriage, substance abuse, etc.), but all those same things can and do happen in same-sex parenting situations, and remember, I’m just telling you what I think is optimal. In the past couple of decades, there was some research suggesting that there were virtually no outcome differences between children raised in heterosexual and same-sex parenting situations, but there were also some major limitations on those findings, for example: the sample sizes were generally quite small; the time periods during which the children were studied were generally quite short; and the researchers who did those studies were too-often agenda-driven, i.e., they had vested interests in finding what they found, that same-sex parenting was virtually problem-free. Well, now there’s a growing body of large-scale, longitudinal (following children over extended periods of years and decades), objective outcome research suggesting that a married female mother and male father are in fact the optimal parenting situation, by a significant margin. But all you really need to do is to ask yourself, and especially young people, if you had to be born again, with all memories of your current life erased, and all you got to decide beforehand was the parenting situation into which you’d be reborn, what would that situation be? I’ve asked this of thousands of college students, and 99+% of them have picked married mothers and fathers who love one another and them.
5) I’m not in support of one partner in a same-sex relationship having in-vitro fertilization (I’m not in support of anyone using artificial insemination, surrogacy, etc. who’s not married to a person of the opposite sex – I think it’s profoundly selfish to create a child without the optimal situation already in place, simply to satisfy adults’ desires for parenthood; I think that’s treating children like pets), nor am I generally in support of members of same-sex couples adopting children. Yes, there are situations in which an adult who already has children then enters into a same-sex relationship, and the children end up residing with the same-sex couple, and no, I don’t think those children are doomed to any particular dysfunction. I don’t think that ought to be the situation of first resort for a child, however, and I don’t think that the government ought to encourage it by legally equating same-sex and heterosexual relationships or parenting. Yes, I think there are situations in which children are better off living in households with adults in same-sex relationships than languishing for years in the foster system (talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell’s situation may be exemplary of that). But even in those situations, I’m not in support of allowing adults of the same sex to occupy both the “mother” and the “father” slots on a child’s birth/adoption certificate. That amounts to a legal guarantee that the child will never have what I believe is optimal, a female mother and a male father, and I’m not in support of ever legally foreclosing that possibility for any child. Legally assigning equal parental rights to both members of a same-sex couple also compounds sociocultural complexities if/when the couple separates, resulting in a situation in which the children potentially are sent back and forth between two households in which both parents are involved in subsequent same-sex relationships, meaning that the children then have four “parental” figures rather than two, all of the same sex. I think it’s hard enough on children when heterosexual parents separate and the children are forced to travel back and forth between a mother’s house with a stepfather in it and a father’s house with a stepmother in it. So, in a state or situation in which a child is to be parented by a same-sex couple, either because one member of the couple is the child’s biological parent or because that situation is determined to be preferable to the child’s alternative(s), I’m in support of only one member of the couple being the child’s legal adoptive parent (filling either the mother or the father slot on the child’s birth/adoption certificate, depending on the sex of the parent) and having legal parental rights (and my stance is the same in the case of an unmarried heterosexual couple parenting a child).
Just in terms of marriage (not parenting), I’m really not sure why gays and lesbians even want the government to sanction their relationships so badly at this point in our history. Over the past 30 years, by enacting “no-fault” divorce statutes, our society has so weakened and cheapened the institution of marriage that our government will generally now do more to enforce a gym-membership contract than it will do to enforce a marriage contract.
In terms of automatic benefits and protections afforded by government-sanctioned marriage, those again were designed primarily to be incentives for married co-parenting and protections for dependent children, but here’s my take on those: I’m not in support of a different income-tax policy for single and married taxpayers (I’d eliminate the so-called “marriage penalty” and any difference in the income-tax code based on marital status). And protections such as inheritance and hospital visitation rights can generally be obtained faster than a marriage license by filling out simple wills and powers of attorney, all of which are available online and more cheaply than marriage licenses in most states.
So, for all of the foregoing reasons, I’m not in support of forcing states to equate same-sex and heterosexual marriage, nor am I in support of forcing states to equate same-sex and heterosexual parenting, and I don’t believe that our Constitution requires either.