Eventually, in every LGBT rights battle, we seem to hear that plaintive cry. Whether it’s gays marrying, gays adopting, gays teaching, or gays pursuing almost any other normal lifestyle, the well-being of America’s young people seems somehow to be threatened (Google the phrase and you’ll find any number of examples.)
The assumption here is that the healthiest, happiest situation for any child is one which hews as close as possible to the conservative vision of a nuclear family — one father, one mother, and one or more siblings all living together in a suburban house on a cul-de-sac.
All right, that last part isn’t fair. Even the most conservative of our opponents never mention cul-de-sacs. But the nuclear family idea itself is flawed — first, it’s simply never been the norm, no matter what James Dobson claims and countless TV series tell us. Second, it’s only one of any number of ways of raising children successfully, and all of those can have value if some fundamental requirements are met.
Drs. Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz recently completed an exhaustive analysis of twenty years’ worth of family studies. They found that when you eliminate all other differences and compare similar sets of parents (i.e., single straight parents to single gay parents, straight married parents to gay partnered parents of similar social class, etc.) there is little evidence that gay parenting is any different from straight parenting. The one observable difference is that boys raised by lesbian moms tend to be more nurturing than boys raised by straight men. (Wow, there’s a tragedy!) Overall, their conclusion is that it is “the quality of parenting, not the gender of the parents, that matters for child outcomes.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with them, stating that the results of its own studies show that children of gay and lesbian parents are just as well adjusted as those of straight parents.
So the “for the sake of the children” argument turns out to be just another expression of fear, a cry of desperation in the face of an evolving world. That’s sad, and a pretty pathetic basis for such important policy.
In some cases, the situation is much uglier. “The sake of the children” gets invoked most often in opposition to gay adoption and gay marriage. Adoption by gays and lesbians offers tens of thousands of otherwise abandoned children loving homes; gay marriage provides the children of gays and lesbians a more stable and protected home life. But many anti-LGBT rights groups don’t care about those children and would rather see their interests abandoned rather than enfranchise LGBT folks. ProtectMarriage.com, for one, is quite clear about this. This is the group that sponsored Prop 8 in California; Andrew P. Pugno, their general counsel, when questioned on this very point, responded, “Society is not forcing same-sex couples to raise children. If they are going to exercise their choice, it remains their choice.”That’s nice, Mr. Pugno. Damage the lives of a bunch of defenseless kids because you don’t like their parents. Very honorable. We can certainly see that you’re working hard “for the sake of the children.”