By Patricia Davis (Antioch Midwest)
Real people—real families, real children—are being damaged by their inability to fully experience the benefits of living in America.
There is a small segment of American society that suffers from a lack of full acceptance as part of the larger society. Babst, Gill, and Pierceson (2009) refer to this segment as a “sexual minority” or as functioning “in an atypical family situation” (p. vii). This segment of society is comprised of people who are sexually attracted to people of their same gender. There are various terms used to refer to these individuals: homosexual, gay, or lesbian. However, a term that has become more commonplace is LGBT: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Variations of this acronym are also seen—GLBT, LGBTQ or GLBTQ, the Q standing for Questioning or Queer identity. This term is intended to “emphasize a diversity of sexual and gender identity-based cultures” and “has been adopted by the majority of the LGBT community” (Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, 2010). This term can be considered to encompass individuals who are not exclusively heterosexual in their sexual attraction or sexual orientation. Throughout the literature reviewed for this paper, families headed by LGBT persons or couples are referred to as gay families or LGBT families.
LGBT couples suffer in a variety of ways from the lack of protections and privileges that marriage affords to heterosexual couples. The campaign to include LGBT couples in the civil and religious ritual of marriage has heated up in recent years. Whatever beliefs or feelings a person might hold about the acceptability of homosexuality, the reality is that approximately 674,000 American cohabiting couples are same-sex partners (Barnes and Watkins, 2011, pp. 4-5). Many of these couples are raising children, creating gay or LGBT families. Like all families, gay families are part of the foundation of society and require support from the larger society; but they will remain at risk without the legal, economic, and inclusionary protections of marriage.
Evidence suggests that policies that discriminate against gay families have a detrimental effect on the children in these families. Allowing children raised in gay families to speak for themselves was the focus of a study conducted by Goldberg and Kuvalanka (2012). Of the forty-nine adolescent and young adult participants, nearly 70 percent categorized themselves as unequivocally in support of marriage equality. Many of the participants were acutely aware of the ways in which their families were deprived of “the same rights as other people” (p. 41). These children were saying that they want their families to be treated fairly. The larger society debating this issue should consider the perspectives of people affected by unequal marriage laws.
Children and young people with LGBT parents face specific sociological challenges in American society. According to Goldberg and Kuvalanka (2012), these children frequently encounter negative comments about their parents’ sexual orientation, resulting in a “stigmatized nature of their family structure.” This, in turn, can have a negative impact on the child’s mental health. The authors contrasted the American experience with a study from the Netherlands—where gay marriage has been legal since 2001—which indicated that Dutch children with lesbian parents “reported greater openness about their family structure, less frequent encounters with homophobia, and fewer adjustment problems than American children.” The authors further described interviews with same-gender couples in Massachusetts, who expressed a belief that marriage “buffer[ed] the effects of societal stigma” (p. 36). Some professionals are finding that marriage provides a sense of comfort for LGBT parents and their children. The American public as well as members of state and federal legislative bodies need to avail themselves of this information and consider the harm being caused to children because the legal right to marry is being withheld from their parents.
Children living in households headed by Black and Hispanic LGBT parents have a disproportionately high risk of negative effects from the unavailability of gay marriage. Cahill (2009) reported that same-gender households headed by parents of these minority groups are often already disadvantaged economically. Further, one or both parents in Hispanic households are often not US citizens. Cahill studied data from the 2000 Census, and concluded that many Black and Latino same-sex couple households are disadvantaged in terms of income, home ownership, and immigration policies in effect at the time of his study. Cahill brings to light a minority within the LGBT minority and the burden this group bears because its members cannot take advantage of the benefits of marriage. He provides an important, and perhaps overlooked, addition to the debate around gay marriage.
The evidence strongly suggests that LGBT parents are as capable as heterosexual parents of providing safe and healthy homes for their children. Goldberg and Kuvalanka (2012) referred to the emerging literature that suggests that outcomes for children of heterosexual parents compare favorably to outcomes of children raised in LGBT homes. Barnes and Watkins (2011) reported on research that reached similar conclusions: the gender of parents is not in itself “an indicator as to the health and well-being of the child” (p. 135). These are but two examples in the literature affirming that children in LGBT homes have equal chances for negative as well as positive outcomes compared to their peers being raised in heterosexual homes. People who have concerns about the health and well-being of children being raised by LGBT parents can be reassured by the abundance of research into outcomes for these children. Providing the protections of marriage can only strengthen the positive outcomes for children being raised in LGBT homes.
There are people in opposition to gay marriage who believe it would be bad for children. Christianity Today is a magazine published by an organization founded by Billy Graham, a well-known and well-respected minister of the Christian faith. In an article published in the online version of the magazine, Benne and McDermott (2004) asserted that “research has . . . shown” that children raised by LGBT parents have multiple problems, including being “dissatisfied with their own gender” and “suffer[ing] a greater rate of molestation within the family.” The authors also assert that questioning youth will be encouraged by gay marriage to “embrace a lifestyle that suffers high rates of suicide, depression, HIV, drug abuse . . . and other pathogens” (main point number 2). References for the research to which the authors refer were not provided in the article. These authors are articulating a concern that children raised by non-heterosexual parents will be confused and unhappy. They further suggest that gay marriage itself will be a source of harm to children. Anyone in society who cares about the well-being of children would reasonably be alarmed by these assertions.
One particularly reliable and trusted source in American society believes that gay marriage would be good for children. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) oversees the practice of psychiatrists in the United States and describes itself as “the voice and conscience of modern psychiatry” (2012). The APA published a position statement in which it resolved that legal recognition of gay marriage would be consistent with “maintaining and promoting mental health” (last paragraph of the position statement). The APA also stated that “no research has shown that the children raised by lesbians and gays are less well adjusted than those reared within heterosexual relationships” (fourth paragraph of position statement). The APA is advocating for gay marriage as a way to provide stability both for the adult partners in a same-sex relationship as well as for their children. The APA, whose entire focus is promoting the mental well-being of all Americans, has expressed support of gay marriage. Its position on gay marriage deserves consideration in this debate and in fact should carry substantial weight.
Arguments about the origin of homosexuality, specifically whether it is a choice or genetically determined, serve merely to distract American society from the important business of assuring that all citizens are treated equally and fairly. Babst (2009) referred to these arguments as “old [and] arguably tired” (p. vii). Rather, he suggested it was important to focus on the intent of the Constitution. Babst presented his interpretation that “the Constitution, properly understood, offers nothing less than full and equal citizenship before the law.” He further asserted that the protections of the Constitution must be “sincere,” and are not to be taken lightly (p. viii). Babst articulated the arguments made throughout the literature in favor of gay marriage: gay marriage is not a moral, religious, or medical issue but a constitutional and legal issue of fairness and equality. The discourse and debate about gay marriage best serves American society when it focuses on, or at the very least incorporates, discussion about the constitutional underpinnings of this country.
There are abundant legal and economic disadvantages for LGBT individuals who cannot become legally married. Mohr (2005) outlined the broad categories of benefits provided by marriage: “income tax advantages including deductions, credits, improved rates, and exemptions . . . enhanced public assistance . . . equitable control, division, acquisition, and disposition of community property . . . right of inheritance in the absence of wills . . . [Marriage] virtually eliminates inheritance taxes between spouses . . . confers a right to bring a wrongful death suit. And it confers the right to receive survivor’s benefits” (pp. 63-64). This is an extensive list of legal and economic advantages and shows how far-reaching the benefits of marriage are in a person’s day-to-day life. LGBT couples are legally deprived of these benefits in all states not allowing gay marriage and are deprived of the federal tax benefits listed by Mohr. Clearly, LGBT couples are not being treated fairly and equally under the law when they can be excluded from these legal and economic advantages.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996 and has had sweeping negative effects on LGBT families. Johnson (2006) described the provisions of DOMA. First, it provides for the narrow definition of marriage as “between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Secondly, the legislation ensures that marriages legalized in one state need not be recognized in the other forty-nine states. Johnson further delineated that all federal benefits that apply to married couples—there are 1,138 of these benefits, including provisions of the Social Security law and the Family Medical Leave Act, among others—are rendered completely unavailable to same-gender couples, whether legally married or in a civil union (p. 199). This piece of federal legislation has dramatically impacted the treatment of LGBT couples. They do not have the freedom to move around the country with their marital status intact, and they are unfairly deprived of hundreds of federal benefits that marriage accrues to heterosexual couples. This legislation is an egregious violation of the American principle of fair and equal treatment under the law and nothing less than its repeal can remedy this violation.
The main arguments against gay marriage are along religious and moral grounds. Dailey (2012) quoted a Pew research poll from 2003 which stated that “the most common reasons given for objecting to gay and lesbian marriage are moral and religious,” with most opponents saying that gay marriage “runs counter to their religious beliefs” (from “Polls cite moral objections to homosexuality” section). This statement expresses the objections consistently noted throughout the literature review completed for this paper, as stated by both opponents and proponents of gay marriage. It is significant that no sources propose legal or constitutional objections to gay marriage. This means that proponents of gay marriage must acknowledge the religious belief systems of opponents of gay marriage and reassure them that legalizing gay marriage will not affect their religious beliefs or their religious practices.
Some religious sources acknowledge that legalizing gay marriage will not affect their religious practices. Green (2009) reported on responses of pastors to the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Green quoted one pastor as stating, “This decision has no bearing on the church whatsoever . . . there is no obligation for the church to marry people of the same sex. We can have our own qualifications” (paragraph three of the article). This pastor is clearly stating that churches will continue to be free to practice their religious beliefs; legalizing gay marriage will not force any religious institution to conduct marriage ceremonies that conflict with their particular beliefs. This is a highly significant statement that should serve to ease the fears of people whose religious faith precludes the recognition of gay marriage within their religious practice.
The religious and moral arguments against gay marriage have invaded the political realm and serve to dangerously erode the American constitutional principles of liberty and equality under the law. In his book, A Time to Embrace (2006), William Stacy Johnson described himself as “a professional theologian, an ordained minister, and a Christian deeply committed to the gospel” (p. 2). He dedicated his book to his wife, Louise, who is also a pastor and teaches Scripture (p. x). Johnson also identified himself as a lawyer and expressed his dismay at watching “large swaths of society . . . become content to treat gay couples and their children with legal and economic indifference” (p. 2). Johnson stated that a “principle of liberty is inherent in our political system,” and that the “’due process’ clause provides a . . . guarantee that individuals will be treated fairly.” He went on to describe the “inherent right of equality under the law” that is written into the Constitution. Johnson argued for the imperative that these principles be applied to gay people “in keeping with the highest and best of democratic values” (pp. 160-161). Johnson is in a unique position to speak to both the legal and religious aspects of the question of gay marriage; he clearly believes that it is critical to treat LGBT citizens with respect as human beings as well as with equality under the law. Johnson adds an educated and reasoned voice to the debate around the legalization of gay marriage. Religious groups and individuals who object to gay marriage should consider his ideas as they ponder this issue.
While the opposition to gay marriage falls mainly along religious and moral grounds, there is not consistency among religious groups in their stance on gay marriage. Wolfson (2004) quoted a twelve-page Vatican document released in 2003 which declared that “homosexual unions [are not] remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” and that “homosexual acts go against the moral law” (p. 106.). Wolfson went on to describe a declaration signed in Massachusetts by religious leaders from “Baptists to Buddhists and from Episcopalians to Jews” that affirmed their support of gay marriage. He also quoted a pastor of an evangelical church in Michigan who made it clear that while he and his church “have firm convictions about sexuality . . . our ministry is primarily about people’s spiritual life and not about pushing a political agenda” (p. 107). Not all religious leaders are campaigning against gay marriage; in fact, many are expressing their support of gay marriage and the importance of separating religious views from political actions. This lack of agreement among religious groups strongly suggests that there is danger in basing laws on one particular religion’s view and reaffirms the prudence of passing laws that firmly rest on constitutional principles.
Many religious people believe that their faith and moral principles require that they not only be welcoming to gays and lesbians but also affirming of those gay couples who wish to become married couples. Mohr (2005) described the struggle many Protestant churches have had with the contradiction between the “Christian commitment to an ethics of love” and the exclusion of LGBT individuals from their religious practices. Mohr provided examples of denominations who have resolved this contradiction by fully embracing LGBT individuals as members and clergy as well as by performing same-sex wedding ceremonies, “sometimes even to the point of civil disobedience” (p. 123). Johnson (2006) asserted that Christian churches have an obligation to “craft a new teaching that can guide the people of God into a new day” in order to be “consistent with everything we know about the gospel” (p. 72). He argued for an inclusive and celebratory attitude toward gay and lesbian couples whose love and commitment to each other rise above portrayals of homosexual love as degrading or impure (pp. 80-82). These authors have explored an alternative view of what religious and moral standards may require: a more loving and accepting attitude toward LGBT individuals and couples. This is an important perspective on religious, and particularly Christian, principles that has so far been nearly absent from the discussion about gay marriage.
Gay families are part of the fabric of American society and need the same support systems as other families, yet they remain vulnerable because they lack the affirmation and protections of marriage. Children in gay families are affected detrimentally in a variety of ways because their LGBT parents cannot get married. Society can be reassured by reliable research and authorities that LGBT parents are as capable of providing loving and safe homes for children as heterosexual parents. Arguments about the origin of homosexuality distract society from the business of ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally and fairly. The main objections to gay marriage, which fall along religious and moral grounds, deserve a deeper examination. In a democratic society whose ideals are espoused in the words from The Pledge of Allegiance, “with Liberty and Justice for all,” the debate about whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as other American citizens ought to be moot. Yet for many individuals, their religious beliefs interfere with their ability to separate church from state. Marriage as defined by a religion can be honored within that religion. Living up to the responsibilities to protect children and support their families is a societal obligation that falls upon everyone in American society, and this requires the recognition of gay marriage in all fifty states.
American Psychiatric Association. (2005). Position statement: Support of legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage. Retrieved from http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/PositionStatements/200502.aspx.
American Psychiatric Association (2012). About APA. Retrieved from http://www.psych.org/FunctionalMenu/AboutAPA.aspx.
Babst, G. A., Gill, E. R., & Pierceson, J. (Eds.). (2009). Moral argument, religion, and same-sex marriage: Advancing the public good. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Barnes, A., & Watkins, J. A. (2011). The truth about family life (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.
Benne, R., & McDermott, G. (2004). Speaking out: Why gay marriage would be harmful. Christianity Today, web-only. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/februaryweb-only/2-1-41.0.html.
Cahill, S. (2009). The disproportionate impact of antigay family policies on Black and Latino same-sex couple households. Journal of African American Studies, 13, 219-250. doi:10.1007/s12111-008-9060-7
Dailey, T. J. (2012). Polls cite moral objections to homosexuality. The slippery slope of same-sex ‘marriage,’a printable brochure retrieved from Family Research Council web site at http://frc.org/get.cfm?i=bc04c02.
Goldberg, A. E., & Kuvalanka, K. A. (2012). Marriage (in)equality: The perspectives of adolescents and emerging adults with lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 34-52. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2011.00876.x.
Green, J. (2009, April). Iowa churches: We need to be clear on same-sex marriage. Christianity Today, web only. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/aprilweb-only/115-21.0.html.
Johnson, W. S. (2006). A time to embrace: Same-gender relationships in religion, law, and politics. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Mohr, R. D. (2005). The long arc of justice: Lesbian and gay marriage, equality, and rights. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Wolfson, E. (2004). Why marriage matters: America, equality, and gay people’s right to marry. NewYork: NY: Simon & Schuster.