Supporting Traditional Marriage

I recently got an email from a former BYU student, now doing doctoral work in engineering in the Midwest. This young man wrote:

I have a co-worker with whom I have been discussing the issue of same-sex marriage and the repercussions on society. He is pro-family in a traditional sense, but is unsure on his political responsibility in that regard. The co-worker said to me: “The real issue I want to learn more about is the affect on a child of growing up with same-sex parents. I’m sure there is very little data on this.”

So my former student was asking for any help I might give in answering this question. I’m sharing here what I wrote in response.

To try to answer your question–

Dr. Richard Williams, currently one of the VPs at BYU, wrote an article reviewing several studies that attempted to demonstrate that there was no difference between children being raised by same-gender parents and children raised by different-gender parents. His article examines the flaws in their research and maintains that we cannot demonstrate that there will be no loss to children. I believe that article appears in the first Family Proclamation book (the big blue one, entitled Strengthening Marriage and Families), and is entitled, “A Critique of the Research on Same-Sex Parenting.” I tried to google it and didn’t come up with it online but it should be a chapter in that book.

Richard is a really good man, very bright. However, it’s been years since I read that article so I can’t say for sure how much information—of the specific kind you’re seeking—it offers.

I have spoken on this subject myself, once as a part of the “What’s the Harm?” Conference at the J. Reuban Clark Law School a few years ago that was all about the negative impacts legalization of same-sex marriage would have on families and society.

My approach was to cite a lot of the research on how children are impacted by the maleness of their fathers in certain ways and by the femaleness of their mothers in other particular ways. I never wrote up the presentation (should have, but broke a shoulder in a motorcycle accident) for the resulting journal of the conference, so I’m afraid I can’t offer a write-up of that presentation. (I do have a CD of it available on my website. It’s called “Strengthening Men, Women, and Families.” It’s not the presentation done at the Law School so it doesn’t have a pointed emphasis on the dangers of same-sex marriage to children, but a lot of the information is there.)

So, here are a few thoughts–

There are two wonderful and fascinating compendiums of research on the impact of fathering/maleness on kids.

Fatherless America
by David Blankenhorn
Life Without Father by David Popenoe

They may be out of print but they’re not hard to find online. I find them compelling and quote them often on this and other related subjects.

I don’t have a book to point you to, but there is a lot of research on mothers’ impacts on children. A lot of what we know is pretty intuitive anyway. As the proclamation says, women are more naturally nurturing. Just the way they hold babies shows a big difference. Moms cuddle and dads hold up kids by their thumbs and swing them around. Research–not to mention common sense–shows that those differences are significant and beneficial for kids. As Popenoe puts it, “Mothers give their children roots and fathers give them wings.” A poetic statement that summarizes research fairly well.

I did a study myself while on campus (never tried to publish it, what was my problem??) that won me a research award, nevertheless, at a Family Science Conference in NY. It showed that college-age kids most closely believed what they believed that their mothers believed (if you follow that). As opposed to what they believed their fathers believed or what their fathers or mothers actually believed (by the parents’ report). Sort of an echo from Helaman, “they had been taught by their mothers . . . they did not doubt their mothers knew it.” So mothers are huge in the transfer of values–again, as it has been so eloquently stated, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

You’ll get some fascinating info on fathers’ impacts from the books I mentioned–and seriously, they are worth the read.

Now, tying this back to your question–

Motherhood is obviously, in most cases, biological. The mother-child bond is well-known and acknowledged. The horrifying times when a mother violates that bond (e.g. throwing her child away, or killing a child) shock us on a deep level because of that bond. That’s not going to change and although the love of men waxing cold seems too often to include women, it’s still tough to break that bond.

Fatherhood is considered to be more of a cultural construct. The bond between a father and a child grows, largely based on the father’s acceptance of that relationship tie and his acceptance of  the responsibility to provide for and protect that child. When society requires that of men, things work out well. When society no longer defines fathers much beyond the role of sperm-donor, fathers typically do not stay involved with kids.

As divorce has become more prevalent and more acceptable in our society, the number of children who do not have a male parent involved in their lives has skyrocketed. Those kids suffer the effects/losses of not having a father (see Blankenhorn and Popenoe for specifics). Marriage is what binds a father to his children. In fact, it is “married fatherhood” that describes a successful father-child relationship best.

Incidentally, it is not just children that lose out when fathers are not culturally and socially bound to their children. Married fathers are a very small percentage of men in our prisons. Married fatherhood has a huge and measurable civilizing effect on men. So not only are children tremendously advantaged by a father in residence but so are men and so is society at large.

Legalizing same-sex marriage is not about the sound bites–“let us share in the opportunity to be in a committed relationship, too.” Although the proponents want this to be a civil rights issue–all having access to the same privileges–it is not a civil rights issue. It is a fabric-of-society issue. Many of the primary (but behind the scenes) movers and shakers of the same-sex marriage movement have openly stated that their goal is to destroy marriage. Once same-sex marriage is legal, and this is well-understood by its chief proponents and legal experts, there will be no way to prevent any kind of marriage, including polyamory, marriage to animals, marriage to children, etc. Marriage will, sooner than we probably fear, be meaningless as an institution. AND THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE IS WHAT BINDS FATHERS TO CHILDREN. (Several years ago, I read a fascinating piece on how the Vatican II admission of homosexual men to the Catholic seminaries–and their subsequent ordination as priests–which was seen as a civil rights issue, ultimately undermined forever the institution of the priesthood. The article was written in an effort to warn against seeing “gay marriage” as a civil rights issue. Very interesting.)

BTW, although we do see homosexual men partners adopting children, that is by far the exception so it generally will mean that fewer children will have a male influence in their lives. But in either case, a male-male partnership or a female-female partnership, the child ends up without the essential gender combination of parenting influence that provides an optimal developmental environment. Of course, the Family Proclamation states that all children are entitled to birth within a family with a mother and a father but our politically correct society is clearly less and less willing to accept the essential value of that family composition. It sometimes becomes more about the “rights” of adults to have children than the rights of children to have what they need (as tragically evident in the abortion issue).

I have often heard the argument–“isn’t it better for a child to have loving gay parents than to be left in foster care or without parents, at all?” Yeah, maybe. But there is no shortage of married, heterosexual couples who will adopt and as for the kids in foster care, very few people are adopting them anyway. That’s not the pool that’s being drawn from. Generally, gay couples are using insemination or surrogacy.

So, again, diminishing the stability of marriage with more lenient divorce has hugely impacted children in negative ways because fathers are less a part of their kids’ lives. For decades now, we have known that the single best predictor of ALL ADOLESCENT PROBLEMS (drugs, drinking, teen sex, dropping out of school, trouble with the law, you name it) is having been raised in a single-parent (read father absent) home. Some states have finally realized the huge costs of easier divorce and have tried to tighten up divorce laws, but once things slide it’s almost impossible to pull them back.

Legalizing same-sex marriage will take this problem a giant step further by weakening and ultimately destroying the cultural requirement for fathers to be tied to their children. And once we take that step, there will be no going back.

I’m sure there are other, perhaps more subtle, impacts on children as well. Although certainly heterosexual marriage is at a 50% divorce rate, which has already created huge problems for kids, same-sex partnerships are much more unstable and, though there are certainly exceptions, tend not to endure.

Personally, I think we all see the writing on the wall. Same-sex marriage will eventually be legal. But the longer we can protect traditional marriage, the longer we can offer some protection for our society’s children.

End of my email response——-

I know the reasons to defend traditional marriage have been difficult for some to understand. But one last thought for those of us who are members of the Church: When was the last time the prophets were wrong?


  1. Pops says:

    I think the biggest challenge we face in defending the institution of marriage is that too many people are too easily swayed by feel-good arguments and are unable or unwilling to think the issue through in a logical fashion.

    Take, for example, the “equal protection” argument. If one wishes to argue “equal protection” on the basis of sexual attraction and love, the argument fails because marriage law makes no attempt to qualify on that basis.

    A less inane argument is that there aren’t significant gender roles in marriage, which is (at least by my reading) the basis for the rejection of Prop 8 by Judge Walker. That is, if there is some demonstrable benefit that accrues to the state as a result of gender roles in marriage, Prop 8 is, in fact, constitutional. But Judge Walker’s assertion that there are no gender roles, or that they provide no benefit to the state, is clearly incorrect.

    Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

  2. Stan says:

    I’m with Pops on this one: it’s too easy to use an emotional appeal to short circuit good logic.

    I still recall the first time I saw someone attempting to sell same-sex marriage as a “civil rights” issue; frankly, I was dumbfounded that the comparison to racial issues of the past were being used as a parallel. I thought it was just someone being cute–a fluke.

    Boy was I wrong.

    While I can make a secular case against same-sex marriage, I worry about the fact that we are somehow not allowed to bring in higher reasoning for supporting a God-ordained institution. I very strongly suspect there are drawbacks to altering that institution that we simply are not capable of understanding with our mortal minds.

    At any rate, the arguments for same-sex marriage really are, in my opinion, quite flimsy–as Pops pointed out. It’s unfortunate that so few people seem willing or able to get past whatever surface value those arguments have, and see the less pleasant truths beneath.

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