Marital stability is good for children. Everyone agrees.
On the cultural right Mark Regnerus believes that children do best in stable families.
On the cultural left William Saletan also believes that children do best in stable families.
In the midst of the brouhaha over Regnerus’ flawed study of same-sex parenting Saletan has tried to lower the heat and shed some light on the issues.
He argues that if stable family life is best for children, then we should work to stabilize same-sex couples by affording them the right to marry.
He says that it’s up to gay married parents to demonstrate that they can provide a stable family environment for their children.
Thus, culture warriors on the left and the right now favor stable marriages. If those are the terms that are leading the debate over the Regnerus study then a more important issue is being obscured.
If we should now all favor marital stability, we have the right to ask whether leftist culture warriors have always been so concerned about intact families.
For decades now some members of the cultural left have argued that marriage is a patriarchal institution constructed to oppress women. The message did not promote stable marriages. It destroyed marriages.
If divorce is bad for children why have leftist culture warriors been saying that couples that are unhappy in their marriage do not need to stay together for the children?
And this is before we touch the issue of transforming gender roles and promoting conflict in the kitchen. Historically, both have tended to destabilize marriages.
It’s good to recognize that a stable home is good for children. Some of us have been saying so for decades now. The culture left has not.
While Regnerus has been roundly and reasonably criticized for his methodology we should not ignore all of his findings.
Among them are his summary of research finding that children who are brought up in a stable home with their biological parents do better than children brought up in any other familial configuration.
By that he means that the traditional family is a better environment for children than single-parent homes, adoptive parents, or same-sex unmarried parents.
Surely, there are stark exceptions to the rule. Yet, the data on this issue, as opposed to the same-sex issue, are clear and unambiguous.
If we examine the way Regnerus framed the issue in an article on Slate, we find that his thinking is more subtle than his opponents would make it out to be.
Here he states the policy issue:
On the other hand, it may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form while Americans continue to flee the stable, two-parent biological married model, the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.
Here he makes important points.
First, homosexual relationships have tended in the past to be less stable.
Saletan would reply that same-sex marriage is a step toward stabilizing them.
Yet, marriage has not stabilized opposite-sex relationships of late, so one has a right to question the reasoning.
And, same-sex marriage with children is not the same as a same-sex marriage without children.In a same-sex marriage at least one of the parents will necessarily be an adoptive parent.
If the research shows that children of adoptive parents do not do as well as children of biological parents, what will happen when a child, at best, is raised by one of each?
Second, the group of people who would be affected by same-sex marriage and parenting is very, very small. Very few people are homosexual and fewer still will eventually want to marry.
Why, Regnerus asks, have we are we spending so much time debating an issue that affects so few people when more and more Americans are getting divorced or are fleeing traditional marriage altogether?
In nearly all human cultures since the beginning of time heterosexual marriage has been privileged because it is the means by which community, family, and genes perpetuate themselves.
In a culture that affirms that there is no difference between same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage is not well placed to spend its capital enhancing the reputation of opposite-sex marriage.
And then there is this: if, as feminists have contended, traditional marriage was a means of oppressing women, why are its proponents not suggesting that same-sex marriage is an improvement, for not being oppressive or hetero-normative.
Some have suggested that granting gays the right to marry will naturally enhance the value of a tattered institution. One does not immediately understand how making same-sex and opposite-sex marriage functionally equivalent is going to enhance the value of the latter.
Within the context of the feminist war on traditional or patriarchal marriage, the glorification of same-sex marriage cannot merely be seen as an innocent addition to the institution. It will be understood, perhaps improperly, as yet another assault on the privileged status that we ought, if we look at the research, to be granting to opposite-sex marriage. For the sake of the children.
If you believe that the marital estate is an instrument of oppression you does best to exit or avoid it. If the marital estate has a special value then you does best to stay in it in order to provide a stable home for children.