Trayce Hansen, "Same-Sex Marriage: Not in the Best Interest of Children," The Therapist, May/June 2009. Reprinted at www.drtraycehansen.com/pages/writings_notinthebest.html. Copyright © 2009 by Trayce Hansen. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
Trayce Hansen is a licensed psychologist with a clinical and forensic practice and an interest in the areas of marriage, parenting, male/female differences, and homosexuality.
Supporters of same-sex marriage think that children really just need love, but this is not the case. Research shows that the ideal family structure for children is to be raised by both a mother and a father. Only this traditional type of family gives children the chance to relate to both a same-sex parent and a parent of the opposite sex. Although the research on same-sex parenting is very limited, some of it suggests that children raised in same-sex households will be more likely to be sexually confused and to experiment with sex. Also if same-sex marriage is allowed, it opens the door for other types of non-traditional marriage, such as polygamous relationships. Homosexual couples clearly can be just as loving to children as heterosexual couples, but love is not enough.
As mental health professionals, it's our ethical and moral obligation to support policies that are in the best interest of those we serve, particularly those who are most vulnerable—namely, children. Same-sex marriage may be in the best interest of adult homosexuals who yearn for social and legal recognition of their unions, but it's not in the best interest of children.
A Two-Parent, Mother-Father Family Is Ideal
Proponents of same-sex marriage believe love is all children really need. Based on that supposition, they conclude it's just as good for children to be raised by loving parents of the same sex, as by loving parents of the opposite sex. But that basic assumption—and all that flows from it—is naively simplistic and denies the complex nature and core needs of human beings.
Fathers reduce behavioral problems in boys and psychological problems in girls.
According to decades of research, the ideal family structure for children is a two-parent, mother-father family. That research consistently shows that children raised in such families are more likely to thrive—psychologically, mentally, and physically—than children reared in any other kind of family configuration.
Extensive research also reveals that not only mothers, but also fathers, are critical to the healthy development of children. Swedish researchers reviewed the best longitudinal studies from around the world that assessed the effects of fathers on children's development. Their review spanned 20 years of studies and included over 22,000 children, and found that fathers reduce behavioral problems in boys and psychological problems in girls, enhance cognitive development, and decrease delinquency.
It's clear that children benefit from having both a male and female parent. Recent medical research confirms genetically determined differences between men and women and those fundamental differences help explain why mothers and fathers bring unique characteristics to parenting that can't be replicated by the other sex. Mothers and fathers simply aren't interchangeable. Two women can both be good mothers, but neither can be a good father. One-sex parenting, whether by a single parent or a homosexual couple, deprives children of the full range of parenting offered by dual-sex couples.
Only mother-father families afford children the opportunity to develop relationships with a parent of the same, as well as the opposite sex. Relationships with both sexes early in life make it easier and more comfortable for a child to relate to both sexes later in life. Overall, having a relationship with both a male and female parent increases the likelihood that a child will have successful social and romantic relationships during his or her life.
Problems with Same-Sex Parented Families
Moreover, existing research on children reared by homosexuals is not only scientifically flawed and extremely limited but some of it actually indicates that those children are at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes. Other studies find that homosexually parented children are more likely to experiment sexually, experience sexual confusion, and engage in homosexual and bisexual behavior themselves. And for those children who later engage in non-heterosexual behavior, extensive research reveals they are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders, abuse alcohol and drugs, attempt suicide, experience domestic violence and sexual assault, and are at increased risk for chronic diseases, AIDS, and shortened life spans.
Same-sex marriage no doubt will increase sexual confusion and sexual experimentation by young people.
It shouldn't be surprising that studies find children reared by homosexuals are more likely to engage in homosexual behavior themselves since extensive worldwide research reveals homosexuality is primarily environmentally induced. Specifically, social and/or family factors, as well as permissive environments which affirm homosexuality, play major environmental roles in the development of homosexual behavior. There's no question that human sexuality is fluid and pliant. Consider ancient Greece and Rome—among many early civilizations—where male homosexuality and bisexuality were nearly ubiquitous. That was not so because most of those men were born with a "gay gene," rather because sexuality is malleable and socially influenced.
Same-sex marriage no doubt will increase sexual confusion and sexual experimentation by young people, the implicit and explicit message of same-sex marriage is that all choices are equally acceptable and desirable. So even children from traditional homes—influenced by the all-sexual-options-are-equal message—will grow up thinking it doesn't matter whom one relates to sexually or marries. Holding such a belief will lead some—if not many—young people to consider sexual and marital arrangements they never would have contemplated previously.
It also must be expected that if society permits same-sex marriage, it also will have to allow other types of non-traditional marriage. The legal logic is simple: If prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory, then disallowing polygamous marriage, polyamorous marriage, or any other marital grouping also will be deemed discriminatory. In fact, such legal maneuverings have already begun. The emotional and psychological ramifications of these assorted arrangements on the developing psyches and sexuality of children would be disastrous.
Fighting for the Needs of Children
To date, very little research exists that assesses long-term outcomes for homosexually parented children. According to Charlotte Patterson, a self-proclaimed, pro-same-sex-marriage researcher, there are only two longitudinal studies of children raised by lesbians. And no long-term studies of children raised by homosexual men. A professional organization dedicated to the welfare of its patients cannot and should not support drastic change in social policy based on just two, small and non-representative longitudinal studies.
Certainly homosexual couples can be just as loving toward children as heterosexual couples, but children need more than love. They require the distinctive qualities and complementary natures of a male and female parent. The accumulated wisdom of over 5,000 years concludes that the ideal marital and parental configuration is composed of one man and one woman. This time-tested wisdom is now supported by the most advanced, scientifically sound research available.
Importantly, and to their credit, many self-proclaimed pro-same-sex-marriage researchers acknowledge that there is as of yet no definitive evidence as to the impact of homosexual parenting on children. Regardless, some of those advocates support same-sex marriage because they believe it offers a natural laboratory in which to assess the long-term impact on children. That position is unconscionable and indefensible.
Same-sex marriage isn't in the best interest of children. While we may empathize with those homosexuals who long to be married and parent children, we mustn't allow our compassion for them to trump our compassion for children. In a contest between the desires of some homosexuals and the needs of all children, we cannot allow the children to lose.