May 17, 2004
By Jennifer A. Marshall
data indicate that the intact family-defined as a man and a woman
who marry, conceive, and raise their children together-best ensures
the current and future welfare of children and society when
compared with other common forms of households. As
alternative family forms have become more prevalent since the
1960s, social science research and government surveys have
indicated an accompanying rise in a number of serious social
interest in marriage has been based primarily on its interest in
the welfare of the next generation. Among the many types of social
relationships, marriage has always had a special place in all legal
traditions, our own included, because it is the essential
foundation of the intact family, and no other family form has been
able to provide a commensurate level of social security.
In all other
common family and household forms, the risk of negative individual
outcomes and family disintegration is much greater, increasing the
risk of dependence on state services. A free society requires a
critical mass of individuals in stable households who are not
dependent on the state. The most stable and secure household, the
available research shows, is the intact family. Therefore, the
state has an interest in protecting the intact family and we should
be cautious about facilitating other forms of household, the
effects of which are either deleterious or unknown.
counterparts in other common household arrangements, adolescents in
intact families have better health, are less likely to be
depressed, are less likely to repeat a grade in school, and have
fewer developmental problems, data show. By contrast, national
surveys reveal that, as a group, children in other family forms
studied are more likely to experience poverty, abuse, behavioral
and emotional problems, lower academic achievement, and drug use.
These surveys illustrate
During the 1990s, a serious public policy
debate resulted when emerging social science data showed the
consequences of several decades of experimentation with family
forms. Out of this increased awareness grew a movement for policy
and cultural changes to reinforce and restore marriage in America.
Policy decisions-such as welfare reform-were grounded in these
data. We have seen some of the fruit of those efforts in declining
rates of teen sex and childbearing.
By contrast, the current debate over
same-sex marriage is not anchored in sound research, and data on
the consequences of children being brought up by same-sex couples
remains scarce. Same-sex couples with children constitute a new
form of household that has not been carefully studied. Nor has the
objective of this policy discussion been clearly defined as the
interest of children or the future of the nation's
Same-sex marriage advocates propose that we
institutionalize a social experiment in its early stages by
elevating it in law to the status of the oldest of institutions:
marriage. That experiment is the same-sex coupling and parenting
recently taking place around us. To be sure, Americans have become
more accepting of other types of sexual experimentation-sex outside
of marriage, cohabitation, single parenting-but do not equate them
with or see them as a substitute for marriage. None of these
experiments has been regarded in law as the equivalent of the
intact family. Yet this is precisely the proposal before us on the
question of same-sex marriage: that we institutionalize in law an
experiment about which we have very little knowledge.
The data on the
homosexual household is extremely limited. We know relatively
little about the long-term effects of homosexual relationships on
partners and even less about the children that will be raised in
such households. Such an absence of data should give us pause
before reconfiguring the basic institution of society. Thus we
should study the results of the current experiment in homosexual
households with children rather than forcing communities at large
to accept, by law, same-sex marriage and parenting.
We should also
further explore what it is about marriage that sets the intact
family apart in the current research . Many would contend that the
unique natures and contributions of a male and a female constitute
the critical characteristic of marriage, and that the distinctive
sexual nature and identity of each parent, along with their number
(two rather than one) and relationship status (marriage rather than
cohabitation), gives the intact family the exceptional quality it
exhibits. This needs to be examined carefully, to determine how
having two parents of opposite sexes contributes to the upbringing
of a child.
meantime, with the policy debate forced by same-sex marriage
advocates beyond the conclusions of existent social science
research, we must look to the best evidence currently available
about family forms and their social impacts. What we know about
alternative family forms is a good indicator of what we might
expect from this variant.
policymaking should be informed by the realities of available
empirical evidence. In time, the data will be forthcoming on this
newest form of experimentation, same-sex partnering and parenting,
and its effects on homosexual men and women and on those who live
with them. In the meantime America's marriage and family law should
stay the course based on what we do know.
Jennifer Marshall is
Director of Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage
Social science data indicate that the intact family best ensuresthe current and future welfare of children and society whencompared with other common forms of households.
Jennifer A. Marshall
Director, Domestic Policy Studies
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