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Marriage Equality and Same-Sex Parenting: The Real Evidence

Mon 6 Aug 2012 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

What arguments might Family First and the Christian Right make against the prospect of marriage equality? In this article, I'll investigate the likeliest rhetoric that we have already heard and can expect to hear. 1. Opening up same-sex marriage is opposed to 'traditional values': Merely because something is labelled 'traditional' should not mean that it is entitled to automatic approval. Slavery, anti-Semitism, apartheid and Southern US racist segregation, the routine use of torture, capital punishment and marital rape all used to be religiously sanctioned 'traditions', yet major western societies have expanded the ambit of our moral communities and recognised that the above are gross denials of human rights and human dignity. 2. Gay men are "promiscuous" and don't respect monogamy or the institution of marriage: In actual fact, this is confusing metaphorical apples and oranges. Most HIV/AIDS prevention research indicates that there is a wide spectrum of gay male frequency and number of sexual partners. In any case, lesbians haven't had as many sexual opportunities and may be more monogamous than gay men are... and is it fair to discriminate against an elderly lesbian or gay couple who have been together for over fifty or sixty years? 3. Same-sex marriage is an 'attack' on the institution of marriage: Not this old chestnut again. Previous generations of religious and other social conservatives tended to advance this rhetoric whenever it came to anything related to greater equity within heterosexual marriage, ranging from liberalised divorce laws to greater equality in spousal property distribution and married women's property ownership to the criminalisation of spousal rape. Speaking of which, how exactly does opening same-sex marriage up affect heterosexual propensity to either marry or not marry? Cohabitation, effective contraception, heterosexual divorce and solo parenthood have been increasing steadily since the sixties, long before homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand back in 1986? Ending marriage discrimination may rehabilitate the institution amongst younger heterosexuals, showing that it is a flexible and adaptive institution and may meet their needs. 4. This will "force" religious social conservatives to marry lesbian and gay couples: Nonsense. Given that most lesbians and gay men are more strongly secularised than our straight counterparts, it stands to reason that any marriages carried out will predominantly be civil marriages, before a registered civil celebrant, as is currently the case with civil unions. In practise, LGBT communities and fundamentalist Christians occupy different social spheres and there is usually little overlap. This may refer to hire of church halls for same-sex marriages- not all denominations or faiths would be willing to deny it, for that matter. In the case of fundamentalist officials, perhaps they should be free to opt out of provision of goods and services in this context if it conflicts with their principles, but only if there is provision for someone more convivial to take over. Most overseas same-sex marriage legislation respects religious conservative free speech, freedom of belief, conscience, assembly and worship. They will still be free to believe that homosexuality and lesbianism is 'immoral' and therefore refuse to carry out same-sex marriages, not that most lesbians and gay men would want to come anywhere near their sects anyway. In a pluralist and diverse democratic society, while broad religious practise is a guaranteed human right, that does not mean open slather. Religious organisations should not be free to engage in practises that harm others, or expect public policy to reflect values that enshrine harmful practises as law. And moreover, there have also been instances where liberal ministers of religion have been arrested for following their conscience and beliefs and presiding over same-sex marriages in the United States- witness the arrest of Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey, Unitarian Universalist ministers in New Paltz, New York, when they and several other Unitarian ministers did so, back in 2004. 5. Same-sex marriage 'harms' children: That is an outright lie. Same-sex parenting does not harm children brought up within same-sex relationships, or the adults that they become. It is in the best interests of the child, provides stability and continuity of care and has abundant strengths of its own. There is an abundance of mainstream research from paediatrics and developmental psychology that suggests that LGBT relationship recognition, marriage equality and same-sex parenting all have neutral to positive effects on children brought up within lesbian/gay-led households. To reiterate the most common research findings- marriage equality and same-sex parenting do not affect the educational attainment or future employment prospects of such children, and same-sex parents have excellent levels of spousal communication, parent-child communication and disciplinary boundary setting. If boys are brought up in lesbian-led households, they have excellent interpersonal skills and take gender equality for granted when it comes to any heterosexual relationships that they might have in the future. As for girls, they tend to become assertive and independent young women and usually undertake employment in non-traditional and lucrative employment areas. They don't end up dropping out of school early and truncating their education because they have higher self-esteem. The above are why a range of mainstream child health, welfare and development organisations support marriage equality and same-sex parenting within the United States and elsewhere- the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the US National Association of Social Workers, the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Barnados and the Canadian Psychological Association. When it comes to research, that is published within peer reviewed journals. There is now enough such rigorous research to ground the public policy positions cited above. Indeed, the Florida Supreme Court recognised this when it came to striking down Florida's Anita Bryant era prohibition against adoption for eligible same-sex parents several years ago. Despite pretensions otherwise, the same cannot be said for Christian Right pseudoscience and "research" in this area (or indeed, any area!) Routinely, it suffers from faulty research design and methodology, like biased sampling techniques that compare children within divorced straight relationships or single parent families to those brought up within same-sex-led stable families. Numerous child health, development and welfare organisations have protested the misrepresentation of mainstream research in their area of expertise when it comes to Christian Right anti-marriage/anti-parenting antigay propaganda. One excellent recent example of this is Mark Regnerius' attack on same sex parenting, noted to be funded by three US Christian Right foundations and pressure groups- the Bradley Foundation, Witherspoon Institute and Hoover Institution. Now, one of the aforementioned three organisation's primary figures, Robert George (McCormick Professor of Law, Princeton University) is prominently figured on the pages of Family First and Right to Life New Zealand. And now Professor George "just happens" to be visiting New Zealand? Coincidence? Yeah, right. However, as this debate has continued, I've also noticed that there's a disconnect factor within the New Zealand Christian Right. For once, Colin Craig sounds relatively 'moderate.' Although he opposes marriage equality and adoption reform, he isn't opposed to civil unions and substantive relationship equality. Compare that to Bob McCoskrie of Family First. On his "MacBlog" blog site, he has admitted that he also opposes civil unions and substantive relationship equality: Hamish Price: August 2, 2012: 9.28 pm: "Bob, just to clarify. What is your position on civil unions?"[...] Bob [McCoskrie]: August 2, 2012: 10.31 pm: "Opposed-because knew it was marriage-lite designed to take a step toward marriage. Legal recognition could have been achieved without civil unions" [...] Hamish Price: August 2, 2012: 11.30 pm: "Thanks for that clarification, Bob. So your argument is that same sex couples shouldn't have marriage, because they have civil unions, but you weren't happy to give them civil unions anyway." "What legal recognition do you advocate for same-sex couples? How would this be achieved in your view?" Bob: 2 August: 11.31 pm: "Next of kin status. ie registering relationships for the purpose of property rights, hospital visitations etc" In other words, Family First leader Bob McCoskrie doesn't even support civil unions or comprehensive and substantive relationship equality, resolved in 2005. This raises an important question, which is whether the New Zealand Christian Right would be satisfied with a mere halt to marriage equality and adoption reform, or whether they have more radical ambitions, presumably using referenda to achieve that- like repealing civil unions and the Statutory References (Relationships) Act 2005. Would that that were the height of their misguided ambitions. However, Family First has printed an article from US Christian Right activist Professor Robert George, which goes even further than that: "No one, they said, would require religiously affiliated schools and social-service agencies to treat same-sex partners as spouses, or impose penalties or disabilities on those that dissent. No one would be fired from his or her job (or suffer employment discrimination) for voicing support for conjugal marriage or criticizing same-sex sexual conduct and relationships. " Ah. So, in other words, conservative Christians want special rights to discriminate against LGBT community member, even if they work outside core religious activities like an ordained ministry? Even if they work within the secular public sector or secular private companies? However, New Zealand dealt with these questions back when we passed the Human Rights Act in 1993- nearly twenty years ago. Granted, the United States still hasn't passed its federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but is that any excuse to support discrimination against same-sex individuals and their partners on the basis of family and spousal status? Just how far does the New Zealand Christian Right want to go? Are they lying about the true extent of their own radicalism and is there a slippery slope in this context which will endanger our other hard-won political achievements unless we win on marriage equality and adoption reform? Recommended: Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz: "Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?" American Sociological Review: 2001: 66(2): 159-183: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Amicus Curiae Brief of the American Psychiatric Association, Californian Psychiatric Association and American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (Perry versus Schwarzenegger, California): Brief presented to the Canadian House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C38 (Civil Marriage Bill 2005): Canadian Psychological Association: In re: Matter of Adoption of XXG and RRG (Adoptees): Australian Psychological Association: LGBT Families Literature Review: Patrick Letellier: Criminal clergy? Universalist minister Kay Greenleaf is facing criminal charges for marrying same-sex couples, but that hasn’t slowed her down: Advocate: July 20, 2004: Robert George: "Marriage, Religious Liberty and the Grand Bargain:" Family First: July 27, 2012: Bob McCoskrie: "Polygamy in the Elephant in the Room" MacBlog thread: (Started August 1, 2012): Craig Young - 6th August 2012    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Monday, 6th August 2012 - 11:30am

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