I've heard plenty of arguments against all sorts of moral evils based on the harm it might do to children. Gay marriage, adoption of children by lesbian couples, divorce, adoption of children by single parents, artificial insemination of various types of people, etc. We've not made it illegal for terribly poor people or people with transmittable diseases, or people with genetic illnesses, or people with bad breath or who live in a third-world nation to have kids -- yet couldn't any of these factors also harm the little guys? We have outlawed the forced sterilization of people who lack the cognitive abilities normally required to raise a child -- it had been practiced in various mental hospitals around the USA. Even though these people might lack the ability to make the decision not have a child (either by requesting sterilization or by avoiding sex or by taking precautions) they're entitled to have them, though the kids will likely be taken away from them at birth. You're allowed to have a kid knowing you'll give him AIDS or a heart defect, but you're not allowed to raise him in certain family configurations, for fear he might turn out 'weird'? Naturally, we should do something about kids who get beat up by their parents -- that's known, direct harm. We're taking them out of a situation already known to be harmful -- but pulling them out early, before any harm is know to have been done? Or preventing kids already in an orphanage from moving to a set of loving parents who happen to be unconventional?
Do children need a working father and a stay-at-home mother to grow up decently? Honestly, I've seen plenty of kids raised in such a supposedly ideal environment still turn out completely wrong. I've also seen kids grow up in the worst environments, and still make it out strong morally, physically, and intellectually.
If you know anything about kids, it's that they're resilient. They're fast learners, too. Stick them in a foreign country, drop them in front of a television, and they'll learn the language and customs of the area faster than you could, trying your best. They'll get the accent down pat before you even learn to ask the waiter to bring you more water! Drop them out on the street, and you'll soon have a roaming band of kids who hunt and gather for food ... it's a bit primitive, but they're really not that badly off. Stick them in an abusive family, and they'll find an outlet. Move them from foster family to foster family and they'll just find a way to learn and grow regardless. Perhaps parents shouldn't feel so much responsibility for how well (or not) their children turn out.
So when I'm told that a lesbian couple shouldn't be allowed to have kids by adoption or insemination or marriage (that is, we ban the marriage to try to prevent two women from living together and raising a kid) and even threaten to have social services take the children away to "a better place" when these circumstances come up, I've really got to wonder what's wrong with us. Have we, in our effort to dress up children as innocent angels, forgotten how strong they are? Are we so insecure as to think that kids only believe what they're told? Ask my parents, they'll certainly disagree on that point.
Kids usually have a mother and a father, it's a biological fact. Not all species on our planet have the kind of family life we believe in -- fathers often leave after mating season to hunt on their own, mothers share the responsibility of feeding all of their offspring with little regard to whose kid is whose ... it's a messy world when it comes to raising kids. What are we really like, honestly? Do we match our ideal model even remotely?
We can't prevent the death of a parent, or both. If this theory were to hold up, the children of such dead parents would be scarred beyond recognition. They're not. Children get tossed around social services, living in orphanages -- is that a normal family environment? Churches often took care of such children, but I don't think we could say that a local priest or monk and local nurses or nuns (not married to each other or living a life even remotely like a normal family life) are a good image of the ideal family. They seem to have turned out okay, no? Marriage, you say, will keep a family strong and together -- what do you think happens when someone screws up and gets sent to jail? Or, in a similar case, a perfectly legitimate divorce occurs? A father went to see a prostitute, so the wife divorced him and took the kids ... that marriage didn't protect the children from bad things happening, did it? It couldn't! That we should even dare to remove children from non-abusive parents because of how "quirky" they are is also of particular concern: how, exactly, is the trauma of removing a child from her own parent(s) and placing her in an orphanage or a foster home (or several, usually) better than the (supposed) trauma of staying with her or her parent(s)?
My instincts tell me that under all of this concern for the children there is in fact a deep sense of vulnerability: that if children were to grow up in "unusual" environments, they might come to accept these environments as normal, shifting the cultural perception of what is expected and acceptable, and what is not. Goodness! If children were to grow up with two fathers and no mother, they might start a trend by which our society would accept homosexuals! If they were to grow up in a single-mother environment, they might start to think that such things were good! And then where would we be?
You have too little faith in children. If they grow up in an "unusual" environment and feel harm from it, they will react. If worse came to worst, the human species might just stop reproducing (if they were to forget how that was supposed to happen,) and the problem would go away. Big deal. Your kids already balk when you try to feed them spinach. They already go off and listen to heavy metal just to piss you off. They decide that alcohol and smoking are bad for them because they watch you drink and smoke yourself to death. They get a blue-collar job just because they've seen what a white-collar job does to a person. They'll love you, but they'll take what they can from your mistakes, even if you don't realize they're mistakes. Do you really think they won't figure out something at least remotely good for themselves? Are we, as a species, really so weak? Are you, as a person?
Your kids will find a path for themselves, with or despite you. You can protect them from the reality of the world or you can make their lives a daily hell ... and they'll still pull through, finding their own way. It might hurt your ego to see this, but for some parents, this realization would be a blessing. Even the most unusual people have something to contribute, even when it comes to kids. Will a gay couple turn their kid gay? Probably not. Will a single mom make her kid thing that fathers aren't good or important? Probably not. Will the fact that a kid has a drunken father and a drugged-up mom, married and living together, mean that he'll turn out perfect? Probably not. Will a preacher's kid necessarily be a good kid? If only you knew ... they're generally some of the naughtiest (and best at hiding it) kids around.
Let's be honest: gay marriage and whatnot aren't about the children. If we were truly concerned about making sure that our kids grew up in the "best possible environment" (assuming that such a thing actually exists) then we'd be doing more than just trying to prevent gays from raising kids. It's just an excuse. Think of how often you've heard politicians use "Think of the children" as a phrase intended to show their adversaries as uncaring, anti-child murderers for not signing a bill into law that contains provisions they can't agree with (tax cuts, tax increases, pollution, whatever.) Excuses, deflection.
Take heart, have hope, and think of the children. But not like that.
Postscriptum: In light of Ensis' response (which has now been removed,) I'd like to point out that, as far as I can tell, I never said that parents shouldn't (or can't) attempt to teach their children values. What I have a problem with is one set of parents, not responsible for these children, deciding whether or not to allow certain other parents (or potential parents) to rear these children (sometimes their own biological children) based on sexual orientation, religion, or whatever else they feel like basing their judgment on. I think that's a bit different. Convicted murderers can raise kids, but not these law-abiding citizens? Ensis is right, we need a dialogue. May he who has never sinned cast the first stone, and then let everyone else join in to the fray: dialogue, like a good stoning, is grand. (Yes, that was a joke.)
[Editor's note:] I apologize to our readers that we don't have a better question / answer / response system: this site wasn't designed for that kind of back-and-forth argumentation. We can link articles to each other in a sort of rope, but that won't quite get the desired effect. For now, I figure it's easiest to keep each side's point of view contained in a given article, broken into chunks corresponding to pieces of the conversation. Maybe we'll hack something together later; in the mean time, we hope you have a good time trying to follow along.