Do children matter in Maryland?
That is the question that will be at stake in 2011, when the Maryland legislature considers radically changing the definition of our most fundamental social institution — marriage.
The question of whether Maryland should place its highest stamp of official government affirmation on sexual unions between two men or two women actually has little to do with debates over "sexual orientation" and even less to do with bromides about "equality."
Instead, the core issue is whether the birth and nurture of children remains a priority in this state. It is the core issue because these have always been the central purposes of the social institution called marriage.
Some same-sex couples argue that they want to marry for the same reasons that many opposite-sex couples do. But the personal reasons why any one individual couple chooses to marry are also not the primary concern of the state.
Instead, the fundamental issue in debating the definition of marriage must be: What is the public purpose of marriage? Why is marriage treated as a public institution at all?
The answer was obvious to anyone who lived in any culture or civilization, anywhere in the world, throughout most of human history. Only in the present young century have some people become confused about it.
Marriage is a public institution because it serves two public purposes: bringing together men and women for the reproduction of the human race and keeping together a man and woman to raise to maturity the children produced by their union.
The existence of future generations of children is fundamental to the survival of any society. The quality of their nurture is directly related to the quality of life in that society. Bonding the man and woman whose sexual union produces a child to one another and to that child is by far the most efficient way of ensuring that nurture.
Advocates of same-sex marriage claim that this concept (dubbed "responsible procreation" in several court decisions) cannot be the purpose of marriage because some opposite-sex couples marry without procreating. But again, this confuses the private purposes for marrying (which are not the legislature's business) with the public purposes of the institution of marriage (which are).
Opposite-sex relationships are the only type capable of producing children through natural intercourse and the only ones assured of providing children with both a mother and a father. Affirming only opposite-sex relationships as "marriage" thus makes perfect sense. But affirming same-sex relationships as "marriages" makes no sense. These relationships are incapable of producing children through their sexual union.
And while some homosexual couples do raise children (most of whom were conceived in previous heterosexual relationships), such arrangements by definition deprive a child of his or her birthright to be raised by both a biological mother and father. Maryland may choose to tolerate and even protect such unconventional childrearing by allowing adoption by homosexual partners or couples. But it has no obligation to actively affirm and celebrate (through "marriage") the deliberate creation of permanently motherless or fatherless families.
The common-sense understanding that children should have both a mother and a father is now supported by reams of social science data. The research leaves no doubt that children raised by their own biological mother and father, who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage, are happier, healthier and more prosperous than children in any other living situation. A recent (December 2010) study from the National Center for Health Statistics has reinforced this, demonstrating that children raised in the traditional "nuclear" family are less deprived in nine key areas of mental, physical and economic health. (Advocates of same-sex marriage counter this by pointing to supposedly favorable studies on homosexual parenting — but this handful of small, biased and methodologically unsound articles cannot refute the overwhelming findings on the importance of the natural mother-father family for children.)
Legalization of same-sex marriage would utterly transform the meaning of the social institution, from one that exists primarily to ensure the birth and well-being of children into one primarily to gratify the desires of adults.
Does Maryland need children? Do children need a mom and a dad?
The answer to both questions is: "Yes."
But if the legislature legalizes same-sex marriage, it would be declaring that the answer to both is "No."
This would be both a foolish and tragic choice.
Peter Sprigg is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington. He lives in Montgomery County with his wife and son.