Is Gay Marriage Good for Families?

In connection with the same-sex marriage controversy now burning in California, I read the following about a priest from a famous gay-friendly parish in Pasadena:
The Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, who has been blessing same-sex unions for 16 years, told the San Jose Mercury News this month that she supports same-sex marriage because she favors “everything we can do to build up the values that make strong families. I think the values matter more than the gender of the people making up the heads of those families.”
Now if I thought, with Reverend Russell, that same-sex marriage actually would strengthen the institution of the family in America, I would be in favor of it, regardless of how unnatural I consider same-sex marriage to be. There are things worse than unnatural sexual relations, and one of these is the increasing breakdown of the married two-parent family. Blessing sodomy would be a small price to pay for rescuing the institution of marriage.
In the last few decades, millions and millions of American kids have had to grow up without fathers. I’m not thinking mainly about kids whose parents get divorced. That’s certainly an important part of the problem; but a far, far more important part is the situation of kids whose parents were never married in the first place. One of the great by-products of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was the social and moral legitimacy of illegitimacy (i.e., out-of-wedlock birth and parenthood). It is now the most normal thing in the world to run across kids whose mothers were never married to their fathers.
In the bad old days these kids were called “bastards.” But as the English-speaking world grew more gentle, this extremely harsh term was retired in favor of an expression that was only moderately harsh: “illegitimate children.” But by now that locution too has gone to the graveyard of offensive expressions. What, then, shall we call these unfortunate kids? The answer seems to be, “fatherless children.” Of course these kids have fathers in the biological sense of that word; that is, they were conceived as a result of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman (or, as is often the case, between a boy and a girl or even between a man and a girl).
All too often, however, these kids don’t have fathers in the more important trans-biological sense of the word. That is to say, they don’t have fathers who take year-after-year responsibility for them, who live in intimacy with them on a day-to-day basis, who supply them with the financial and emotional support they need, and who provide them with moral models of adulthood and manliness. Our exceedingly “tolerant” American culture has given boys and young men permission to sire a child and then take a walk — and millions and millions of these boys and men have chosen to do what has been culturally permitted.
Of course, it wouldn’t be quite the disaster it is if the mothers of these fatherless children were all college graduates with good jobs and good incomes. But this kind of mother is very far from typical. Typical is the mother who is poorly educated, with weak job skills and an inadequate income. In other words, those girls and women who give birth to fatherless children are the very ones who can least afford to do so.
Compounding the evil is the fact that the problem is worst among African Americans. For many years now, around two-thirds of all black children born in the U.S. have been born to unmarried women. In many lower-class black neighborhoods, the fatherless rate is 80 or 90 percent. Among lower-class blacks, the institution of the married two-parent family has been, for all practical purposes, destroyed. Given this situation, how can we expect black Americans to gain economic parity with whites, to do well in school, to have low crime rates, and so on? The simple answer is, we cannot. For the past nearly 400 years, American blacks have suffered an unending series of curses: first, the curse of slavery; next, the curse of segregation; today, the curse of fatherlessness.
And so along comes Reverend Russell to suggest that same-sex marriage will make for strong families. How wonderful if true! But is it true? I’m a little wary when I hear this prediction coming from an Episcopal priest, since the Episcopal Church has begun to tilt in the direction of weirdness in recent years. Still and all, the Episcopalians I know strike me as very sensible people, so I won’t allow myself to be deterred by the probable fact that Reverend Russell belongs to the weirdness wing of the church.
But then I put the idea of same-sex marriage in historical perspective. It is an idea that emerged from the gay movement, a movement that had its dramatic commencement at the Greenwich Village Stonewall riots of 1969. And the gay movement in turn was part and parcel of another and more comprehensive movement, the generalized Sexual Revolution 1960s and 1970s. So the demand for same-sex marriage is, among other things, a continuation of the program of the Sexual Revolution.
But has the Sexual Revolution ever been friendly to the married two-parent family? Not at all. Up till now, everything it championed has had the effect of undermining the married two-parent family. Think of the list of behaviors that the revolution has sanctioned: premarital sex, multiple sexual partners, unmarried cohabitation, pornography, no-fault divorce, abortion, homosexuality, etc. Has any of this tended to strengthen the institution of marriage?
Why should I believe, then — indeed, why should anybody believe (except, of course, for those in the weirdness wing of the Episcopal Church) — that the Sexual Revolution, with its long anti-family history, has suddenly done a 180 and is now moving in the opposite direction? I hope it’s true — but I simply cannot believe it.


  • David R. Carlin Jr.

    David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include “Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion” and “The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.” Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

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