First of all, I thank Adam for sharing his perspective. It is now clear we have a robust debate on this question! And while I disagree with many of the arguments Adam outlines in his essay, I appreciate his vigorous defense of traditional marriage and his willingness to engage arguments to the contrary.
I value many aspects of Adam’s argument. His primary concern for the well being of children is evident in his essay, and is something all three contributors to this month’s discussion undoubtedly share. We all want children to grow in loving and nurturing families, though we may disagree on how to achieve this. His thorough analysis of certain facets of my argument was also constructive. While I do not have time to discuss each of his critiques in this response, his comments have enabled me to better reflect upon the various factors that inform my position on this issue. Lastly, the number of outside sources Adam included in his essay is impressive and no doubt helpful for readers who want to read further on this topic. I won’t come close to matching this number of sources in this essay.
In responding to Adam’s argument, I will leave many of the possible legal objections to Julia who has a legal background. My challenges to Adam’s argument come primarily from my interest in public policy. My concerns regarding Adam’s arguments are two-fold: 1) He confounds the goals of marriage with the goals of raising children. They are related but they are not the same and should be treated separately, and 2) he upholds an ideal of family that is unnecessarily exclusive and does not create opportunities for other members of society to love and care for children when this ideal is inevitably unmet. I outline each of these concerns below.
Promoting Marriage / Raising Children
Adam’s primary argument that same-sex marriage is about raising children reminds of a similar argument that Adam is not making but operates in a similar fashion. In the contemporary debate over police brutality against African-Americans, the discussion often devolves to encompass black on black violence as though it was connected to instances in which police officers may have abused their authority. While both of these issues require the public's attention and relate to some of the same conditions, each issue is driven by a different process and societal problem. As a result, each requires its own public policy solution. I view Adam’s argument in much of the same way. Promoting marriage and raising children are two different matters, and should be treated distinctively.
Marriage is a commitment between two people, in which they share in each other’s lives and rely upon each other for emotional, financial, and spiritual support. Married couples also fulfill each other’s sexual needs. For Christians, marriage is also an opportunity to intimately understand Christ’s self-sacrifice in the context of a physical human relationship. These relationships necessitate a certain level of legal protections so that couples can pursue this type of commitment. Marriage does not always include children, though children can benefit from a healthy marriage.
Raising children is about instilling values and moral content into a child as well as providing for his or her immediate needs. The rearing of children does not necessitate marriage, though it is certainly preferred. Even within the context of a marriage commitment, other actors inevitably contribute to raising upright, thoughtful, and well-adjusted children. These actors are found in churches, schools, neighborhoods, communities, and the public sector. While marriage is the most important institution in raising children, it is not the only institution at work.
My point is that what is required for marriage and what is required for raising children is not always the same, though they share similar characteristics. Moreover, conflating marriage and raising children clouds both our understanding of marriage and parenting. If we assume that a marriage is only fully realized when it results in children, we minimize the powerful role that simply marriage can have in society. I know many married couples that don’t have children, but who are a blessing to those around them, including children. What do we tell these couples if we are using Adam’s definition of marriage? Is their marriage a sham? Do we assume they are being selfish because they don’t have children?
More importantly, confusing marriage with raising children in effect places all of the challenges of raising children squarely on the institution of marriage. Thus, if a child is struggling, we only look to his or her parents to ‘fix’ the problem. In the process, we ignore the many cultural, economic, and political conditions in society that contribute to a child’s upbringing. In his essay, Adam provides a heartbreaking list of outcomes that follow from children born out of wedlock including poverty, lack of education, incarceration, sexual abuse, drug abuse, and depression. Does he really think that healthy marriages will effectively address all of these conditions? These are larger injustices that must be addressed through community and effective public policy.
In a bizarre twist, Adam seems to wrap up all of these social ills and cast them in the same lot as same-sex relationships in the quote below:
Same-sex couples did not create that mess. But to create equality between marriage and “same-sex marriage” would require us to break the remaining normative bonds of the only institution capable of fixing the problem.
I can only gather that Adam believes that gays and lesbians cannot or are not interested in helping solve the social problems above as parents, citizens, or Christians. This assertion is terribly unfair to gays and lesbians or needs much more clarification. Close to this point in his essay, Adam pleads with both Julia and me for another solution to these problems besides traditional marriage. I have only one response to sin—Jesus. Thankfully, we can see the redemption power of Jesus at work through marriage as well as churches, communities, various organizations, and government.
The Ideal Family
Adam bases much of his argument for traditional marriage on the natural parental rights of the mother and father. Take for example, the quote below:
To make “same-sex marriage” equal to marriage in law would require undermining the rights of natural parents and children, and would entail the elimination of the legal incidents of natural parentage.
In using this basis for marriage, he adopts the ideal family structure. Such a framework assumes it is possible and preferable for all couples to conceive and to rear this child together. However, our world is far from ideal. While this ideal is often the case, countless individuals, couples, and children face a different reality that Adam does not acknowledge. As a result, Adam’s conceptualization excludes many other instances of a loving and supportive family. For instance, my wife and I have not been able to conceive and are currently in the process of adoption. In reading Adam’s essay, I couldn’t help but feel a bit inferior (I know this was not his intent). We are not the ideal, but we will deeply cherish the child we ultimately adopt. I could imagine other untraditional family structures that embrace children who long for a loving home.
To simply base families on God’s original design of procreation precludes all of the wonderful and unexpected things God can reveal through other non-natal relationships and the broader community. The Bible is full of accounts of unorthodox or unconventional families that God used to bring His people closer to Him. Narrowly defining family as natural parental rights denies us the full richness and possibilities of God’s creation. Using this definition also makes it easy to forget the role of extended family members, churches, and various forms of community in building strong families. I am thankful that when I have children, I will have a supportive community to lean on and God will use many of these people to touch and shape the life of my child.
In raising this concern, I am certainly not denying the rightful natural legal rights of both parents. Whether or not these unconventional family arrangements extend to same-sex couples is a position I am not prepared to defend. I believe this is a separate discussion. My point is much broader. By insisting on this ideal family structure, we are likely neglecting members of our community that are marginalized, forgotten, oppressed, or wounded. The Christian faith is transformative in these latter cases. In these moments, we are challenged to awkwardly and stubbornly love others, not out of some sort of biological attachment, but out of our understanding of God.