Tony Avelar, Associated Press

May debate over marriage include facts

  • Article by: TERESA S. COLLETT
  • October 20, 2011 - 8:13 PM


My friend and colleague, Mark Osler, gives good advice in his recent commentary "May inevitable year of debate be constructive" (Oct. 15).

He counsels Minnesotans discussing the marriage-protection amendment (commonly misidentified as the gay-marriage amendment) to avoid insulting those they are in conversation with, and to "argue toward the principles the other side professes."

I would add one more piece of advice: Know the facts.

Marriage has been defined as the union of one man and one woman since Minnesota's days as a territory.

Supporters of the marriage-protection amendment want to retain this definition because we think redefining marriage to include any loving adult relationship ignores the primary interest government has in recognizing any adult sexual relationship -- the fact that sex between a man and a woman makes babies.

It is a biological fact that only a man and a woman can create a child through their sexual acts. That child will need the care of adults for years after her birth.

And while it is true that the most basic physical needs of the child can be met by almost any adult, common sense and social science tell us that, most of the time, the best people to care for the child are her mother and father.

Children in the United States who are raised outside of the home of their married, biological parents are two to three times more likely to suffer from psychological problems, such as depression, and engage in socially harmful behavior like delinquency and dropping out of high school.

Sociologist Paul Amato estimates that if the United States enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960, the nation would have 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, approximately 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, about 600,000 fewer kids receiving therapy, and approximately 70,000 fewer suicide attempts every year.

The legal institution of marriage exists primarily to encourage lifelong monogamous sexual unions of men and women, where we expect that children will result as often as not.

Unlike many, Osler accepts that concern for children motivates supporters of the marriage-protection amendment. Instead of attacking our motives, as too many do, he replies that this concern should encompass the children of gay parents who are being raised in same-sex households, and that redefining marriage would improve those children's lives.

The facts just do not support his argument.

According to the 2010 census, there are 10,207 same-sex couples in Minnesota, compared with more than a million husband-wife households.

Only about 2,000 Minnesota same-sex couples are raising children, and 80 percent of these children were born to one of the partners when the partner was married.

In other words, the vast majority of the children in same-sex households were born to married parents who divorced, and the custodial parent found a same-sex partner.

Redefining marriage will not and should not terminate the rights of the noncustodial parent. But it may give unrelated adults more power in children's lives, often over the objection of an attentive biological parent.

Just to be clear: Redefining marriage is not about providing parents to children who have none.

Osler's second argument builds on the same misconception. He argues that redefining marriage will reduce the number of abortions in Minnesota. But that is not true.

Last year, more than 11,500 abortions were performed in the state. Not one was performed because the mother could not find someone to adopt the child (whether gay, straight or otherwise).

But many were due to pressure and indifference by men who refused to fulfill their responsibilities as fathers.

Redefining marriage will not save one child from abortion, make one unwilling father accept his responsibilities or substantially change the responsibilities of unrelated adults to children living in their homes.

It will, however, convey the message that Minnesotans believe that procreation is completely unrelated to marriage.

This is not the message we should be sending if we hope to improve the well-being of children and once again live in a state where the vast majority of children are conceived in marriage and raised in the homes of their mothers and fathers.

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Teresa S. Collett is a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

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