Marriage referendum


A chara, – Brian Tobin references “an abundance of research since the 1970s” which allegedly shows that children do not require “dual-gender parenting” (“Why ‘child welfare concerns’ are not a valid reason to oppose same-sex marriage referendum”, Opinion & Analysis, February 2nd). It is a pity that he did not decide to examine any of these studies in greater detail, as the majority of them suffer from serious methodological flaws.

In a study entitled “Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress through School”, published in the journal Demography and available on the website of the US National Institute for Health, Michael J Rosenfeld gives an overview of 45 studies on same-sex parenting and outcomes of children prior to 2010. Some of the problems with this research include “universally small sample sizes of children” (the studies look at on average only 39 children raised by same-sex couples) and a tendency in many of the earlier studies and some of the later ones to rely upon convenience sampling, often focusing mainly on same-sex parents from a higher socioeconomic bracket. In some cases, the studies even lacked a married heterosexual control group for comparison, making the results utterly meaningless.

Some of the more recent surveys have been shown to have similar flaws too. As such, these studies do not provide a sound basis for arguing for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum. – Is mise,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Brian Tobin’s implied assertion that same-sex parenting is not detrimental child welfare is not in fact substantiated by research since the 1970s, as he claims. Data on the long-term outcomes of children placed in same-sex households are sparse and do not bear out Dr Tobin’s contention.

The study by the Australian Psychological Society that Dr Tobin seemingly relies on has critical design flaws. For instance, whereas the heterosexual parents were sampled at random and the sample varies in the quality of parenting for analysis, the same-sex parenting sample was based on applications from same-sex couples. The temptation to report positive assessments could be elevated in this self-selected sample. There is a risk of “social desirability bias”, the tendency to portray oneself as better than one actually is.

The issue of child welfare in the context of gay marriage is more complex than Dr Tobin’s article proposes. Katy Faust, who serves on the Academic and Testimonial Councils of the International Children’s Rights Institute, was raised by her mother and her lesbian partner. She writes: “Talk to any child with gay parents, especially those old enough to reflect on their experiences. If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.” – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – David O’Brien (February 3rd) states that “it is not possible to redefine marriage”. However this is exactly what has taken place in California, where, to make everyone feel more equal, all mention of the words “husband” and “wife” has been removed from state laws. Is the wording of the marriage referendum a precursor to the same thing happening here? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The controversy over “marriage” seems rather absurd in the light of history. State oversight of marriage is relatively modern – 1753 in England (later still in Ireland) – primarily in order to bestow rights on women and children, and incidentally to clarify exactly which “wife” of a Royal Navy sailor was entitled to draw down his pay whilst at sea. Prior to that only the wealthy indulged in formal marriage, which comprised an exhaustive legal contract regarding dowries, inheritance and a widow’s rights. Indeed the Catholic Church itself only adopted marriage as a sacrament in 1563. Meanwhile the vast majority of ordinary couples simply lived together despite attempts by government to promote recorded marriage via the established church.

Whilst churches have administered the sacrament of marriage, the state has confined itself to extending the rights of wives and children, especially to financial support. As far as the state is concerned, the marriage ceremony merely triggers a range of rights aimed at ensuring children and family are protected, particularly from errant fathers.

What gay couples are seeking is apparently the confirmation that their relationships are sacred to them. Ironically, however, a state redefinition of marriage would merely trigger rights which in nearly every case are bizarrely irrelevant to their situation, and incidentally confirm that politics is the refuge of the ridiculous. But it does not undermine the sacrament of heterosexual marriage unless religious authorities choose to do so.

In order to cater for the modern age we really need to revert to the pre-1753 position – couples living together and producing or legally adopting children are de facto married. They should be required to register their status and thus ensure that facts, not ceremonies, determine the rights and responsibilities and of children and parents. Other couples of all descriptions neither require nor merit special treatment. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.