The wording of the Marriage Equality referendum has been published, and already opponents have begun to wheel out their objections to allowing constitutional protection for same-sex marriage based on alleged “child welfare” concerns.
These objections are easily refuted by a substantial body of evidence concerning same-sex parenting and entirely rational observations as to what may determine a child’s adult sexual orientation.
Although there is a widely held conviction that same-sex parenting must be detrimental to child welfare because of a child’s need for dual-gender parenting, this belief is not in fact supported by any research. Indeed, an abundance of research since the 1970s has indicated that it is family processes rather than family structures that contribute to determining a child’s well-being and outcomes.
The Australian Psychological Society has concluded that regardless of family structure, children are likely to do well in a family environment where there are high levels of co-operation, trust, support, warmth and care, and where there is an absence of conflict. The research pertaining to same-sex parenting strongly suggests that these positive familial processes are as much at work in same-sex families as in their dual-gender counterparts.
In fact, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that gay and lesbian parents are more than capable of fulfilling their parental duties and responsibilities towards their children.
Nonetheless, even in those same-sex families with the most positive familial processes, marriage equality opponents will argue that a child may seek to emulate its parents’ behaviour and, therefore, that children of same-sex parents will be less likely to enter into a heterosexual relationship upon reaching maturity. There is some evidence to suggest that children of same-sex parents may feel more comfortable to either have or to consider the possibility of having a same-sex relationship.
So, same-sex parents may have some impact on the sexual orientation of their children (though why that should be viewed as harmful by marriage equality opponents in a tolerant and accepting 21st century Ireland baffles me).
This argument holds no real significance because it is reasonable to reach the exact same conclusion as regards the impact of dual-gender parenting on a child’s sexual orientation!
Assuming one subscribes to the “nurture” argument, perhaps it is exposure to the negative familial processes at play in some dual-gender relationships that can lead a child to reject a heterosexual lifestyle and instead identify as gay or lesbian in adulthood?
After all, the vast majority of gay and lesbian people in contemporary Irish society were raised by dual-gender parents or a single heterosexual parent so it is certainly not unreasonable to argue that such parents’ behaviour within relationships impacted on the adult sexual orientation of their children.
Further, perhaps those children of same-sex parents who identify as gay or lesbian adults do so because they were raised in a very warm, positive and committed same-sex household?
In conclusion, same-sex parenting is likely to be as conducive to a child’s welfare as being raised by dual-gender parents, and same-sex parenting may be no more determinative of a child’s adult sexual orientation than dual-gender parenting. Dr Brian Tobin is a lecturer at the School of Law in NUI Galway.