Children have the right to be parented. There is a duty on society, and the state, to support both parents, and children, in meeting this need. Everyday experience, and abundant scientific evidence, tell us of the importance and significance of the parent in the life of every child.
Parenting means that one, or more, adults makes the raising of that child a primary focus of their life for many years. The way this is done changes over time – the experience of parenting today is not the same as thirty years ago – but the task remains. This is a challenging commitment, but it is a commitment to which many people rise very successfully.
Children are effectively parented both by married and unmarried couples, be they of the same gender, or mixed genders. They are also effectively parented by single people of either gender, some who have always been single, and others who are separated, widowed or divorced. All kinds of people can make ‘good-enough parents’, and can provide happy, stable, and secure childhoods, with good outcomes, for their children.
There has always been a fear in our society of the consequences of changing parenting. In the past it argued that working women could not raise their children adequately, and that only if a mother stayed at home could the children hope for a happy, stable and secure childhood. Few would argue that today. Our understanding of the what makes an effective family, and what is needed for ‘good-enough parenting’, has changed. The fear of same-sex marriage is as confused now, as the fear of working mothers forty years ago.
Most children are produced by the usual method, good old-fashioned heterosexual sex. A minority, but an increasing minority, are produced with aid from one form or another of assisted human reproduction. These children come from all sorts of families, single, married, straight, gay or lesbian, and they have the same needs as any other child, and ought to have the same rights. The only difference for same-sex couples is that they do not have the opportunity to conceive a child themselves – some external assistance is necessary.
Marriage matters, because it is a sign of social recognition of the intent of two people to seek a serious, stable, faithful, and long-term relationship. Raising children is hard. Many single people do it very well, but it is still hard. How hard is shown by the significant discrepancy between the average outcomes for children raised by one parent, and those raised by two. The reasons for this are complex, and include poverty, education and instability, but the effect is real.
Marriage is a public demonstration of a long-term committed bond, between two people. Couples have a lot of different reasons for getting married, for example, to show love, for mutual support, and to make a public acknowledgement of their commitment. One key reason is to help each other to raise children. States involve themselves in marriage for a number of reasons too. These include the regulation and recording of a central human relationship, the proper regulation of property, taxes, and housing, and to identify and regulate parenting, and parental responsibility. The raising of children also matters to the State, both because children are the future of the state, and also because it often has to pick up the pieces if it all goes badly wrong.
Stability matters for raising children. Marriage is one way, thought not the only way, of helping a couple to establish and maintain a long-term stable relationship. Few doubt that marriage is good for many of the children of mixed-sex couples. The children of same-sex couples ought to have the same rights as the children of any other couple, to grow up in a family based on marriage. That’s a reason why I’m voting ‘Yes’ next Friday.