Take the Government Out of Marriage: Do It for the Children

Martin Gill is fighting to adopt the kids he has cared for for six years as a foster parent in Florida, a state that allows gays and lesbians to be foster parents, but stops short of allowing them to adopt.

But if Bill McCollum -- Florida's Jeb Bush-backed gubernatorial candidate for 2010 -- gets his way, Gill would lose his children altogether. McCollum, Florida's Attorney General and former Congressman, believes strongly that homosexuals should not even be allowed to be foster parents.

"I really do not think that we should have homosexuals guiding our children," he declared to reporters this week at a campaign rally in Tampa, with Jeb at his side. "It's inconsistent that the foster care law reads one way, and the adoption law reads another way."

McCollum -- who once hired the anti-gay psychologist and Baptist minister George Rekers to testify as an expert witness in a gay adoption case shortly before Rekers was caught vacationing in Europe with a male escort -- is unequivocally opposed to same-sex marriage, and cites his upbringing and religious beliefs as perfectly legitimate reasons for his position.

Why do so many conservatives, outraged at government meddling in everything from health care to the country's banking and financial systems, find it acceptable for the government to establish a definition for something as personal as marriage? The resounding argument is that same-sex marriage is a "threat" to the conventional family unit, and as McCollum believes, dangerous for children.

Unfortunately for him, increasingly more homosexual couples are having and raising children. Extending the same benefits of recognition to all family units, conventional and unconventional, would not only ensure that all children are afforded the same legal, social, and economic support systems enjoyed by the children of married heterosexual couples, but also effectively combat the stigmatization of children born out of wedlock to same-sex couples by their peers, classmates, and religious authority figures across the country.

It's preventing the legal recognition of these marriage-less (but equally legitimate) unions that is damaging to children and the family unit, not the unions themselves.

In a literature review of the growing body of research on children of same-sex couples, published in Princeton University's journal The Future of Children in 2005, Meezan and Rauch determined that children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those born to heterosexual couples. The authors (from the College of Social Work at Ohio State University and the Brookings Institution respectively) went on to outline the advantages that state-recognized marriage would confer on these children:

"First, marriage may increase children's material well-being through such benefits as family leave from work and spousal health insurance eligibility. It may also help ensure financial continuity, should a spouse die or be disabled. Second, same-sex marriage may benefit children by increasing the durability and stability of their parents' relationship. Finally, marriage may bring increased social acceptance of and support for same-sex families."

The evidence seems to indicate that giving the same legitimacy to same-sex unions as there exists for heterosexual marriage would actually be beneficial and healthy for children.

There are two ways to deliver that legitimacy. The first is to legalize same-sex marriage. The second -- not as widely discussed as the first -- is to revisit the idea of all-out, across-the-board abolition of marriage (gay or straight) as a legally recognized institution. This would mean that the government would recognize civil unions only, leaving both same-sex and heterosexual marriage to churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious authorities or their secular equivalents. Heterosexual marriage would be one kind of civil union, same-sex marriage another kind, and unmarried common-law relationships (gay or straight) another.

This arrangement would retain all of the aspects of marriage as a religious institution, and also its legal aspects as a state-sanctioned civil union. If the goal is equal legitimacy in the eyes of the state, what do labels and semantics matter? A "civil union" would comprise only those aspects of a relationship that are subject to regulation by the state. Because marriage is widely held to be a religious institution, a strong case can be made against it altogether based on the fundamental principle of separation of religion and state.

For religious conservatives, this proposition may not address the argument that legally equating homosexual relationships with heterosexual marriage is somehow a "threat" to the family unit, children, and the traditional institution of marriage. (This is why, currently, the government holds what Britney Spears and Jason Alexander had for 55 hours in Las Vegas on a drunken Saturday morning as more sacred and legitimate than the relationships of millions of loving, committed partners and parents like Martin Gill.)

Increasingly, though, the evidence shows that it's clearly the other way around. And again, if being a "threat" to traditional marriage constitutes sound basis for legal disqualification, a more appropriate target would be divorce, which directly threatens and destroys marriages in a way that legitimizing gay and unmarried heterosexual unions cannot even indirectly hope to.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value, and so is the separation of religion and state. So marriage, widely held to be a religious institution, is the right of every person, gay or straight, to avail -- or not. But the government should separate itself from this rite as it does from most other religious rites, and recognize all committed relationships -- gay or straight, married or unmarried -- as equally legitimate civil unions, with the same rights and benefits available to all.

Do it for the children.

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