Children’s well-being has become the focal consideration in legal and public policy debates regarding same-sex marriage. In this article, we critically examine and rebut the central moral argument made by opponents of same-sex marriage: that the state should not license any domestic arrangement other than “traditional marriage” because doing so would be detrimental to children’s well-being. Although many have challenged the empirical premise that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than children in other arrangements, we focus primarily on the normative premises for exclusively licensing traditional (that is, monogamous, heterosexual) marriage. We argue that even if the empirical support for its claims was strong, the argument is morally insufficient for denying state recognition to other types of relationships. Importantly, we affirm the state’s vital role in promoting children’s well-being. We question, however, the approach of delegitimizing certain relationships as a means to that end. Instead, we argue, the state should encourage and support individuals who want to care for children, presume that any couple or individual is capable of adequate child-rearing, and ensure that all adults who are raising children (whether married or not) have the material resources and support necessary to be good parents. Such a policy would (1) set a reasonable minimal threshold for state recognition, (2) be vigilant in identifying cases falling below this threshold, and then (3) either assist or disqualify underperforming arrangements. It would also, appropriately, decouple arguments about legitimate and illegitimate types of relationships from arguments about what is best for children.
- Accepted December 21, 2012.
- Copyright © 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics