Last week’s Senate report on same-sex marriage usefully summarises many of the arguments for and against.
Some of the arguments presented by gay marriage opponents concerned children. The Australian Christian Lobby put it this way:
It [gay marriage] discards the significance of marriage as an important social good held by a shared community as a public commitment to family and the raising of children.
But it really isn’t clear that the ACL’s position against gay marriage is consistent with their concern with children. The 2005 Private Lives survey found that 4% of gay men and 16% of lesbians currently live with children. So the ACL’s position seems to simultaneously that marriage is important as a public commitment to raising children and that the children who are going to be living in gay households anyway should be denied that public commitment.
One unexplored issue in the Senate report is whether gay marriage would substantially increase the number of children in gay households. From the Private Lives report, about two-thirds of the kids living with lesbians are the result of previous heterosexual relationships (no figures on the guys). Presumably changed attitudes to homosexuality over the years will mean that fewer people will feel pressured into heterosexual relationships, which produce kids but lead to divorce. In that sense, the ‘normalising’ of homosexuality in gay marriage would help reduce the context in which children are most easily brought into the world by gay people.
On the other hand, the same cultural processes will have unpredictable effects on plans to have children. In the Private Lives survey, half of the women without children wanted them, double the proportion in the overall sample who had actually ever had a child. Possibly as the idea of gay families becomes more accepted the number of children born via artificial insemination or surrogate mothers will increase. It is hard to know what independent role gay marriage will play in this, since it is a political by-product of social changes that are occurring in any case, but is also likely to accelerate those changes once it is in place.
To its credit, the ACL has supported other changes to reduce discrimination against gay people. But if it is concerned about children, nevertheless requiring the offspring of gay parents to live with unmarried partners makes little sense.