SAME SEX MARRIAGE – The Missing Argument


The Same Sex Marriage Act became law in England and Wales on 17th July 2013 and came into effect at the end of March 2014. Having been debated briefly in the House of Lords, and returned in haste to the House of Commons for final approval, it became one of the most contentious pieces of legislation ever and is likely to continue as a deeply divisive issue in our society. The speed of its passage and the fact that it was not contained in any party manifesto tells us we should not be surprised to find flaws in it and that troubles may well lie ahead. Probably the most disturbing omission in the Act concerns the specific interests of children – though these interests were also over-looked in earlier legislation allowing adoption by same sex couples.


There is an argument – not put in the debate – that children, being the product of a man and a woman, have a natural right to prioritise being brought up in a heterosexually balanced environment, ideally by their own natural mother and father. And, because marriage and the having of children are so closely connected, the Same Sex Marriage Act may encourage same sex couples to have children who will be denied this natural right from the outset.


Of course IVF, which makes this possible,  was developed to help childless couples have a traditional family and was never intended to produce children on demand.  But it has turned into a highly profitable industry and in recent years the combined drive for human rights and women’s liberation mean that IVF is available even to single women wishing to have children without the involvement of a man. It is clear that having a child is very desirable but what if the motivation behind this desire is not in the interests of the child? Is it acceptable for women to exclude the role of the father from the outset? Should men, through surrogacy, be able to remove a child from its mother’s unique love and care? Should we encourage the removal of this deepest of all attachments? Should any child be deliberately deprived of heterosexual balance in its upbringing?


Since the Act introducing civil partnerships came into force less than 10 years ago, same sex couples are already entitled to adopt. And the Same Sex Marriage Act has – quite logically, it can be argued – further extended the rights of adults. But this has been a redistribution of rights to everyone except children. And it has been done without us knowing how this will affect the lives of the children concerned and what, if any, psychological consequences there may be in later life.


It is a remarkable fact that the rights of children have not been discussed in this detail in any legislature around the world that has passed a Same Sex Marriage Bill. So those least able to speak for themselves, yet most seriously affected by the success or the failure of a marriage, have so far been unheard. Is this because the argument had already been lost when the green light was given earlier to the adoption of children by same sex couples? Or was it a simple blind spot? Did we forget we were once children?


As no child asks to be born, the essence of the argument is that every child has a fundamental right to be nurtured and protected in the best way possible – in line with what are considered best known outcomes. And, there is substantial evidence to show there is a range of best to worst outcomes. In stark terms, children born to loving, married parents fare the best; children born to single unmarried mothers fare the worst – at every stage in their development. Nor can this be surprising. 


Sadly, many marriages fail and not all children will be born into this best case scenario. But a significant number are and it makes sense that we should be doing all we can to increase their number.  In particular, we should take notice should anything be done to prevent it happening – which is what the Act actively encourages in its present form.


There is a hierarchy of best-to-worst home environments. The bond created by the commitment of marriage, and the complementarity of both sexes, establishes a proven secure environment for children and gives them confidence in themselves and in their place in society. Children born out of wedlock fare less well, while children born to single mothers fare worst of all. There is no comparable data on the outcomes of children brought up in same-sex households as there has not been enough time to measure it.  Nor is there yet a large enough  database. At least two generations would need to be studied and by definition male/male and female/female relationships are unbalanced. In addition, this would not take account of how these children will fare psychologically as adults. We hear regularly of the distress felt by adopted children unable to trace their real parents. How should a child born to gay parents using a surrogate mother react to being denied its natural mother? Can we say there will be no unwanted consequences?


Nor can we rely on the uncorroborated claim of Stonewall that same sex couples provide a more stable environment than heterosexual couples. Whatever evidence they provide for this cannot be based on generations of experience as only 10 years has passed since adoption by same sex couples became legal. Symptomatic of their pressure on the debate, this claim went unchallenged when put by a Stonewall supporter in the House of Commons – but when on three separate occasions this author requested Stonewall to provide a copy of the research used to validate it, none was forthcoming.


So the question is raised ‘should a child be made to take part in this experiment?’ There are other countries that have passed a similar Act – should we not have waited to see the effects elsewhere?


To ensure our welfare, pharmaceutical companies are legally required to spend 15-20 years testing new medicines so there will be no adverse long term effects. Yet we are sanctioning a treatment of our children that we know nothing about regarding its short, medium or long term effects.


The core of this argument is balance, and whether we will be depriving children of it when they are brought up by same sex couples. The law already allows same sex couples to adopt, so it will be interesting – if a long time coming – to see if there will be a challenge to this law on the grounds of prioritising heterosexually balanced environments over same-sex environments during a child’s ‘formative years’ – a definition that would have to be the decided by the courts.


Opposing the Act I have argued that it is marriage as we have known it that is the best balanced environment for the child, and find there is no evidence to show anything will be gained for children by changing it. I argue that from a child’s point of view both man/man and woman/woman relationships are self-evidently, and by definition, incapable of providing a natural balance. And I argue a loving environment is not sufficient in itself.


At issue is not the quality of love provided by the adults but that only the man/woman relationship can deliver this love in a balanced way. It is possible that many present supporters of the Act will also endorse this view, such is the concern in society as a whole for children’s welfare. At the heart of the matter a child should be entitled to prioritise this balance as part of its birthright – but that child now needs us adults to bring it about.


There is general acceptance that despite the fact that we all have our male and female ‘sides’, men and women are hard-wired differently. Children learn from their mother and father that the world looks different according to the female or male point of view.  So it follows, because it is not possible for man/man and woman/woman partnerships to deliver this balance, it is intrinsically unfair on a child to place it during its formative years into an unbalanced environment which is known to be character-forming. 


That is not to say there would be no circumstances under which it could happen. In the case of a marriage break-up the children must go to the parent most capable of providing the best care, this being the next best thing.


However, a potential to sue clearly arises in the future for children born to same sex couples by IVF or surrogacy – for deliberately denying them a chance to grow up in a heterosexually balanced environment during their formative years.


A counter-argument may be put – that same sex couples have friends of both sexes and their children will find the balance they need from opposite sex friends. But can mere friends sustain the primal bond that exists between a biologically-related parent and child? And if they can, will they?


As a society we do not do well by our children. The harsh reality is that, by turning a blind eye to known best outcomes, heterosexual parents choosing not to marry can be said to be acting against the best interests of their children. As can the single woman who actively chooses to bring up a child without its father and conceive using the sperm of a donor. The children of single mothers are victims of absent fathers. And, of course, children born to married couples who then divorce are also betrayed. So, in varying degrees, the children born in any of these unions have been betrayed by one or both parents. 


Now we are adding same sex marriages to this roster as another source of betrayal. Don’t children, those with the least ability to speak up for themselves, have rights too?  The 1989 UN Convention on The Rights Of The Child – the Convention supported by more countries than any other – tells us that they do. It tells us that they should be prioritised at every point possible, and it includes the following:


Article 2

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

  1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Article 6

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 7

1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

Article 8

1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

Article 9

1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child’s place of residence.

3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.

Article 18

1. States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

Article 21

States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration

Article 24

  1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services

2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;

(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;


The UN Convention makes it clear that the child has a primary right to be brought up, where possible, by its natural parents and that we should do all we can to ensure this happens. It recognises the primacy of the natural child-parent relationship and the entitlement of the child to be brought up by both of its parents. This is the entitlement that the Same Sex Marriage Act removes from children born to same sex couples using IVF and surrogacy.


There will be little appetite among our legislators to return to this issue soon. But should evidence emerge around the world of any negative effects on children brought up during their formative years in gay environments it will have a deeply damaging effect on the standing of gay people in society around the world. The right for same sex couples to adopt would also be called in question. That such a possibility exists should urge caution on all campaigners for equal rights to include the rights of children.


The onus must be on Stonewall to demonstrate there is no difference in child outcomes between the parenthood provided by a happily married same sex couple and that of a happily married heterosexual couple. Let it be proven that children brought up by same sex parents are not disadvantaged at any stage in their lives. Until then, let us err on the side of caution in favour of the most vulnerable in our society.


Pending this proof it would be prudent to resist the relentless demands of Stonewall to expand Same Sex Marriages into other legislatures. Runaway trains sometimes need help to stop hitting the buffers.  


For the foreseeable future, what’s done is done. The pity is that we resorted to legal means to bring it about and that we will have to resort to legal means to bring about any redress.


A friend of mine reminded me recently that so much of life is a trade-off – that in wanting women to be free to exercise their equal right to a career we simultaneously ensured that their children would not be coming home from school to be greeted by the smell of a meal being prepared. Both he and I had this great joy in our childhood. We would wish it for our own children. But we would not dream of denying women their right to work. So we compromise and adjust to accommodate the insoluble.


Thus, it seems to me now that until the right of children to heterosexual balance in their upbringing becomes a major social issue requiring legislation we must all decide individually what we will aspire to for our own children. In the meantime we must hope that none will come to any harm.


To put down your own marker on this matter, you will find the email address of your MP or TD by clicking on either: 



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