Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Defense of Marriage: a response to Kevin Rudd

I was intrigued to read of Kevin Rudd's change of heart on gay marriage last week. He now supports changing the legal definition of marriage to encompass same-sex relationships.  Whereas in 2008 Rudd championed the removal of all other forms of discrimination against same-sex couples, he now  believes Australia should go all the way to equalize same-sex relations, right down to and including the fundamental building block of the family, marriage itself.

I have no problem whatsoever with the title of Rudd’s piece: “Church and State are able to have different positions on same sex marriage”.  Of course the church and state can have different positions on just about anything they choose.  The key issue is not whether church and state can disagree, but whether it is in society’s interests for the state to change the time-honoured definition of marriage.

The institution of marriage as a life-long union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others was not invented by the state, nor by the church. It was sustained by communities over centuries as a means by which they could regulate the bringing up of children, their socialization and integration into society.  It was developed as the fundamental way a society perpetuates itself.  By defining inter-generational family relationships, marriage establishes a social context for couples to take upon themselves the demanding and risky commitments involved in conceiving, bearing and rearing children.  Marriage is at its core an institution designed for the rearing of children, and to enable a society to replicate itself. This means that at its heart marriage is not about romance.  It is not in essence about two people loving each other.  It is about rearing children arising from the sexual union of a man and a woman, in the context of the inter-generational communities we call ‘families’.

It follows that the ‘equality’ of same-sex love should be irrelevant to the same-sex marriage debate.  Marriage does not exist to demonstrate the superiority or acceptability of one kind of love over another.  It was created to enable societies to reproduce themselves.

It is fundamental that the core elements in the legal definition of marriage in Australian law are a codification of this social inheritance.  The law did not create the social capital known as ‘marriage’: it merely recognized it.  However, even what regulation of marriage we have today is relatively recent:  in the Anglosphere the state has been registering marriages for less than 200 years. Before that marriage managed to exist quite well for thousands of years without the interference of the state or rulers.

Marriage was never something for the state to define in the first place.  Atheist libertarian journalist Brendan O'Neill rightly criticizes  the current gallop toward gay marriage as an unwarranted intrusion of the state into domestic affairs:
The central problem with the gay marriage agenda is ... that it allows the state to do something that was traditionally considered beyond its purview: to redefine the meaning of marriage and, by extension, the meaning of the marital home, the family, and our most intimate relationships. Some have sought to depict the drive for gay marriage as a continuation of the struggle for civil rights that exploded in the mid-twentieth century; it’s better understood as a continuation, and intensification, of the modern state’s desire to get a foot in the door of our private lives and to assume sovereignty over our relationships. (The iron fist in the velvet glove of gay marriage).
In several respects Rudd’s arguments were disappointing.

Rudd is plain wrong when he attributes changes in Christian views about slavery and other ethical issues to unreasoning ‘literalistic’ decontextualized  interpretations of scripture giving way to more contextualized contemporary readings.  This view of ethical progress is a cliché: it may sound plausible, but the facts do not match up.  As it happens, the Christians who supported slavery on Biblical grounds were no more literal in their appeal to scripture than those who opposed it. The American writer Thornton Stringfellow, who published a tract in support of slavery in 1856, Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery, mounted an elaborate argument which involved a highly contextualised reference to the social conditions applying in the Roman Empire at the time of the New Testament.  The theological struggle over slavery was fought between two contextual readings of the scriptures.  The fact that the anti-slavery position proved to be more compelling was not because it was based on less literal readings of sacred writ. 

Rudd also asserts that a ‘certain proportion’ of the community is ‘born gay’, and this has been a certain, ‘relatively uncontested’ scientific fact since the post-war period.  Which percentage was that?  Alfred Kinsey found that 11.6% of American males were bisexual between the ages of 20-35 and 10% of American males were "more or less exclusively homosexual" for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.  However a recent large survey of Australian men found that 1.6% identified as homosexual and 0.9% as bisexual.

Although Rudd commenced his essay commenting on how Christian ethical positions are subject to change, he does not actually address any Christian objections to gay marriage in his statement, nor does he explain how his faith  shaped his personal ethical position on the subject.  For example he does not explain how his reading of the Bible has informed his views on gay marriage, and what he reveals as his last-ditch remaining objection to gay marriage was not a theological objection.  This was his concern was for the well-being of children, namely the “unforeseen consequences for children who would be brought up by parents in a same sex married relationship... The care, nurture and protection of children in loving relationships must be our fundamental concern.”

Sweeping aside this last objection, Rudd asserts that there is no evidence children brought up by people in same sex relationship suffer disadvantage.  He relies upon the US National Longitudinal Survey, as well as policy statements issued by the Australian Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Paediatrics and the American Psychological Association all of which Rudd claims ‘acknowledge’, after ‘30 years of research’ that same-sex parented families ‘do not compromise children’s development’.  In fact all these position statements go back to the findings of the APA in 2005.

Rudd is correct that medical elites, such as the AMA, have come out in support of same-sex unions, repeating the APA’s 2005 claim that they have no negative impact on children’s development.

However since the issue of same-sex parenting is so ideologically charged, this should give one pause before blindly accepted any research on the subject.  As a social sciences researcher I am keenly aware what a powerful effect ideology can have research and just how much research outcomes can be distorted and manipulated, even unwittingly, to conform to researchers’ prejudices.  All too often people find what they go looking for.  It therefore seems hard to credit that Rudd was unaware of two recent articles published in Social Science Research in 2012, which have attracted enormous media attention.

One was by Loren Marks, who evaluated the 59 studies of gay and lesbian parents and their children cited by the APA in their endorsement of same-sex parenting:  ‘Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American Psychological Association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting.’  Marks found that most of these studies were ‘advocacy research’, lacking adequate samples.  Here is the abstract:
“In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an official brief on lesbian and gay parenting. This brief included the assertion: “Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents” (p. 15). The present article closely examines this assertion and the 59 published studies cited by the APA to support it. Seven central questions address: (1) homogeneous sampling, (2) absence of comparison groups, (3) comparison group characteristics, (4) contradictory data, (5) the limited scope of children’s outcomes studied, (6) paucity of long-term outcome data, and (7) lack of APA-urged statistical power. The conclusion is that strong assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted. Recommendations for future research are offered.”
And a summary of Marks’ highlights:
“A 26 of 59 APA studies on same-sex parenting had no heterosexual comparison groups.
• In comparison studies, single mothers were often used as the hetero comparison group.
• No comparison study had the statistical power required to detect a small effect size.
• Definitive claims were not substantiated by the 59 published studies.”
How could the APA have got it so wrong?  As O‘Neill has explained, the issue of same-sex marriage is being pushed upon communities by elites for ideological reasons, one of which being that it enables them:
“... to pose as enlightened and cosmopolitan, as bravely willing to to enact ‘civilising measures’, in contrast with the bigots who make up the more traditional, religious or lumpen sections of society. As one observer said yesterday, gay marriage has become a ‘red line’ in politics, determining one’s goodness or badness. Supporting gay marriage has become a key cultural signifier, primarily of moral rectitude, among everyone from politicians to the media classes to bankers: that is, members of an elite who have increasingly few opportunities for moral posturing in these relativistic times.”
Even the cleverest experts may overlook the poor quality of research if the results align with their prejudices and help them feel good about themselves.

Another major study, published in the same edition of Social Science Research, was by Mark Regnerus.  Summarising his research in Slate, Regnerus reported:
On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents. Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things. ...  One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents ... is household instability, and plenty of it.
Of course Regnerus has had his critics!  This is a bitterly contested area of research, and the pushback to his work has been intense.  But the question cries out to be asked: why was Rudd oblivious of this highly significant debate going on in the marketplace of ideas?  Why was he content to rely on old APA claims which are, at best suspect and at worst propaganda?

Rudd also invokes his own experience of being raised in a single-parent family:
“Finally, as someone who was raised for the most important part of his childhood by a single mum, I don’t buy the argument that I was somehow developmentally challenged because I didn’t happen to have a father. The loving nurture of children is a more complex business than that.”
This is an emotional argument from experience, and one can admire Kevin Rudd’s achievements.  But if research has taught us anything about parenting outcomes for children, it is that children do better when they are parented by both their own biological parents and they do worse in step families and single parent families, Kevin Rudd’s personal experience notwithstanding.  Indeed, it is precisely because children at are risk of poorer developmental outcomes in single-parented families that the maximum Australian social security payments to single parents carry a 50% premium compared to parenting payments for couples.  Just about everyone,  Rudd’s own government included, accepts that single parented families are vulnerable and so they deserve the extra help.  

Rudd also notes the erosion of the stability of heterosexual marriages in ‘modern Australia’ society, pointing out that 40% of marriages end in divorce. Yet if the same-sex marriages advocates have their way, the state’s meddling with the definition of marriage will do nothing to halt this decline.  On the contrary, as O’Neill explains:
“The state’s determination to interfere in marriage and re-determine its content and import and relationships reveals what is really motoring the gay marriage issue - not a desire to complete the drive for civil rights that kicked off 50 years ago, but rather a thirst for further expanding state authority over our private lives and relationships. In this sense, the Tories’ [David Cameron’s government’s] seemingly strange interest in an issue like gay marriage is in fact entirely in keeping with their, and the broader political elite’s, powerful instinct to meddle in and micromanage the worlds of parenting, the home, family, domestic relationships and inter-generational interaction today. ‘Gay marriage’ is merely a radical gloss attached to the continuing encroachment of the state upon our private, intimate lives. If unquestioned, and unquestionable, conventions make you uncomfortable, especially those forged by the elite above the heads and the alleged prejudices of the public with the aim of increasing the power of the state over communities, then you too should be freaked out by gay marriage.”
As O‘Neill argues in a later essay, the same-sex marriage campaign is being erected on rubble of the disintegration of traditional marriage:
The fragility of society’s attachment to traditional marriage itself, to the virtue of commitment, has also been key to the formulation of the gay-marriage consensus. Indeed, it is the rubble upon which the gay-marriage edifice is built. That is, if lawyers, politicians and our other assorted ‘betters’ have successfully kicked down the door of traditional marriage, it’s because the door was already hanging off its hinges, following years of cultural neglect. It is society’s reluctance to defend traditional views of commitment, and its relativistic refusal more broadly to discriminate between different lifestyle choices, that has fuelled the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live. 
Some, but of course not all Christians oppose same-sex marriage. Many cite theological reasons for their views.  But there is a deeper reason why people of faith distrust the elites’ push to redefine marriage, and this is that religious couples on average have more children and prioritize family over other ways to pursue happiness.  A 2006 Max Plank Institute research project produced the following correlations of family size with religious attendance.  The more children people have, the more religious they are:

This data is taken from David Goldman’s important forthcoming review of two books on demography and secularization in the Claremont Review of Books.[*]  Goldman also references a University of Chicago study of the correlation of faith with family size, which found that in the United States:
“• One of three families with no children says it is ‘not religious.’ The proportion falls to just one out of eight among families with four children.
• Among American families with no children, 41% say grace before meals. But 62% of families with four children say grace, and 86% of families with eight or more children.
• 45% of Americans with no children “strongly disagree” that there is a “God who watches over me.” But 80% of adults with four children “strongly agree” with this belief.
• Half of families that never take part in religious activities have no children, but only a third of families with three children do not practice a religion.”[*]
Goldman has repeatedly pointed out the world-wide correlation between faith and fertility.  For example the plummeting of the birth rate in Iran has gone hand in hand with disillusionment about Islam in the wake of the Islamic revolution.  Today the most secular nations are often the ones with the lowest birth rates, and they are also the societies most at risk of annihilating themselves and their cultures through failing to reproduce.  Along the way to extinction, these nations will experience a catastrophic collapse in their social security safety nets. Goldman observes of the United States, even though it has a higher birthrate than many western nations, that “in 1960, five workers paid Social Security taxes for every one collecting benefits.  By 2034 the number will fall to only two taxpayers for every beneficiary.”[*]

Since just about all research measures indicate that religious people tend to have more children — often at considerable personal opportunity cost — it is unsurprising that they tend to view marriage and the family through the lens of child-rearing rather than romantic attachment.  It is possible that the core of the remaining resistance to gay marriage among people of faith comes, not because they wish to deny same-sex attracted people relational happiness, but because their instinct is to safeguard the time-honored core understanding of marriage as a social construct to foster the rearing of children by their biological parents.  They sense that marriage is not necessary for people to love each other, but it is essential to support and guide couples as they raise their own children. 

[*] ‘Pregnant Pause’, book review by David Goldman of  What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, by Jonathan V. Last. and How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, by Mary Eberstadt.  Claremont Review of Books, XIII, Number 2, Spring 2013.


  1. Good work Rev Mark Durie. May God bless

  2. Where can I read Rudd's paper?

    1. Blake - apparently the link on Kevin Rudd's site is not longer live. I've replaced it with:


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