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A case against SCOP

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Regarding his and his partner’s decision to have children, Neil Patrick Harris told Oprah, “We really had thought it through financially, emotionally and relationship-wise. We didn’t just accidentally get pregnant. These kids come into our world with nothing but love.” How many heterosexual parents can say the same?
Whether or not you believe that a loving, heterosexual union is the best moral context for raising children, it is inaccurate and naïve to ignore the fact that not all heterosexual unions produce such ideal family contexts. Currently, four in 10 babies in the U.S. are born to unwed mothers; 19 percent of pregnancies are unwanted and another 29 percent are unplanned, meaning that in only 52 percent of births (these figures exclude abortions) the resulting child is both wanted and planned (Guttmacher Institute). This is not to say that accidental or “oops” pregnancies cannot result in loving, parent-child relationships — many times they do. Rather, it points out that heterosexual parents often deviate from traditional family models, and that since gay parents face enormous obstacles to become parents, they tend to be immensely invested and dedicated when they make the decision to have or adopt a child.
The type of logic that ignores empirical data surrounding the social reality of marriage and parenting moved me to write an initial petition against the group Students for Child Oriented Policy (SCOP). I apologize if the initial petition framed SCOP as a bigoted or heartless group. My intention was certainly not to frame SCOP as heartless or to criticize their moral view; rather, my intention was to point out that there are fundamental issues with the group’s argument.
In the group’s marriage petition, SCOP claims to place primary emphasis on how the particular policy, meaning gay marriage, will affect children. Our petition is not taking a stand against the group’s moral stance on same-sex marriage. We respect the group’s right to object to same-sex marriage on moral and religious grounds. However, the petition addresses that if SCOP stands for “child-oriented policy,” this implies that they want the best outcomes for children. If this is the group’s primary focus, then they must recognize that social science has shown that same-sex unions produce no differential outcomes for children. In fact, in many cases, same-sex parent households provide a loving and caring home for children who would otherwise remain in institutions such as foster care. Thus, same sex marriage can be empirically accepted as a child-oriented policy. In ignoring this data, SCOP’s policy discriminates against all non-traditional family structures in a way that is in opposition of University policy on diversity and inclusion in Du Lac.
When I met with a SCOP representative Tuesday, he did clarify that SCOP is primarily interested in reinforcing the institution of marriage as a union that should be oriented towards lovingly raising and caring for children. This not only focuses on gay marriage but also includes criticizing no-fault divorce and how it has damaged traditional family structure. Additionally, he clarified that in extreme situations, where children cannot possibly be raised by their biological parents, SCOP is not against same-sex adoption as an alternative.
However, the primary grievances stated above remain unresolved. SCOP cannot claim to be inclusive and implicitly nondiscriminatory without recognizing the empirical data surrounding same-sex parenting. In a recent study published in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (“Can Gay and Lesbian Parents Promote Healthy Development in High-Risk Children Adopted from Foster Care”) authors Lavner, Waterman and Paplau concluded that children adopted out of foster care experienced the same level of improvement across the board, despite the fact that gay couples were disproportionately more likely to adopt high-risk children. Additionally, an objective study from Michael Rosenfeld examined grade repetition using census data to measure “Same-sex Parenting and Kid’s Educational Success.” In the study of the same title, he concluded that there were no differential outcomes in grade repetition — a crude, but nonetheless telling, measure of childhood success, especially considering that children in foster care are highly more likely to repeat a grade.
When asked why SCOP does not recognize or reference this and other empirical data that explores same-sex parenting, my correspondent claimed that the social sciences are not “hard” sciences and that this literature is not relevant to SCOP in its current foundational stages.
While there are certainly issues in attempting to study same-sex parents and their children, and more data is needed for a complete evaluation of childhood outcomes, the studies I reference in the petition provide adequate measures that same-sex couples are perfectly acceptable parents. The existing data has been sufficient enough for the American Sociological Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association and the American Pediatric Association to issue statements that disavow the notion that same-sex parenting is in any way damaging or produces differential outcomes, for children.
If you disagree with me, I encourage you to explore the empirical data and academic literature. The reality is that moral opinions surrounding the same-sex marriage debate are completely separate from the empirical data that should constitute a same-sex parenting debate.
I am not criticizing moral or religious beliefs on same-sex marriage, but I am challenging us, as a university community “in the pursuit of truth and knowledge,” to separate empirical fact from moral opinion. The existence of a club entitled “Students for Child-Oriented Policy” that focuses on reorienting the marriage debate without addressing literature that suggests that same-sex unions produce perfectly healthy childhood outcomes is problematic. It does not frame the marriage discussion on completely moral or empirical grounds; instead it implies the moral as empirical and is a poor representation of our University’s mission.
Choosing to frame the discussion in this way does not stand for acceptance or inclusion; it assumes that heterosexual marriage is the most superior context for childrearing. There is nothing about a heterosexual union that is, on the surface, more oriented towards favorable childhood outcomes. Rather, this is dependent on the commitment of the spouses to each other and their children. Ultimately this is a question and challenge to individuals, not the entire institution. Ideal is not reality and, whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage from a moral standpoint, the reality is that, in 2014, the context of same-sex marriages produces no differential outcomes for children.

Shannon Sheehan
Pasquerilla West Hall
April 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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