18 May, 2007

A family is a family is a family...

What makes a family a family? Is it biology or something else? Is the sex of the parents important?

Some elements of society would have us believe that the sex of the parents is of primary importance in determining the legitimacy of families. The rationales for this vary from religious to scientific, with everything from "holy writ" to empirical studies being offered in support of the view that Mom (female) + Dad (male) + child(ren) = Family being the only valid definition.

Those who know me will know that I regard the use of so-called "scriptures" and other revelations in support of any claim of fact to be...well..."of dubious utility" would be a polite way of putting it. Ayn Rand famously said, "the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind". There is no empiric or rational means of verifying revelation and thus it is useless as a means of gaining knowledge. Worse, it is self-destructive as well for it nullifies the very faculty (reason) whose chief purpose is to provide Man with the means of gaining knowledge. Given this, the use of the Bible or any other "holy book" to support denial of familial rights/privileges to any but traditional family structures reduces to a "because I said so!" argument devoid of any real moral force.

I'm also somewhat skeptical of empirical studies that purport to demonstrate harmful effects caused by other than so-called "traditional" families. Existing studies of such situations (of which I am aware) generally suffer from a variety of issues ranging from insufficient sample size to poor study design. Results are mixed, with some studies purporting to show negative effects, while others show neutral or positive outcomes. In my opinion, the more trustworthy of these studies are of the latter two types, but all are less than conclusive.

Moreover, whenever negative effects of a particular situation are proposed, it would seem beholden upon the proponent to posit a particular rather than general cause in order not only to eliminate possible auto-correlation (the effect of multiple causes independent of the causes themselves), but also to provide a rational connection between cause and effect (a causal mechanism: how X leads to Y). As an example, opponents of same-sex marriage often claim that it will destroy the instutition of marriage, the traditional family, and by extension, society itself. But they are (in my experience) completely incapable of giving any means by which this will come about. In other words, they have a posited effect (the destruction of marriage), but cannot articulate any means by which their posited general cause (same-sex marriage) will bring about the effect. Without such a causal mechanism, why should we accept the basis of any empirical study that purports to show a relationship between A and B? Correlation is not causation, and if we're to accept that A actually causes B, we need some rational connection between the two.

In the case of same-sex parenting, what could such a causal mechanism possibly be? I can't answer that question for I've never seen or heard any real one identified. "But they're both guys!" seems to be the extent of the argument. From my point of view, that's not exactly compelling.

While I do believe that two-parent Male/Female family situations are optimal for child-rearing, I do not see any reason to believe a priori that two-parent same-sex arrangements are necessarily of greater detriment to a child's well-being than single-parent or no-parent arrangements. Surely it's better to have two loving adults, each committed to protecting and caring for a child than one or none? To argue otherwise would seem contrary to reason if not mere common sense.

Given the preceeding and the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of orphaned children in need of loving parents, how can sane, decent human beings continue to seek to restrict adoption rights to opposite-sex couples? I find myself increasingly unable to answer that question in any way other than to note that opponents of same-sex adoption would seem to be either somehow not completely sane or not wholly decent. I think that seems unduly harsh; well-meaning and intelligent people may certainly disagree. But when the person with whom you disagree is unable to marshal any truly meaningful argument in support of their stance, what else is one to conclude?

The graphic at the head of this post is from Jessica Hagy's excellent blog: Indexed. Her simple illustration of the essential identity to all family structures was the inspiration for this post. If you haven't already familiarized yourself with her art and intellect, please do so immediately.

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