David Blankenhorn, who heads up a think tank in New York, writes in his Sept. 19 Times Op-Ed article that because marriage is historically a means to provide children with legitimacy, it must so always remain. I do not agree that this is the sole reason for the modern institution of marriage. Nonetheless, applying Blankenhorn's argument further, should we not -- in addition to eliminating the right to marry for gays and lesbians -- also deny heterosexual couples who choose not to have children the right to wed? What about heterosexual couples who are past their childbearing years? Blankenhorn presents his self-identification as a liberal democrat as his credentials to make this argument. More likely, his argument is simply a smoke screen to strip gays and lesbians in California of their rights.
One can argue about the merits of children being raised in a gay or lesbian household as compared to those reared in a heterosexual household. However, it is an established fact that gays and lesbians are raising children, biological or adopted. About 27% of all same-sex couples identified in the 2000 U.S. Census have at least one child under 18 living with them. Do these children not deserve the protections that marriage would afford their families? Is it not better for these children to be living with married parents instead of two co-habitating adults? Isn't society's interest served by seeing more stable gay and lesbian families?
Eliminating the right to marry for gays and lesbians would not solve the problems surrounding the state of heterosexual marriage and children in the United States today. Currently, more than 22 million children -- about one-third of all kids in the U.S. -- do not live with two married parents. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the percentage of children living in single-parent families in 2006 ranged from 18% in Utah to 45% in Mississippi. Over the last 30 years, there has been a decrease in the proportion of Americans who are married -- and nearly 60% of new marriages will end in divorce.
The decline in marriage has been accompanied by an increase in children being born outside marriage. Increasing co-habitation -- two people living together outside marriage -- is a main reason in the rise of extramarital births. More than 4 million children lived in co-habitating couple households in 2003, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Blankenhorn goes on to say that children deserve to be raised by their biological fathers and mothers. In an ideal world, all children would be brought into the world by caring, responsible parents. Unfortunately, too many gays and lesbians such as my husband and myself are picking up the pieces left behind by irresponsible, neglectful and, much too often, abusive heterosexual parents. These children deserve better than the parents to whom they were born -- and gay and lesbian parents are providing better homes. If Blankenhorn were truly concerned about the state of marriage and children in this country, he would support social policies that would really help protect children. He could also adopt one of the tens of thousands of children who languish in foster care waiting for new parents.
Blankenhorn says that he rejects homophobia. But his Op-Ed piece is just a smoke screen to support the continuation of the broader second-class status of gay and lesbian families. The biggest threat to our society is not my marriage or any other marriage between two loving, consenting adults. In fact, heterosexual couples are doing a pretty good job themselves of bringing down the institution of marriage.
Fully including gay and lesbian families into the social framework of American society can only strengthen the institution of marriage. As my grandmother wrote in a card congratulating my husband and me on our recent marriage, "Now you are all truly a family."
James Overturf, an employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District, lives in Glendora with his husband and their two children.