“Teachable Moments”: The Use of Child-Centered Arguments in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

07 Apr 2010 03:50pm Ruth Butterfield Isaacson 

Child-centered arguments have played a central role in debates over expanding marriage rights throughout history. Opponents of interracial marriage argued in Loving v. Virginia that “mixed race” children from interracial households were physically and psychologically inferior and suffered from social stigmatization. Over forty years later, child-centered arguments again took center stage in the debate over same-sex marriage. The arguments initially focused on the harms to children raised by same-sex parents—specifically, that such children suffer from stunted development and social alienation. Over the years, these arguments gradually morphed into claims that same-sex marriage harms all children, because the prevalence of same-sex marriage in society and its integration in school curriculum confuses children about gender roles and the “true” meaning of marriage. Tracing the evolution of child-centered arguments from Loving through the recent battle for same-sex marriage in California’s November 2008 election on Proposition 8 offers valuable lessons to same-sex marriage advocates about the propriety and consequences of using child-centered arguments in defining the marriage rights of adults.

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