Best Interests of the Child
A few weeks ago, 3 ½-year-old Evan Scott was wrenched away from his adoptive parents and given to his birth mother. As his adoptive mother collapsed, she yelled, "if you really loved him you wouldn’t do this to him." And she’s right.
The case proceeded because the birth father had never relinquished his rights. He was suing to get the child back, and the mother decided to join him. A judge agreed. What none of these three individuals considered important, apparently, was how young Evan would feel, torn from his family. As heartbreaking as it is to lose one’s child, love should require you to think of the best interests of that child first.
We believe these interests to be the bedrock of our society, yet I fear that is no longer the case. The last few decades have ushered in many social changes, largely without considering their impact on society’s most helpless. I think one reason that this has happened is because we have confused acceptance and approval. We don’t want any child to be stigmatized, so we don’t want to judge their parents. But accepting these children, as we should indeed do, is no longer enough. We must now approve of their parents’ actions. To even state that "statistically, children do better in a traditional, two-parent home", even though this is a demographic fact, is now seen as judgmental. Instead, all types of families are to receive our approval as being equal. On an individual basis this may indeed be true. Many single parent homes, for example, are better than many homes with two parents (my own family of origin comes to mind). But to equate all types of families is to devalue the type that best allows children to thrive. It is to consider adult feelings above children’s interests.
Besides, the welfare of children is not synonymous with the happiness of adults. Linda Waite, for instance, in a large study of children of divorce, found that children of unhappily married parents fared better than children of divorced parents. The parents may have felt happier apart, but the children did not. Yet I’m sure you’ve seen this in your own life. When we sacrifice for our children—by working hard so they can go to school, for instance—we may give up a level of happiness ourselves, but our kids thrive.
Right now, in Parliament, our MPs are debating whether adult wishes are indeed sufficient to redefine marriage. In this tempest, same-sex marriage is being framed as a human rights issue, as if every right must automatically be recognized. Our society, though, hardly recognizes all rights. The Supreme Court has recently found that there is not a right to be free from poverty, nor is there a right to receive all forms of health care. The United States recognizes a right to bear arms, while we do not. Even the rights we do recognize are hardly absolute. Freedom of religion, for example, does not include the right to polygamy, even if one’s religion allows it. In fact, a society that recognized all rights would cease to exist. Instead, we choose which rights to recognize, and this choice confronts our MPs now.
In the choice regarding the redefinition of marriage, the interests—and rights—of children must be weighed. We should not do anything lightly that will hold significant repercussions for them, and leaving them out of the debate is supremely unfair. If same sex marriage will reduce the number of heterosexual marriages over the long run, as has been shown, and this is detrimental to children, then that that is worthy of consideration. If children need their gender identities affirmed, and if gender is an important part of parenting—as studies have also shown—then this is worthy of consideration, too. And, before we erase 5,000 years of human custom, perhaps both issues are worthy of much more study.