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Why Kids Need Married Mothers and Fathers
Maggie Gallagher on Child Well-being Studies

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Children who are raised by parents who are not married are at a greater risk of depression, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, academic failure, criminal activity and poverty.

So says Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and contributor to the book "The Meaning of Marriage" (Spence).

Gallagher shared with ZENIT findings from studies on children with parents who never married or divorced, and the importance of traditional marriage for a child's well-being and the common good.

Q: Why should Catholics be concerned about marriage in the public square?

Gallagher: For Catholics, marriage is a sacrament. But the Catholic tradition has always understood marriage as a natural relation as well. People of all faiths can get married and their marriages matter to God, children, each other and the community.

Marriage helps create and care for the next generation, helping to satisfy men and women's deep human longings for connection with each other, and children's longing to know and be known by their own mother and father.

Q: You say marriage is important for children. What's the evidence?

Gallagher: A large body of social science research now affirms the importance of marriage for the common good.

For example: Marriage reduces the risk of poverty for children and communities. The majority of children whose parents don't get or stay married experience at least a year of poverty.

Fatherless households increase crime. Boys whose parents divorced or never married, for example, are two to three times more likely to end up in jail as adults.

Marriage protects children's physical and mental health. Children whose parents get and stay married are healthier and also much less likely to suffer mental illness, including depression and teen suicide.

Parents who don't get or stay married put children's education at risk. Children whose parents divorced or never married have lower grade point averages, are more likely to be held back a grade and to drop out of school. They are also less likely to end up college graduates.

When marriages fail, ties between parents and children typically weaken, too. Adult children whose parents divorced are only half as likely to have warm, close ties to both their mothers and their fathers. For example, in one large national survey, 65% of adult children of divorce reported they were not close to their fathers -- compared to 29% of adults from intact marriages.

Caring about marriage is thus part of our shared Catholic concern for children, the common good and social justice.

Q: Does it matter whether mothers and fathers actually marry? Can't they just live together?

Gallagher: Yes, marriage matters. Just living together is not the same as marriage.

Married couples in the United States who cohabit first are 30% to 50% more likely to divorce. People who just live together do not get the same boost to health, welfare and happiness, on average, as spouses.

Neither do their children. Children whose parents cohabit are at increased risk for domestic violence and child abuse and neglect. Children born to parents who were just living together are also around three times more likely -- in both the United States and Great Britain -- to experience their parents' breakup by age 5.

Q: What about same-sex couples? Should marriage be redefined to include them?

Gallagher: Same-sex marriage teaches the next generation that there is nothing special or unique about husbands and wives who can become mothers and fathers. It separates marriage from its great, historic, cross-cultural task of bringing together male and female to make and raise the next generation together.

A loving and compassionate society comes to the aid of motherless and fatherless children, but no compassionate society intentionally deprives children of their own mom or dad. Same-sex marriage announces that society has repudiated this goal and has placed adult desires for diverse family forms as its core goal.

Q: How do you respond to people who say our marriage laws are discriminatory?

Gallagher: Laws against interracial marriage were about keeping two races apart, so that one race could oppress the other -- and that is wrong.

Marriage is about bringing male and female together, so that children have mothers and fathers, and so that women aren't stuck with the enormous, unfair burdens of parenting alone -- and that is right.

Q: How would same-sex marriage hurt any one's marriage?

Gallagher: This is not just a discussion of benefits. If it were, we could come to some accommodations.

The logic of gay marriage is that there is no difference between same-sex and opposite sex unions, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is either irrational or bigoted.

Same-sex marriage advocates thus seek to use the law to force everyone to dramatically and permanently alter our definition of marriage and family. The law will teach your children and grandchildren that there is nothing special about mothers and fathers raising children together, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bigot.

It's going to be extremely hard to raise, say, young men to be good family men in a society that teaches the idea that anyone who thinks fathers and mothers should raise children together is a bigot.

And anyone who says otherwise may get subjected to legal punishments of various kinds.

Q: What do you mean by that? And what is the threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex marriage?

Gallagher: It's very real. Right now in the state of Massachusetts, for example, the government is set to strip Catholic Charities of its adoption license unless Catholics agree to place children with same-sex couples.

If you follow the racial analogy being made here -- that opposing gay marriage is akin to racial bigotry -- then ultimately the law is going to pressure Catholic and other religions' institutions and punish those that fail to conform to its new vision of marriage. I'm talking about things like broadcasting licenses and ultimately tax exempt status for Catholic schools and other faith-based organizations.

This may sound incredible. But who would ever have imagined that here in the United States a government would prevent Catholics from helping poor, abandoned, needy babies, unless they agree with the government's position on gay adoptions?

Q: What can we do in the United State to support marriage and protect religious liberty on these issues?

Gallagher: First, the Senate is going to vote on a Marriage Protection Amendment, protecting marriage as the union of husband and wife. Write or e-mail your senators.

Second, ultimately I think we are going to need some kind of "conscience" legislation from Congress on marriage, similar to that which protects facilities, organizations and individuals from being punished by state governments for refusing to participate in abortions.