WASHINGTON – The benefits of intact biological families were emphasized on a "Building a Marriage Culture" panel at the National Review Institute's 2013 Summit, "The Future of Conservatism." One of the panelists, Doug Mainwaring, spoke of his personal experience as a gay man who came to realize that his own children need both a mother and a father.
"For a long time I thought, if I could just find the right partner, we could raise my kids together, but it became increasingly apparent to me, even if I found somebody else exactly like me, who loved my kids as much as I do, there would still be a gaping hole in their lives because they need a mom," Mainwaring, co-founder of National Capital Tea Party Patriots, said.
Mainwaring is now living with his ex-wife so they can co-parent their two teenaged sons.
"I don't want to see children being engineered for same-sex couples where there is either a mom missing or a dad missing," Mainwaring explained. "Somebody needs to stand up for the rights and needs of children in an age when the selfishness of adults seems to be trumping those rights."
Mainwaring receives many surprised reactions when he explains that he is both gay and a conservative. Someone asked him once, "You're gay, how can you be a conservative?"
The audience laughed and clapped as he recalled his reply: "You're an adult, you have children, how can you be a liberal?"
Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, and the author of four books on marriage, also described how personal experience led her to her views on marriage.
Gallagher was a senior at Yale with a 3-year-old son when her son's father left her. She was the "most advantaged unwed mother," Gallagher explained, due to her Ivy League education and supportive parents. But she "discovered that it's really hard to be an unwed mother, and worse, it's a lot harder on your kids."
"Every society needs a next generation," Gallagher said. "What marriage does is it unites things that in themselves tend to fragment. It unites sex, love, money, time, home, [and] mother and father."
The other two panelists, Professors W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Mark Regnerus, sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, described what academic research has found with regard to the relationship between marriage and children.
The good news, Wilcox said, is that marriage is on the rise among the well-educated and affluent. The bad news though is that among the working class and those with a high school education, co-habitation, splitting up and divorce is on the rise. This breakdown of marriage has detrimental effects on children in those families.
Regnerus was the principal investigator for a study of marriage that had one of the two largest random samples of any study on the topic. He found that children raised in intact biological households performed much better among 40 different measures, including crime rates, poverty rates, high school dropout rates, college attendance, and college completion. Regnerus also found that children of gay parents did notably worse on these measures than the children raised in intact, biological homes.
Several of the speakers emphasized the high cost to society when marriages fail.
"I think you can have social stability without many intact families," Regnerus said, "but it's going to be really expensive and it's going to look very 'Huxley-Brave New World-ish.' So it's not only the optimal scenario ... but it's the cheapest. How often in life do you get the best and the cheapest in the same package?"