Ah yes. The new year, a perfect time to move on from the divisive marriage debate of late 2006. And how. If the debate is over on same sex marriage; we must now welcome a new debate over the legal recognition of multiple parents. When the Ontario Court of Appeal granted three adults legal parent status on January 2, 2007 it was not social conservative activists who opened up the marriage debate--it was the judges at the Ontario Court of Appeal. And why? They did so for the benefit of the adults involved.
There is evidence to suggest the best child outcomes occur in low conflict, biological married parent settings.  But there is no research to show that three parents, or even that same sex parents are good, bad, or irrelevant for child outcomes.  There is a definitive need for better comparative studies. In spite of what Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, calls an emerging consensus on the success of traditional family structure, there are related but competing fields of study, which challenge those assertions, without offering direct comparisons. “Thus the powerful new consensus on family structure is on a collision course with a separate emerging consensus from a related field: the social science literature on sexual orientation and parenting,” writes Gallagher. 
In order to say “yea” or “nay” to further attempts at family re-engineering, there should be some evidence upon which to base the decision. This would be a major undertaking, says Dan Cere, Assistant Professor of Religion, Ethics and Public Policy, McGill University. “Sociologists and psychologists acknowledge it would take a major interdisciplinary, collaborative research effort over the course of a few years to really get the high quality reliable data that is needed to answer the kinds of questions that need to be asked,” says Cere. “[Questions] like: is bio-genetic parental attachment really significant for the development of children—the biological development, psychological development, and social development of children? Are there significant differences comparing outcomes for children from intact families with other family forms whether they are donor conceived children, step families or children in same sex unions? What types of studies could provide reliable measurements?” These questions are not being asked or debated in the public square: in the legislature, in the courts, or in the media.
Around the globe, other countries are facing similar issues as Canada, yet with different outcomes.  In December in Ireland, the Irish High Court decided against the recognition of same sex marriage, for a number of reasons: Neither the Irish Constitution, nor the European Convention recognize same sex marriage as a right and the Irish High Court also ruled this was a matter for the legislature.  Finally, that decision was in part due to the expert testimony of renowned scholar Linda Waite, Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology in the University of Chicago, who testified there was simply not enough evidence to justify such a policy shift. 
Waite told the court of the solid evidence of good child outcomes in intact, biological parent homes.  She spoke of a dearth of good research on homosexual parenting. The decision reads: “None of [the research on gay and lesbian parents] to the best of her knowledge was based on survey research but rather was based on interviews or on very much smaller scale non random samples, therefore such research provides a much weaker basis for drawing scientific conclusions.”  Waite also referenced what we now know about the effects of divorce on children; where previously it was believed that divorce would have little effect on children, the reality today is much different. Divorce does affect “the emotional well-being” and “career and personal accomplishments” of adults. 
Waite's comments are typically met with howls of derision from anti-traditional marriage activists, and given ample airing by the media. But reasonable activists on both sides would be wiser to concede that in very concrete terms we have little idea how substantial changes to marriage affect children. What could the Ontario Court of Appeal possibly know that the rest of the world does not? Given the lack of evidence, what is the proper course of action? Do we barrel ahead with changes in favour of adult equality today, or do we wait in order to justify the change in terms of children's rights for tomorrow? The Irish High Court decided they needed to wait for more evidence.
Yet there is an enormity to the task of getting more evidence: it will come only from a major longitudinal, non-partisan study, done by highly specialized, credible researchers in various disciplines.
Cere estimates such a study would require a substantial financial investment. Still he says, “the money spent on Gomery would be more than enough to get the job done.”  A Royal Commission on the future of the family is one option; another might be to finance a non-partisan group of high calibre researchers to do the hard data collection and assessment, on child outcomes in different family forms.
But finally—the Three Parent Case means merely bleating that election promises have been kept and that marriage and the family are no longer the Parliament’s business is already passé—the words of a bygone era when all Canada had done was legalize same sex marriage. We certainly have moved on.
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