As the US Supreme Court prepares to consider the legality of gay marriage next week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents thousands of pediatricians, took a firm position Thursday in support of gay civil marriages in a policy statement drafted by two Boston doctors.
The group also came out in support of full adoption and foster care rights for all parents, regardless of sexual orientation; the pediatricians said states should not limit adoptions or foster care placements to single parents who are heterosexuals.
“This has been in the process for four to five years,” said Dr. Ellen Perrin, co-author of the policy statement and director of research at the Center for Children with Special Needs of the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. But the release was timed to draw the attention of the Supreme Court justices, she added, and hopefully sway them to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.
For the past decade, the pediatricians’ group has supported adoptions by second parents of children born to one gay parent as a way to ensure health benefits, financial security, and strong parental relationships in the event of a divorce. The new policy supporting civil marriages for couples of the same gender is based on research showing health and economic disparities in children being raised by parents who aren’t married.
“In the absence of marriage, children don’t have the protections of divorce law, such as legal enforcement of custody decisions and legal access to both parents,” Perrin said.
Employers can also refuse to provide health insurance to children in households with unwed parents, and the federal government can refuse to provide Social Security and disability payments, or food stamps, to an unwed partner.
Denial of federal benefits also occurs in the nine states, including Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been legalized.
“The AAP believes there should be equal opportunity for every couple to access the economic stability and federal supports provided to married couples to raise children,” said Dr. Benjamin Siegel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who was the other lead author of the policy statement. “On a social level, children in school can explain to their friends that they have two mommies or two daddies but that they’re married just like most of their friends’ parents.”
An Academy task force of pediatricians previously noted that married couples tend to be physically and emotionally healthier and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than unmarried adults, and a number of studies have linked the quality of marital life with how well a family functions.
Whether parents love each other and are nurturing and supportive of their children largely predicts how well their children fare in the future, Siegel said, not their sexual orientation.
The American Academy of Family Physicians issued a statement in support of gay marriage last October, but Perrin said the pediatrics group has a unique position on the issue. “We speak with a different kind of voice that’s long been an advocate for children, while most other organizations speak for the adults,” Perrin said.