Children miss out on a mum or a dad usually because of tragedy or desertion.
Where this occurs we as a society rightly provide financial and moral support to single parents.
Where children are orphaned the State usually seeks to provide a mother and father replacement family through adoption.
In all cases, the best interests of the child are paramount.
We have also rightly condemned and apologised for practices that led to the stolen generation and forced adoption practices of the past.
The recent debate about same-sex marriage has highlighted the issue of parenting by same-sex couples.
A number of studies have been conducted which seem to suggest that kids raised by same-sex couples fare no worse and possibly even fare better than kids raised by heterosexual parents.
The most recent, a survey of existing studies from here and overseas, was conducted by sociologist Dr Deborah Dempsey on behalf of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
A key message of Dr Dempsey’s survey is that: “Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual families.”
The same-sex marriage lobby was quick to say that Dr Dempsey’s survey of the studies means the debate about same-sex parenting is over.
However, it is known that data for most of these studies has come from self-selecting samples and mainly from lesbians from a higher than average socio-economic demographic.
Lesbian parents who have high incomes and are well-educated unsurprisingly report that their kids are doing well and they most likely are.
While increasing, the numbers of same-sex couples parenting children remain very small. Dr Dempsey says 33 per cent of lesbian women in Australia have children and 11 per cent of homosexual men have children.
Around two percent of the Australian population is homosexual or lesbian but not all are in couple relationships.
With such small numbers, particularly for male homosexual parenting, it is perhaps too early to be drawing conclusions.
The studies also, by-and-large, do not discuss the ethics of using Assisted Reproductive Technologies such as surrogacy and donor conception to sever a child’s link to a biological parent so that it can be given over to others.
Surrogacy and donor conception support groups indicate there are problems and already three Parliamentary inquiries have examined donor conception practices in Australia.
The Senate inquiry, with the agreement of all political parites including the Greens, recommended a prohibition on donor anonymity. This is something that does not suit many same-sex parents.
There are deep ethical issues which need to be discussed openly and dispassionately if we are to legislate a new definition of marriage.
The debate is about far more than the love of two people, there are consequences for children which need far more rigorous investigation.
The overwhelming conclusion of the vast body of social science research is that kids do best when raised by their biological mother and father.
Common sense and the evidence of past practices of child removal tell us that a child’s biological parents matter to the child, regardless of the love provided in alternative arrangements.
Yes two men can love a baby, but is it right to have removed that baby from her mother?
Are fathers an optional extra?
These are important ethical questions that should be front and centre of the debate about redefining marriage.
Once a new definition of marriage is legislated, these questions become obsolete. In fact, they become inappropriate.