How same-sex marriage violates children’s human rights

The following article is adapted from a talk given on 1 June 2023 by Professor Tapio Puolimatka in Talinn, Estonia, where the same-sex marriage is set to be legalised in the coming weeks. Prof Puolimatka is a Finnish philosopher and educational scientist who has published widely on marriage, gender ideology, and children’s rights, drawing together helpful social-science data from secular research, the findings of which are substantiated by common sense, faith and tradition. The conference at which he spoke was part of a series of events aiming at bringing children’s rights into the spotlight in the public debate, focusing above all on the two fundamental children’s rights: right to life and right to a mother and father. 

In the course of his talk, Prof Puolimatka reminded the conference that Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights indicates that the right to marry is a compound right involving both “the right to marry and to found a family”. “Marriage,” he continued, “establishes and institutionalises not only one adult’s relationship to another adult, but also the relationship of those adults to the children born to them. The institution of marriage is intrinsically connected to parenthood and to the values and norms associated with bearing and raising children.”

Outlining the gravity of the proposed legalisation of same-sex marriage for the welfare of children, Prof Puolimatka explained:

“[A] major deficiency in the project to legalise same-sex marriage is an almost complete disregard for children’s inherent natural rights to know and be raised by their biological father and mother… Instead of starting with the most vulnerable persons, children, and their legitimate claims on us as to how we treat them, the focus is adult-centred. By downplaying the significance of the gendered structure of marriage, the new law undermines children’s identity and relationship rights, which are arguably among their most fundamental human rights. The moral violation involved in causing this incalculable suffering and harm to children undermines the moral fabric of society as well as its cultural potential, stability and prosperity.”

With reference to the social-science data on the good preserved by the traditional understanding of marriage as a natural institution, Prof Puolimatka refuted arguments, such as “not all gender-diverse marriages produce children — why should same-sex ‘marriage’ be disregarded on that ground?”; “it is a desirable life-good that children be raised by their biological father and mother, but is not a universal human right”; and “redefinition of marriage in genderless terms is required in order to protect the children that are already living in same-sex households”. 

He also highlighted the three fundamental rights listed by Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics at University of Notre Dame, Australia, which children have with respect to their biological origins and which cannot be taken away from them without incurring incalculable harm: (1) their rights to knowledge of their biological origins; (2) their rights to be reared within their immediate and wider biological families; and (3) their rights to a parent of each sex.

He went on to explain how the biological origin of a human child in a love relationship between a woman and man forms the basis for the child’s identity in several respects: (1) One’s moral identity as a human being with inherent worth is supported by the fact that one’s existence is the fruit of the love between a mother and father. (2) One’s social identity is founded on the web of social relations, as the child of one’s parents. (3) A foundation of one’s sexual identity is the awareness of being the fruit of the love between a man and a woman. (4) One acquires one’s national identity by the association with one’s kin and its place in the wider community of a nation. In this way one is able to locate one’s special place as a member of humanity. (5) Through biological origin, one is connected with previous generations and with human history. To break this historical connection leaves the child without an acknowledged place within the chain of human generations. (6) Through historical origin, one participates in a mother’s and father’s cultural heritages with their languages, literature and art. In summary, he observed:

“The supporters of same-sex marriage claim that children do not need a father and a mother: a social parent can replace a biological one without the child incurring any harm or injustice. They assume that the same-sex structure of the union creates no problems in the rearing of children. In this way, they disregard the research evidence according to which mothers and fathers generally have different strengths in parenting and that the absence of the mother or the father harms children’s development in different ways. Absence of gender complementarity in the family makes it difficult for children to learn how men and women relate to each other. Absence of a father predicts children’s behaviour problems, depression, lower self-esteem, lower life-satisfaction, and difficulties in transition to adulthood. The father’s presence is associated with a delayed onset of puberty in daughters and a lower risk of teen pregnancy. Lack of maternal responsiveness predicts infants’ insecure attachment styles that lead to problems in psychological adjustment later in life.”

“The defenders of same-sex marriage fail to consider the fact that the redefinition of marriage in genderless terms increases the number of orphans by destabilising marriage and by encouraging the production of so-called genetic orphans. Since genderless marriage gives adults the freedom to marry in terms of their sexual orientation and the consequent right to found a family, it implicitly endorses their right to produce children using the means made available by third-party reproductive technologies.”

“Since children cannot voluntarily participate in their own creation and cannot give their informed consent to the arrangement agreed upon them, their freedom and choice are often completely forgotten… The ethical doctrine that in fact needs to be respected in this context is that of “anticipated consent.” We ought to try to stand in the shoes of the person affected by our decision and to ask: “Can I reasonably anticipate that if the persons were able to be asked, they would consent to what I want to do that will affect them?” Somerville applies this principle to future children: “What might we reasonably assume that a future child would consent to if they were able to make their wishes known? Evidence is starting to come in: ‘donor-conceived adults’ describe powerful feelings of loss of identity through not knowing one or both biological parents and their wider biological families, and describe themselves as ‘genetic orphans.’ They believe society was complicit in a serious wrong done to them in the way they were conceived and ask, ‘How could anyone think they had the right to do this to me?’”1

Prof Puolimatka concluded that “it is unethical to deliberately create genetic orphans who lose a sense of connection to their individual−human−family past and experience the deep suffering and loss of identity as a result”, quoting Somerville’s observation that:

“It is paradoxical that in an era of sensitivity to individual human rights and ‘intense’ individualism, we are prepared to wipe out for others one of the most important bases on which we found a sense of individual identity.”

“The disintegration of marriage as a gender-diverse conjugal union is contrary to the essential purpose of the marriage institution to protect children as persons of inherent worth rather than as means to the satisfaction of adult needs. Somerville also points out the harmful social consequences that institutionalising same-sex marriage will have: 

“‘Where the nature of marriage is obscured and the culture of marriage is weakened, fewer young men and women marry, fewer view marriage as the proper context for sexual conduct and expression, and the number of children born outside marriage dramatically increases, and with it the number of children growing up outside intact families.’ Hence, the number of orphans increases.

“The law is like a teacher, with social legislation having an educational impact —shaping culture, which influences people’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour. 

“When important facts about the natural structure of the family are obscured, the well-being and moral integrity of both adults and children are at risk. Marriage is based on heteronormative principles, on the complementarity of a woman and a man, as professor Douglas Farrow states: 

“‘The erosion of the institution of marriage between a woman and a man will lead society into general cultural chaos, for heteronormativity cannot be separated from culture. It is a universal feature of all cultures, and an attack on heteronormativity can only mean cultural suicide — no society that takes such an approach can remain viable in the long run.’2

“According to the Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman, the role of the family in the process of social renewal is the basis for all advanced cultures, upon which they develop and whose decline eventually causes their decay. An advanced culture develops on the basis of a family-centred way of life, but in the course of its development and prosperity, it often loses its original connection with the fundamental source of its being, the family-centred way of life. If this process goes too far, civilisation soon exhausts its community resources. The result is reaction and degeneration. The degree of reaction and the duration of the dark ages seem to depend on how quickly the culture finds its way back to its starting point — the family-centred way of life.3

“The well-being of the family is a precondition for the flourishing of civilisation.”

The whole of Professor Puolimatka’s talk can be read here.


1. Margaret Somerville, “Children’s human rights and unlinking child−parent biological bonds with adoption, same-sex marriage and new reproductive technologies,” Journal of Family Studies 13, no. 2 (2007–2017), p. 195.

2. Douglas Farrow (2010) “The Government of Québec Declares War on ‘Homophobic’ and ‘Heterosexist’” Populace” (McGill University, 2010)

3. Carle Zimmerman, Family and Civilization (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1947) pp. 782−783.