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This Father's Day, a Reason to Celebrate

Does Father’s Day seem silly to you? You’re not the only person who feels that way. And you’re certainly not the first.

The first celebration, in 1910, was the brainchild of a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd. She wanted to honor her father, a Civil War veteran and widower who raised six kids on his own. But the holiday didn’t catch on right away and, for many decades afterwards, it provoked ambivalence. “Mother’s Day was different—everybody loved that from its 1908 start, but many people were suspicious of Father’s Day,” Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor explained a few years ago, “Some religious figures thought it was just a plot to sell hats. Some men thought it was just a plot to make them come in from the garage and get cleaned up for dinner.”  It wasn’t until 1972 that Father’s Day got formal recognition, via a proclamation from then-President Richard Nixon.

Retailers were thrilled and, today, most of us celebrate Father’s Day in one way or another. But I know one person for whom Father’s Day has particular meaning: An old high school friend named Steve. Steve and his partner, Kyle, got married a few years ago. And it wasn’t long before they wanted kids. Like so many same-sex couples trying to adopt, it was a struggle. They advertised on the web, worked through social networks, and had one adoption fall through at the last minute. I’ll spare you the details—except to say that Steve and Kyle had to drive all the way back home from the hospital, hundreds of miles away, with an empty baby seat in the back seat. But the story has a happy ending. In January, Steve and Kyle announced they’d successfully adopted a baby boy, Kellan. I haven’t been down to see them yet, but I’ve followed the (many) posts on their Facebook page. They are quite obviously thrilled—and Kellan is quite obviously one lucky baby.

Steve, Kellan, and Kyle (l-r)

Steve and Kyle have lots of company these days. Same-sex parents are far more common, and have far more acceptance, than ever before. In a March poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 64 percent agreed that “same sex couples can be as good parents as heterosexual couples,” while just 32 percent disagreed.  The gap was much narrower just ten years ago, when just 54 percent agreed and 37 percent disagreed. This shift is consistent with greater acceptance of homosexuality in general—and of same-sex marriage in particular. If you’ve seen the polls or the graphs that go with them, you know why this trend is likely to continue: Opinion on these issues has a sharply generational character, with younger people far more accepting than their older peers. 

The minority of skeptics includes Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court justice. And he’s in a position to do something about it. Sometime soon, quite possibly this week, the Court will rule on two cases about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. Scalia made his skepticism clear during oral arguments, wondering aloud whether children of same-sex couples could be expected to fare as well as those with heterosexual parents:

If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must—you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s—there’s considerable disagreement among—among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a—in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not—do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason. 

Research on the effects of same-sex parenting is not my expertise. But I know that the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Sociological Association all think same-sex parenting is just fine. That verdict seems consistent with the best research I could find, not to mention the personal experience of people (like me) who know same-sex parents. And while there are studies claiming to show that children of same-sex marriage fare worse, they have apparently not held up well to scrutiny.  

Fortunately, Scalia’s is not the only vote on the court. And perhaps thanks to Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of a 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws, same-sex marriage may have the five votes in needs to prevail in court. Now that would be something to celebrate.

Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him on twitter @CitizenCohn