There’s a much-talked-about new study out from Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin, that finds children raised in traditional mother-father homes do better overall than children raised in two-parent, same-sex homes. In fact, the outcomes among those kids track more closely with children raised in a heterosexual stepfamily situation, or a heterosexual single parent home. Regnerus writes about his and his team’s study in a Slate essay. Regnerus says the reason why his study is so much more reliable than previous studies showing no meaningful difference in outcomes, or even better outcomes from lesbian parents, is because the sample size is so much larger. Excerpt:

Let me be clear: I’m not claiming that sexual orientation is at fault here, or that I know about kids who are presently being raised by gay or lesbian parents. Their parents may be forging more stable relationships in an era that is more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian couples. But that is not the case among the previous generation, and thus social scientists, parents, and advocates would do well from here forward to avoid simply assuming the kids are all right.

This study arrives in the middle of a season that’s already exhibited plenty of high drama over same-sex marriage, whether it’s DOMA, the president’s evolving perspective, Prop 8 pinball, or finished and future state ballot initiatives. The political take-home message of the NFSS study is unclear, however. On the one hand, the instability detected in the NFSS could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples. On the other hand, it may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form while Americans continue to flee the stable, two-parent biological married model, the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.

How strange and depressing it is that what used to be common sense is now considered politically dangerous to say among elites. (N.B., William Saletan finds flaws with the Regnerus study, and says even if it’s true, it’s, yes, really an argument for gay marriage.) Ross Douthat says we are going into an unprecedented social experiment — “the final, formal severing of marriage from procreation” — in which, liberal optimism notwithstanding, nobody has any idea how it’s going to turn out. Excerpt:

If gay marriage is simply a basic natural right, of course — the formal legal expression of our right to love as we wish — it shouldn’t be up for reconsideration under any circumstances. This is a widespread view of wedlock, and it may already be the dominant one. But Regnerus’s study is a reminder of why marriage has traditionally been regarded as something other than just a celebration of love and a signifier of civic equality, and why the rationale for the institution has involved a child’s rights to his or her biological parents as well as in two lovers’ rights to one another. Marriage’s purpose, in this sense, has not been just to validate the consenting adults who enter into it, but to provide support and recognition for a particular way of bearing and rearing children – one whose distinctive advantages remain apparent, even as that recognition declines and disappears.

What Ross observes — that same-sex marriage marks the final severing of marriage from procreation — is the reason that so many of us on the social right oppose it. You have read my accounts here, from my late sister and other teachers, about how hard kids today have it in classrooms because they come from such unstable homes. We have deconstructed marriage to the point where for many, many people, it is all about fulfilling adult needs; kids are an afterthought, or an accessory. This is going to cost us.