As American public opinion appears to shift in favor of gay marriage and the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the issue next week, a major medical organization has weighed in, saying same-sex couples should be allowed to wed and calling it "the best way to guarantee benefits and security for their children."
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents more than 60,000 doctors, is making the announcement in the April edition of the journal Pediatrics, which is published online today.
"We were charged with this question -- is marriage equality for same-sex couples in the best interests of children?" said Ellen Perrin, a co-author of the academy's statement and a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
After five years of careful review of all credible scientific evidence, the academy concluded that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between parents' sexual orientation and children's well-being.
"If a child has two loving and capable parents who create a permanent relationship in the way of marriage, that's in the child's best interests," Dr. Perrin said, adding that the academy's stance is a natural evolution of its 2002 policy supporting full adoption and foster care rights for all parents, regardless of sexual orientation.
It is pure coincidence, she added, that the academy's position comes just days before the Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments on two cases that challenge state and federal definitions of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
The academy's decision was condemned Wednesday by conservative organizations, including the smaller American College of Pediatricians, a group founded in 2002 in opposition to the academy's support of gay adoption.
Den Trumbull, who heads the college of pediatricians, said that the academy "ignores solid evidence of health risks to children in advocating for the legality and legitimacy of same-sex marriage."
"They base their statement on limited data acquired and accumulated in a biased fashion," he said, adding that most studies about children of gay couples only deal with short periods of time, and that "vast amounts of historical data show that children reared by heterosexual couples in intact families fare the best."
The public seems to be moving toward a different view. On Tuesday, an ABC-Washington Post poll found that the percentage of Americans supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry has risen to 58 percent. In Pennsylvania, 47 percent still believe gay marriage should be illegal, according to Public Policy Polling, but the number of those who support legality has increased to 45 percent, a rise of 14 percentage points in just 1 1/2 years as of early March.
Still, with West Virginia poised to enact a law prohibiting discrimination against gays in housing and hiring, Pennsylvania will be the only state in the Northeast without an anti-discrimination law that specifically protects gays and lesbians.
The city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have their own ordinances to do that, but "you could work at Heinz during the day and when you drive home to Westmoreland County, your landlord can evict you for being gay," said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT advocacy group. Anti-discrimination legislation has never come up for a vote in the Legislature, either in a committee or on the floor, because of opposition by the Republican leadership, he said.
The number of states clearing the way for gay couples to wed is increasing -- to nine in all after the 2012 election, plus the District of Columbia.
The speed with which the high court's justices agreed to hear not one but two gay marriage cases may reflect a recognition that attitudes about gay marriage are changing quickly, far more so than in previous national debates about racial and gender equality, noted Amy Howe, cofounder of SCOTUS.com, a widely read legal blog that tracks Supreme Court cases.
Even some staunch anti-gay conservatives say they're feeling more isolated now.
"For Christians like myself, we look at it from a spiritual viewpoint. For us, homosexuality is a sin," said Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association, which opposes gay marriage.
These days, though, "it's an intimidating culture," he added. "People shout you down as a homophobe and a bigot, and the Southern Poverty Law Center calls us a hate group. They've been very effective at pounding away at this message, and Hollywood is completely in the tank. You never see a show that doesn't affirm the homosexual lifestyle."
Last week, one of the Republican Party's rising stars, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, revealed that his son was gay and that he now backed same-sex marriage.
Dr. Perrin of the American Academy of Pediatrics can only cite science -- and what she sees in her own office.
Ever since Massachusetts became the first state eight years ago to legalize gay marriage, "there's no question that the children I'm seeing feel less discriminated against. Their family is just as good as every other family."
Civil unions just didn't achieve the same effect, she said. "With arrangements that aren't marriage, those families are labeled as being not quite as good as other families, and the children are definitely aware of that. The academy does take positions that are controversial, but we stand strongly on the side of children."
Mackenzie Carpenter: 412-263-1949; email@example.com; on Twitter @MackenziePG.