Does it make a difference whether your parents are lesbians?

Update: June 12th is Loving Day. On this day in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in 16 states at the time. (H/T Episcopal Intercultural Network.)


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Two studies of the development of children of same-sex couples appear in the June 10th issue of Social Science Review. They suggest we should be less confident that it makes no difference whether you're raised by a same-sex couple. As is to be expected of a politically charged issue the papers have drawn considerable attention. For that reason, perhaps, the SSR also published three comments of one of the studies.

Science Daily summarizes:

Despite considerable research showing that children of same-sex parents fare just as well as children with heterosexual parents, [the] two papers ... find insufficient data to draw any definitive conclusions.

The review by Dr. Loren Marks from Louisiana State University finds that much of the science that forms the basis for the highly regarded 2005 official brief on same-sex parenting by the American Psychological Association (APA) does not stand up to scrutiny. The new study by University of Texas sociologist and professor Mark Regnerus, provides compelling new evidence that numerous differences in social and emotional well-being do exist between young adults raised by women who have had a lesbian relationship and those who have grown up in a nuclear family....

According to his findings, children of mothers who have had same-sex relationships were significantly different as young adults on 25 of the 40 (63%) outcome measures, compared with those who spent their entire childhood with both their married, biological parents. For example, they reported significantly lower levels of income, more receipt of public welfare, lower levels of employment, poorer mental and physical health, poorer relationship quality with current partner, and higher levels of smoking and criminality.

"This study, based on a rare large probability sample, reveals far greater diversity in the experience of lesbian motherhood (and to a lesser extent, gay fatherhood) than has been previously acknowledged or understood," explains Regnerus. "The most significant story in this study is arguably that children appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day."


As one of the commenters solicited by SSR writes,
Because the topic is so politicized, scholars must pay even more careful attention to the presentation and interpretation of their findings. Although scholars are trained to use great care to disentangle the causal versus selection effects of family structure and child well-being, we understand that true causation can never be determined because we cannot randomly assign children to various family structures. Consumers of research on children of same-sex relationships, by contrast, may not always have the same training or be so careful in their interpretations. The results of scholarly studies are often scrutinized by pundits and legislators to support their pre-existing ideas of differences or ‘‘no differences’’ across groups.

…Regnerus (2012) finds substantial differences across groups and uses great care to note that his descriptive analysis does not imply causation and that the LM respondents may have lived in many different family structures. Still, the rigor of the study may lead some advocates to claim that growing up with a same-sex parent causes harm and should, therefore, be illegal.

In his invited reply Regnerus concurs.

Yet in Slate he writes,

The rapid pace at which the overall academic discourse surrounding gay and lesbian parents’ comparative competence has swung—from the wide acknowledgement of challenges to “no differences” to more capable than mom and pop families—is notable, and frankly a bit suspect. Scientific truths are seldom reversed in a decade. By comparison, studies of adoption—a common method by which many same-sex couples (but even more heterosexual ones) become parents—have repeatedly and consistently revealed important and wide-ranging differences, on average, between adopted children and biological ones. The differences have been so pervasive and consistent that adoption experts now emphasize that “acknowledgement of difference” is critical for both parents and clinicians when working with adopted children and teens. This ought to give social scientists studying gay-parenting outcomes pause—rather than lockstep unanimity. After all, many children of gay and lesbian couples are adopted.

There has been considerable debate of the studies. See,
- William Saletan writing in Slate.

- Live Science via Huffington Post

- Box Turtle here, here and here.

- Douthat

Comments (4)

I'm not sure what we learn from approaching the question from empirical point of view. The question for me is there a mechanism within homosexual partnerships that makes them less suitable as parents. I don't find it credible that there is one, nor do I think the data are capable of showing if there is.

Rather, if there is a mechanism I would look without to prejudice. Think of the children of black and white parents. I do believe there is a prejudice that the child bears, and it is a fair question whether the couples shouldn't take that into consideration before deciding to have children. I hasten to add the obvious: our president is a child of such a couple.

This is a deeply flawed study and I implore the Lead not to be so credulous. As cited onthe Live Science article to which you linked,

>>>"But other scientists say the research is deeply flawed, and does not measure the effect of same-sex parenting at all. The study defined same-sex parenting by asking participants if their parents had ever had same-sex relationships, and whether they had lived with the parent at that time. That led to a "hodgepodge" group of people who Regnerus then compared with kids in stable, married homes, said Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University who was not involved in the research.
"He doesn't have an actual category of gay parents in the project that you can isolate and say the most important thing in this kid's childhood is that they were raised by gay parents," Stacey told LiveScience. "These are kids whose parents, maybe they divorced, maybe they separated, maybe they had a scandalous affair, we just don't know." ...

In contrast, a fair comparison would have matched up children of same-sex parents with children of heterosexual parents who looked otherwise similar — no extra divorces, no extra separations, no extra time in foster care for the kids, said Gary Gates,'...

Instead, Regnerus categorized all people who said their parents were once in a same-sex relationship in the same group, even if those people had also experienced major childhood upheavals.
...
"All he found is that family instability is bad for children and that's hardly groundbreaking or new," Gates, who was not involved in the research, told LiveScience.

"What I find most frustrating is that from what I could tell, he could have used his data to test the way I'm suggesting the test, and he chose not to," Gates added. "He intentionally chose a methodology that is absolutely primed to find bad outcomes in those kids.""

The study was funded by an anti gay group. We can expect to see it quoted widely and used to attack gay families. Just wait till some nice lesbian mom loses her kids in court over this.

Susan Forsburg

I zoomed in on this story because during the mid-70s, I was one of the East Coast interviewers for the Blumstein and Schwartz couples study which included lesbian and gay couples in the sample. (Couples together from 2-30 years.) I also taught Sexuality and Society for a decade and published extensively about legal rights of sexual minorities. So much for cred, on to my point.

Back then, we already had data from sociologists about how sexual preference of parents had no impact on future sexual preference of their children. But during interviews I conducted, lesbian couples, more frequently than gay men, answered "no" to the question, "Would you want your child to be gay as an adult?" And because these were in-depth (3-4 hours) face-to-face interviews, we were able to probe why. Frequent answer: The lifestyle is too difficult, especially given the discrimination.

Again, this was back in the 1970s and their book, American Couples, was published in 1983.

I wonder whether the response to that question would be different if we were conducting interviews now. I hope so, but persistent, pervasive and now more subtle (at times) homophobia, makes me wonder.

More criticism of the study,

http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2012/06/12/45609

http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/104019/its-time-mark-regnerus-get-collectively-dumped

There's been some defense, too, but along predictable politicized lines. Not that the above aren't, although to a lesser degree.

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