My initial reason for writing this post was to respond to an article that recently appeared on “Unofficial Prognosis”, a blog on Scientific American by second-year medical student Ilana Yurkiewicz. Since I’m a second-year medical student myself, I guess that sort of means we’re on a level playing-field (though she DOES attend Harvard).
First, the backstory:
Earlier this month, two papers – published in Social Science Research – caused a wave of controversy by challenging the American Psychological Association’s claim that “not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents”.
The first paper, by LSU’s Loren Marks, was essentially a review of the 59 studies cited by the APA as support for its claim about same-sex parenting. Marks found that 26 of these 59 studies included no heterosexual comparison groups, that single mothers were often used as the heterosexual comparison group, and that the studies frequently focused on “privileged, homogeneous, and non-representative samples of lesbian mothers”. Based on the currently available data, he concluded that “strong assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted”.
The second paper, by sociologist Mark Regnerus, looked at an unprecedented national probability sample of 2,988 adults from various family backgrounds to compare outcomes in 40 different social, emotional, and relational areas. Outcomes were consistently and significantly poorer for those with a gay or lesbian parent, compared with those from intact biological families (outcomes were also poorer for divorced, single-parent, and other non-IBF categories). Although more research is obviously needed, this study casts serious doubt on the popular idea that “no notable differences exist” between children raised by their biological parents and those with same-sex parents.
One major criticism of the Regnerus paper is that it asks participants if their parents ever had a same-sex relationship, rather than asking if they had been raised by same-sex parents. It’s an important distinction, considering that many individuals in the “same-sex” category merely had a parent with a previous same-sex relationship, and might not have actually been RAISED by a same-sex couple. However, this fact dovetails into another important issue – namely, the well-documented instability of same-sex relationships.
This is summarized in an article from The Public Discourse:
“Only 2 out of the 15,000 screened spent a span of 18 years with the same two mothers. Among those who said their father had had a same-sex relationship, 1.1% of children reported spending at least three years together with both men. This strongly suggests that the parents’ same-sex relationships were often short-lived, a finding consistent with the broader research on elevated levels of instability among same-sex romantic partners. For example, a recent 2012 study of same-sex couples in Great Britain finds that gay and lesbian cohabiting couples are more likely to separate than heterosexual couples. A 2006 study of same sex marriages in Norway and Sweden found that “divorce risk levels are considerably higher in same-sex marriages” such that Swedish lesbian couples are more than three times as likely to divorce as heterosexual couples, and Swedish gay couples are 1.35 times more likely to divorce (net of controls). Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey, two of the most outspoken advocates for same-sex marriage in the U.S. academy, acknowledge that there is more instability among lesbian parents.”
Additional statistics on elevated levels of domestic violence and infidelity can be found here.
End of backstory; moving on:
In Yurkiewicz’s article, entitled, “Why Mark Regnerus’ study shouldn’t matter, even if it were the most scientifically robust study in the world,” she argues that raising children is a “basic right” – regardless of the individual’s sexual lifestyle:
“By saying empirical data on who rears more stable children is a factor in deciding who should be able to have children, you would be scientifically remiss in stopping at gay and lesbian couples. Rather, you would have to study all groups who want to have children, and compare and contrast outcomes. By race. By religion. By age. By political affiliation. By socioeconomic background. And the list goes on and on.”
From a legal perspective, this is a fairly convincing argument…PROVIDED we accept her premise that a person’s sexual lifestyle is comparable to factors like race, religion, age, etc. That’s a controversial idea, but it actually isn’t the point I want to argue.
I think we should look at this from a societal perspective rather than a legal one. Even if Yurkiewicz doesn’t believe that Regnerus’ study should matter with regards to the legal status of same-sex parenting, she should at least concede that it matters in the way we, as a society, define the ideal standard for raising children. This cuts directly to the ongoing efforts of many progressives to portray same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting as “completely normal”…no different, really, than traditional marriage and parenting (see the APA’s claim, above).
This is a viewpoint that I cannot accept (particularly if Regnerus’ study were, as Yurkiewicz offered for the sake of argument, “the most scientifically robust study in the world”). Let me illustrate this with a couple examples:
- Divorce is legal, and many children are consequently raised by single parents or stepparents. Yet even though divorce is legal, it’s something we frown upon as a society – recognizing that it’s unhealthy for the children involved.
- Obesity is legal, and many children are fed unhealthy diets by uninformed or apathetic parents. Yet even though obesity is legal, it’s something we frown upon as a society, and discourage as future physicians. (And a person isn’t a “bigot” for pointing out the documented ill-effects of obesity…even though the trait is largely genetic, and many obese individuals can accurately say they were “born that way”.)
This is what it means to have an evidence-based outlook. Even if the Regnerus study doesn’t affect how a person views the legal issues of same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, it should nonetheless contribute to how we define the ideal environment for raising children. I remain convinced that this “ideal environment” includes a mother and a father.