The Parenting Question

One of the issues concerning the current gay marriage debate has to do with the parenting that occurs in such relationships. I have often held that the primary value of marriage between a man and woman to a society has to do with the parenting that occurs within such relationships. The state has no interest in sanctioning our romantic relationships – but it does have a significant interest in sanctioning and supporting those relationships in which children are raised. It is in such homes our citizens are created and the nature of the home can determine the future health and wealth and happiness of children.

So it is no surprise that one of the critical factors in the debate has been to consider how well gay couples do as parents. It is already established that children do best with two parents, and that there are many benefits from having a father and mother in the household in a long-term relationship. Gay marriage advocates tend to agree that a plurality of parents is beneficial, but contend that the sex of the parents is irrelevant. In defending such claims they have cited a number of studies that have been done over the years which purport to show that there is no significant difference between children raised in the home of gay parents and those raised of the homes of heterosexual couples. Such studies that are becoming increasingly important as the courts begin to take up these issues.

Now there are two new studies that come to notably different conclusions than previous investigations. In a study by Professor Mark Regnerus using data from the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), one of the largest samples to date of the health and well-being of young Americans there is evidence of numerous differences between the social and emotional well-being of children raised by women in a lesbians relationship, and those who have grown up in a heterosexual family. Most notable were these findings:

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.


A separate but related study by Dr. Loren Marks from Louisiana State University that previously widely cited study from 2005 regarding same-sex parenting fails to provide a sufficient basis to draw conclusions about same-sex parenting. As he puts it:

“The jury is still out on whether being raised by same-sex parents disadvantages children”, explains Marks. “However, the available data on which the APA draws its conclusions, derived primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalized claim either way.”

Like all published scientific studies, these findings will certainly be reviewed, debated, and further studied. What they seem to indicate now is that the data gathered so far on the subject of same-sex parenting don’t warrant the confidence advocates often attribute to them and that there is reasonable doubt about the efficacy of same-sex parenting when compared to the parenting of married heterosexual couples.

The question of course is whether those who are advancing a pro-gay marriage agenda will care about the data when it doesn’t support their position.

*Studies cited below*

How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study. by Mark Regnerus – Social Science Research Volume 41, Issue 4, July 2012, Pages 752–770

“Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American Psychological Association’s Brief on lesbian and gay parenting” by Dr. Loren Marks  – Social Science Research Volume 41, Issue 4, July 2012, Pages 735–751

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7 Responses to The Parenting Question

  1. I’m not going to go into the validity of this study (which has numerous flaws), but I must again ask something that I don’t think you’ve addressed:

    If the state’s interest in marriage is primarily the children produced from that pairing, should the state not have some reasonable expectations of the couple producing that offspring in terms of whether they’d make even tolerable parents?

    Should it not ask whether the couple in question has ever been convicted of child abuse or domestic violence?
    Should the state test for drugs or inquire about alcohol abuse? Should they insist that one has some proof of income and financial stability before granting a marriage license?

    This is basic stuff, here.

    Oddly, I don’t think I’ve heard of a single instance of any gay marriage opponent suggesting anything like this. The couple could be Charles Manson and Lizzy Borden, but because they have opposing sets of genitals, they get a marriage license with no questions asked.

    Does this make any sense to you at all?

  2. jackhudson says:

    I am fully in support of taking children out of the homes of unfit parents – and obviously laws to that effect already exist. I don’t think it is (or should be) within the state’s power to keep two adults from having sex though.

  3. Tristan Vick says:

    Interesting.

    There’s nothing to say a gay couple are unfit parents simply for sexual preference, however. It doesn’t look like that was the aim of the study, but it’s important to consider.

    If one gay person would, under other circumstances, be a fit father if he was in a heterosexual marriage, and the same could be said of his male partner, that he too would make a good husband to a wife, then the fact that they are both good fathers/parents wouldn’t change when they were together raising a child. That child would still have two excellent fathers.

    It seems the only criticism we have been seeing here, is people find it unusual, or different, or ikky that a child should have two parents of the same sex. But children often get raised by a single parent when one dies, due to war or natural diseases, or when those parents split or divorce, and these children usually develop with only (sometimes) minor psychological hang ups.

    But considering nearly all of the people I know, with a small handful of exceptions, come from broken homes and they are all fine people, I wouldn’t ever say that having only one parent of one sex is any better than two of the same sex. It seems that the sex of the parent is irrelevant in the development of the child, insofar as that parent is a good parent.

    But I agree with your later comment that children should be protected from bad parents.

  4. jackhudson says:

    If one gay person would, under other circumstances, be a fit father if he was in a heterosexual marriage, and the same could be said of his male partner, that he too would make a good husband to a wife, then the fact that they are both good fathers/parents wouldn’t change when they were together raising a child. That child would still have two excellent fathers.

    Which is irrelevant if what a child needs is a mother and a father.

    But considering nearly all of the people I know, with a small handful of exceptions, come from broken homes and they are all fine people, I wouldn’t ever say that having only one parent of one sex is any better than two of the same sex. It seems that the sex of the parent is irrelevant in the development of the child, insofar as that parent is a good parent.

    I am not sure anecdotal evidence is really signifcant for these purposes considering a considerable body of evidence suggests single parent homes have significant disadvantages.

  5. Tristan Vick says:

    My point was it is unrealistic to expect all homes to be perfectly balanced with two capable parents. If both parents are capable, then the criticism of gender or sexual orientation is irrelevant.

    The anecdotal evidence, and considering extra evidence such as the national divorce rate, would suggest the majority of families are at disadvantages.

    So a child of a gay couple would, potentially, have a greater advantage over a child of a divorced parents of the same sex.

    Also, the anecdotal evidence is valid in this case because it conforms to the statistical occurance of the absurdly high divorce rate in America. I cannot say the same about my Japanese friend, however, because even in unhappy families they tend to remain married and despondent. Maybe have girlfriends or boyfriends on the side in their later years, 40 plus. But divorce is much more rare, so that anecdotal evidence is culturally bound, I think.

    Americans think about themselves much more than other cultures, and so this reflects in their marriage habits and other cultural behaviors.

    Additionally, I don’t know if staying unhappily married is any better for the family unit than getting divorced, and the study neglects this relevant information too.

    Like the end of the study says, it is only one set of findings. There are others which need to be considered and balanced against to make broader claims with regard to child development.

  6. jackhudson says:

    My point was it is unrealistic to expect all homes to be perfectly balanced with two capable parents. If both parents are capable, then the criticism of gender or sexual orientation is irrelevant.

    I don’t expect all homes to be that way – I just don’t expect the government to sanction homes that aren’t that way by saying there is no difference.

    The anecdotal evidence, and considering extra evidence such as the national divorce rate, would suggest the majority of families are at disadvantages.

    Anecdotal evidence doesn’t ‘suggest’ anything to anyone other than you, and the national divorce rate has had a devastating effect on the lives of children. Most children in poverty are in broken homes.

    So a child of a gay couple would, potentially, have a greater advantage over a child of a divorced parents of the same sex.

    So? That isn’t the comparison that is being made. The comparison is to intact nuclear families.

    Also, the anecdotal evidence is valid in this case because it conforms to the statistical occurance of the absurdly high divorce rate in America. I cannot say the same about my Japanese friend, however, because even in unhappy families they tend to remain married and despondent. Maybe have girlfriends or boyfriends on the side in their later years, 40 plus. But divorce is much more rare, so that anecdotal evidence is culturally bound, I think.

    It doesn’t ‘conform’ to that – as I said statistics correlate poverty, lack of education and crime rate with broken families.

    Americans think about themselves much more than other cultures, and so this reflects in their marriage habits and other cultural behaviors.

    Possibly. But this isn’t an argument for gay marriage.

    Additionally, I don’t know if staying unhappily married is any better for the family unit than getting divorced, and the study neglects this relevant information too.

    The study didn’t intend to discuss that. There is no indication children fare better through divorces than they do when parents are unhappy.

    Like the end of the study says, it is only one set of findings. There are others which need to be considered and balanced against to make broader claims with regard to child development.

    It is actually one of the most comprehensive studies to date on the issue of children raised by gay parents versus those raised by gay parents.

  7. […] on the recent study showing that children raised by homosexuals have worse outcomes in a number of areas, David French […]

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