Friday, March 1, 2013 by Frank Muscat
In the 2012 issue of the scholarly journal Social Science Research, two studies about same-sex parenting were published, one by Louisiana State University associate professor Loren Marks and the other by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regnerus.
Both studies challenge the established claim made in 2005 by the American Association of Psychologists that children’s development of same-sex parenting is no different from that of other children raised by heterosexual parents.
My piece will focus on the contribution penned by Marks.
In Same-Sex Parenting And Children’s Outcomes: A Closer Examination Of The American Psychological Association’s Brief On Lesbian And Gay Parenting, Marks asserts that the APA had, prematurely and inaccurately concluded in its 2005 brief on lesbian and gay parenting that “Not a single study has found children of lesbian and gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents”.
Marks argues that the APA’s conclusion is not empirically-warranted: the data presented does not validate their hypotheses. The samples used are not representative, they are too small and do not include data of the comparison groups. Additionally, the diversity of same-sex parenting studies was dismissed and only a limited scope of children’s outcomes was studied.
Furthermore, the research lacked the statistical power expected by APA standards.
Marks’ overarching question in his study is whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new family form that provides a context for children that is equivalent to the traditional marriage-based family. He opines: “Even after an extensive reading of the same-sex parenting literature, the author cannot offer a high-confidence , data-based ‘ yes’ or ‘no’ response to this question.”
The APA posted a response to Marks’ and Regnerus’ studies. In this response, it asserted that “On the... basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the American Psychological Association and other health professional and scientific organisations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish”.
In my view, the APA fails to address any of the specific questions that Marks poses. If Marks’ analysis is correct, and my vast array of academic readings and working with children and families over many years lead me to believe his conclusion is right, the experts at the APA drew hasty conclusions.
Therefore, this makes the APA’s assertion suspect.
The APA’s claim also contradicts long-standing research asserting the view that the ideal environment for raising children is a stable biological mother and father. No other parental arrangement, from single-parenting to cohabitation to step-parenting, affords as many social, economic and emotional advantages as being raised by a biological mother and father joined in a life-time commitment. Same-sex parenting is no exception.
A father and a mother function is a complementary unit and, as such, each of them tend to contribute something that is unique and beneficial to child development. By definition, same-sex parenting excludes either a mother or a father.
The science of comparative parenting structures is still in its youthful state of inquiry, especially that concerning same-sex parenting. Therefore, a claim that same-sex parenting provides a level of benefit to children equivalent to that of a heterosexual household should first be rigorously tested and based on longitudinal studies and sound methodological and representative samples. Nearly all of the studies by the APA fail to meet these criteria.
What is abundantly clear from the above is that the existing science does not provide definitive answers and solid empirical support specifically for or against same-sex parenting. Stating otherwise would be tantamount to taking a quantum leap from the realm of science into agenda-driven research, which would, in turn, lead to toxic governmental legislation and policy, shoddy social-work practice and unwise judicial rulings. This would hardly be in line with the best interest of the child.
Given the pledges our mainstream political parties have made that, once in government, they would consider the issue of adoption of children by lesbians and gays, provided that adoption is in the best interest of the child, I would like to think that they take on board this seemingly intractable issue.