Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Studies on families should impact SCOTUS marriage decision

This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether same sex marriage is a protected right under the Constitution. Along with whether the ability to marry anyone you choose is indeed a constitutional right, one of the issues that the justices must consider in answering this question is the question of what is best for children.

As the small number of same-sex families increased, several studies were done on the issue. Proponents of same-sex marriage have claimed that such studies have shown that gay families fare as well or better than heterosexual parents. Breakpoint quotes an American Psychological Association statement that says, “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.” According to the New Republic, the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision striking down California’s definition of marriage law says, “Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful, and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.” In truth, the evidence so far has been inconclusive, but two recent studies shed doubt on these claims.

Last year a study seemed to confirm what many people already suspected. The New Family Structures Study, published in Social Science Research in July 2012, has one of the largest sample sizes of any study on the subject as well as improved methodology over previous studies. From more than 15,000 people, the author of the study, Mark Regnerus, found 175 people with mothers and 73 people with fathers who were in gay relationships for at least part of their childhood.

One surprising finding from the study was that Georgia has more children living with same-sex couples than any other state. In general, gay families live in the same places heterosexual families do. Gay families are not concentrated in homosexual meccas like San Francisco.

Not so surprising is the fact that gay families tend to be less stable than traditional families. Only two of the 175 children of lesbians reported spending their whole childhood with a single set of parents. None of the children of gay men spent their entire childhood with the same two parents. According to the study, only 57 percent of the children spent more than four months with the same lesbian parents. Only 23 percent had the same parents for three years.

This instability in the family leads to problems for the children. Regnerus said in Slate, “Such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, and report… more sexual victimization.”

Unsurprisingly, the Regnerus study has sparked criticism. Writing in Slate, William Saletan points out that the study followed children of gay parents before same sex marriage was legal in any U.S. state. Saletan also argues that because they were not part of families with two gay parents who decided to have children, the people from the study “aren’t the products of same-sex households. They’re the products of broken homes.” Of course, it is biologically impossible for same sex couples to have children of their own without medical intervention.

Regnerus’ study is somewhat supported by a new study released earlier this month by Third Way, a self-proclaimed moderate think tank. The study, “Wayward Sons,” supports the idea that boys “seem to suffer” in single parent households without a male role model. While the study does not directly address same-sex marriage, it underscores the fact that there are differences between the genders and that children need positive role models of the same gender. Two mothers or two fathers do not seem to be equivalent to a mother and a father.

As Doug Mainwaring points out in the Public Discourse, “Genderless marriage is not marriage at all. It is something else entirely.” Mainwaring, a gay man who became a father in a heterosexual marriage, says that reason and experience rather than religion and tradition led him to two unexpected conclusions. First, he says, “Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman.” Second, he argues that “denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.”

At this point, the evidence of the impact of same sex marriage on children and society at large is inconclusive. If the Supreme Court leaves the matter in the hands of Congress and the states, there will be ample data for future studies on the impact of same sex marriage and parenting. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia permit marriage between same sex couples, many of whom are undoubtedly raising children. If new data supports the findings of these recent studies that children, especially boys, really do need both a father and a mother, the societal implications of the Supreme Court’s decision could be earthshaking.

Originally published on Examiner.com:


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