In our opinion: Family structure counts

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

But it now appears that the research supporting that conclusion was merely accepted instead of debated. Although there have been dozens of papers produced by academics on the issue, until today, the vast majority of those studies have been based on small, unrepresentative non-random samples. Indeed, running alongside Regnerus' study in Social Science Research is a complementary meta-analysis of prior research on the topic of same-sex parenting that calls into serious question the rigor and methods of those previous studies.

Although its most original findings stem from what the study says about households led by women in same-sex relationships, the Regnerus study also provides insight into the challenges for children growing up in homes where parents divorce, in adoptive situations, single-parent homes or where there has been remarriage. And what emerges is that intact married biological families with two parents is the family structure that is most closely associated with positive social, emotional, physical and economic outcomes for children.

Because it tells us so much about the importance of family structure generally, it would be unfortunate if the Regnerus paper became merely a blunt instrument in the struggle over same-sex marriage. Noting limitations in the data, Regnerus readily admits that the NFSS cannot answer questions of causation, and that one should not infer from these findings alone answers to challenging contemporary ethical and legal issues.

Nevertheless, what today's edition of Social Science Research should teach us is some healthy skepticism for so-called consensus findings, especially with regard to hot-button social issues where the biases of researchers might influence design and interpretation. Sound science demands that findings be testable, replicable and falsifiable. The NFSS appears to provide researchers a framework for that kind of sound rigorous social science with regard to the vital issue of family structure and child well-being.

Undoubtedly its soundness and robustness will be challenged in coming months. But should they hold up, the Regnerus study points to what biology, sociology, custom and religion have long indicated: family structure counts and the intact married biological family is the healthiest structure for nurturing the next generation.

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