Studies challenge widely held assumptions about same-sex parenting

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 10:01 p.m. MDT

Adult children of parents who have been in same-sex relationships are different than children raised in intact biological families on a number of measures, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin.

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In our opinion: Family structure counts

The oft-cited assertion that there are "no differences" in outcomes between children of same-sex parent households and those of intact biological families may not be accurate, according to a new study published Sunday in the journal Social Science Research.

Adult children of parents who have been in same-sex relationships are different than children raised in intact biological families on a number of social, emotional and relationship measures, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Among other things, they reported lower income levels, poorer mental and physical health and more troubled current romantic relationships. The study found 25 differences across 40 measures.

The research does not address why the differences exist. It doesn't predict if changing attitudes that are more accepting of same-sex relationships will mean that children growing up today with same-sex parents will one day fare better in similar analysis. It doesn't address stigma or whether the difference is not the sexual preference of the parents but rather how stable the home life was, lead investigator Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at University of Texas Austin's Population Research Center, told the Deseret News.

"Nor does the study tell us that same-sex parents are necessarily bad parents," he said in a written statement. "Rather, family forms that are associated with instability or non-biological parents tend to pose risks for children as they age into adulthood."

His study does challenge long-held assertions that there are no outcome differences between children raised in intact biological families and those with same-sex parents.

A question of bias?

A separate analysis in the same journal edition by Loren Marks, associate professor at Louisiana State University, more directly challenges previous same-sex parenting studies as inadequate, biased and unreliable. He lists seven concerns with the science, including the fact that "well-educated, relatively wealthy lesbian couples have been repeatedly compared to single-parent heterosexual families instead of two-parent marriage-based families." Single-parent families typically have poorer child outcomes across several measures, so it's easier to look better against them, he said.

W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia said biological married families are the gold standard for better outcomes for children.

How children fare in different family structures is a timely question because those on both sides politically of the gay marriage issue said the very studies Marks criticizes are often referred to by judges and legislators as authoritative in showing that lesbian mothers, in particular, are as good or better parents than biological, married parents. The American Psychological Association asserted as much in a brief in 2005, citing that research.

"The claims in that brief seem premature and overstated," Marks said. "I'm not trying to say the truth is 180 degrees in the other direction. That would be premature and overstated as well. But we need high-quality science on this topic that informs decisions with more valid and generalizable data."

Attempts to interview a spokesman from the APA or a primary author of the brief were not successful.

The research published Sunday is certain to be controversial, Marks said, adding he is not affiliated with either political party. "I never wanted to be co-opted on either side as someone to hate or as a campaign manager for anybody."

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