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The loss that may not speak its name

Children are not as able to adapt to "family diversity" as easily as gay activists claim.
Dale O'Leary | 23 July 2012
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lesbian parents

Sandy Russo, Ry and Cade Russo-Young, Robin Young. Picture: Robert Maxwell / New York Times 


Estimates of the number of children in the United States alone being raised by same-sex couples run to many millions. In the interests of these children we need to know how happy they are and how they are turning out. The quasi-official word on the subject comes from the American Psychological Association, which reported in 2005: “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.”

Two studies published recently in Social Science Research have shot that claim to pieces. First, Loren Marks has shown that, of the 59 studies in the APA review, most had collected a small sample of white, well-educated, well-off lesbian parents and asked them how their children were doing. To which the mothers replied, “Great, no problems”, or words to that effect. None of the studies compared these children to kids raised by their biological, married parents.

Second, a well designed study by Mark Regnerus, “How different are the children of parents who have same-sex relationships?” compared such children to those who grew up with their married biological parents. He found that the young adults whose mothers engaged in same-sex relationships were significantly more likely to have received welfare; be currently cohabiting; be currently on public assistance; be currently in therapy; have had outside affairs while in a relationship; have had a sexually transmitted infection; have experienced sexual child abuse; and been forced to have sex.

How did the studies put forward by the APA get it so wrong?

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that those persons with same-sex attraction (SSA) who acquire children desperately want to believe that their decisions have not harmed their children and so they deny the obvious problems, and worse they deny their children’s pain? They love their children and, like all parents, they want the best for them, so how can they admit to themselves -- let alone a researcher who hopes to prove that there was no harm -- that they have purposefully put their children in a second-best situation.

The children, also, are forced to deny their feelings. They love their parents and depend on them, but they learn very quickly that their natural desire for their missing biological parent is not acceptable. The child is not be able to voice his dissatisfaction with his situation, and at the same time will feel guilty for not being wholly grateful. The combination of parental denial and the child’s guilt will lead the children to conclude that there is something wrong with them.

When talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, an open lesbian whose coming out was widely publicized a decade ago, was asked what she would do if her adopted son wanted a father, Rosie replied that he had already expressed that desire. When he was six, he’d told her, "I want to have a daddy." Rosie said she’d replied, "If you were to have a daddy, you wouldn't have me as a mommy, because I'm the kind of mommy who wants another mommy.” He answered, "OK, I'll just keep you."

While Rosie undoubtedly saw this as a positive affirmation of same-sex adoption, there is another interpretation. She sent her son the message that expressing his very natural desire for a father was unacceptable.

In 2004 a cover story in the New York Times Magazine, "Growing Up with Mom and Mom" featured a woman named Ry Russo-Young, who according to the headline was "raised from birth by trailblazing lesbians.” The article showcased Ry, then 22, and her 24-year-old sister, Cade, as glowing poster children for successful same-sex parenting. Ry's mother explained, "It's like our whole lives together have been this one big, messy, incredible experiment and it worked."

And yet even in this idealized, hand-picked example, it was clear that there were many ways in which the “experiment” had failed.

Both Ry and Cade were conceived with sperm from openly gay men. Ry had had a positive relationship with her biological father until he asked for permission to take Ry to see his parents and grandmother in California. When her “mothers” refused, her father filed for paternity rights. He made some headway in the case, but then abruptly dropped his suit when he realized that the litigation had caused him to lose Ry's affection. When Ry talks about her biological father (now dead from AIDS), “a hint of a wistful tone creeps in” – except when her “mothers” were present, when according to the article’s author she became “almost uncharacteristically tough."

Both Ry and Cade struggled with their sexuality. Cade came out as a lesbian while Ry was at one point "repulsed" by heterosexual relations, and afraid of the "sexist soul-losing domain of oppression" she believed it to be. Admitting her own heterosexuality meant “growing up and away from my mothers." Still, sometimes she still feels as though she is "passing" for straight. The article’s author notes that, "For most of her life, Ry has been both parent and child to her mothers."

Pro-gay researchers Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz reviewed the same studies referenced by the APA and found that, contrary to the claims of the gay activists, children of lesbian parents were different; for example, they were more likely to experiment with same-sex relationships than those raised by a father and mother.

Karen Lewis provided therapy for children whose mothers divorced their fathers to live with a woman. Several of the boys were furious at their mother's lover. Several of the children reacted with a "brief experimentation with homosexuality." Many of them worried they might be homosexual. In the journal Social Work she wrote:

Several girls thought they might turn to women if they did not have a satisfying relationship with a man. One added, "that's what my mother did." She said, in regard to her dating, if she complained to her mother about boys, "She would tell me to try girls." This response not only sets up the daughter to fulfill her mother's prophecy; it also denies the girl maternal support in problem solving.

A study entitled, My Daddy’s Name in Donor, by Marquardt, Glenn and Clark, found that children conceived by artificial insemination by donor (AID), including those born to lesbian couples, fare worse than those raised by their biological parents on important outcomes such as depression, delinquency and substance abuse.”

Donor conceived children differ from adopted children, Marquardt and colleagues write, in that they “know that the parents raising them are also the ones who intentionally denied them a relationship with at least one of their biological parents. The pain they might feel was caused not by some distant birth parent who gave them up, but by the parent who cares for them every day.” When asked if they worried that their mother would feel angry or hurt if they tried to get more information about or have a relationship with the sperm donor, 44 per cent children conceived by AID for lesbian couples answered “yes”.

An article by Barbara Eisold, "Recreating Mother” gives us insight into the problems created by surrogate mothering for men in same-sex relationships. "Nick" was conceived for a male couple, who hired a nanny to care for the boy. When Nick was two, the couple felt that the nanny had become too emotionally involved with the family, and she was fired. They hired another nanny, who was replaced six months later by a third. By the time Nick was four, he was suffering from profound psychological problems. He wanted to "buy" a mother. The therapist engaged to treat him writes:

How do we explain why this child, the son of a male couple, seemed to need to construct a woman – "Mother" – with whom he could play the role of loving boy/man? How did such an idea enter his mind? What inspired his intensity on the subject?

The answer is tragically obvious: little boys need mothers.

These cases provide anecdotal evidence that children are not as able to adapt to "family diversity" as easily as gay activists claim.

Gay activists continue to insist that the problems faced by children raised by same-sex couples are caused by the "homophobic" society in which they live. But why should we assume that even in a totally accepting society, permanently and purposefully fatherless or motherless children will simply “adjust”? It is clear from case histories, even those from pro-gay sources, that the pain felt by children was deeply personal and internal – not caused solely by outside influences. Activists can change the laws, they can modify public opinion over time, but they cannot redesign the hearts of children or restructure their fundamental needs.

The recent Regnerus study demonstrates that being raised by one’s married biological parents gives a child the best opportunity for a positive outcome and that other family structures have been shown “to fall short in significant developmental domains (like education behavior problems,; and emotional well-being) due in no small part to the comparative fragility and instability of such relationships.” (For a case study in instability, see Rosie O’Donnell’s subsequent history.)

Same-sex parenting has intrinsic flaws and deficits that exacerbate the risks intrinsic to adoption, artificial insemination, surrogate parenting, and foster care. Each child acquired by a same-sex couple is either fatherless or motherless because of adult decisions. To place a child into the legal care of a same-sex couple, or for such a couple to acquire a child via AID or surrogacy, unnecessarily endangers that child by forcing him to grow up in what is unarguably a sub-optimal environment.

All the “tolerance of diversity” in the world cannot change the facts on the ground.

Dale O’Leary is a US writer with a special interest in psychosexual issues and is the author of two books: One Man, One Woman and The Gender Agenda. She blogs at What Does The Research really Say?

This article is published by Dale O'Leary and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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