The other story about same-sex parenting

Research showing the risks of lesbian and gay parenting is ignored in the race to make a political case.
Walter R. Schumm | Jun 29 2010 | comment  



There is an inherent risk that anyone who has anything to say about gay male or lesbian parenting, no matter how cautious, will be misunderstood at best and vilified at worst. Nevertheless, the mission of a university professor includes seeking new ways to look at old issues, to resist all forms of intimidation, and to ensure that multiple sides of controversial issues are considered. Since there are more voices promoting the virtues of parenting by people defining themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT), I will present here an alternative, possibly minority, view that focuses on some of the possible risks associated with gay and lesbian parenting.

This is a challenging area. As one hint about the difficulties, consider this: when a group of authors published three articles (two even in the same journal) on data from the same set of lesbian parents about 1980, the two articles reporting favorable outcomes were cited 65 times compared to only two citations for the one article reporting unfavorable outcomes. In other cases, the worse the methodological quality of the research, the more likely it is to have been cited in major reviews of the literature.

The methodological quality of much of the literature is poor. Many studies have not controlled for parental educational and family per-capita income differences between lesbian and heterosexual families. Regardless, between February and June of 2010 no less than three articles have concluded that two lesbian mothers may, on average, tend to be better parents than heterosexual parents (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010; Gartrell & Bos, 2010; Biblarz & Savci, 2010) -- quite a controversial position. However, serious concerns remain.

Sexual Fidelity

Research is increasingly clear that many lesbigay partners enter into their versions of a committed relationship with expectations that cheating is acceptable. Some research suggests that gay men have more stable relationships only if cheating is permitted. Michael Bettinger (2006) reported: “An important difference between gay men and heterosexuals is that the majority of gay men in committed relationships are not monogamous”.

Dr. Esther Rothblum has reported that whereas women (lesbian or heterosexual) seldom permit sexual affairs, “40 percent of gay men in civil unions have an agreement that non-monogamy is permitted and over half have had sex outside their current relationship”. If gay marriage means accepting sexual non-monogamy within marriage, we must accept an inherent change in the intrinsic meaning of marriage and ultimately the meaning of responsible parenting.

Relationship Stability and Children

Another issue concerns the relationship between having children and staying together for the sake of the children. Though gay and lesbian couples in some studies appear to have higher quality, more satisfying relationships, they also appear less likely to remain stable when children are involved. Recent studies by Patterson and by Nanette Gartrell in the United States, as well as Scandinavian research, confirm this outcome, even when the GLBT subjects sampled had much higher levels of education than the heterosexual subjects.

Recently, Gartrell and Bos reported that over 56 per cent of lesbian parents had separated by the time their child was 17 years old. Based on the mothers’ reports of the children’s psychological adjustment, the adverse impact of that instability was not quite statistically significant. Comparable studies of heterosexual parents have found rates of separation ranging from 3 per cent to less than 30 percent over similar timeframes.

As yet, we have no published data on the stability of legally married LGBT parents. However, recent evidence indicates that very few GLBT individuals come together with the intention of having children and few, in fact, ever have children; if they do have a child, few spend the entire year with that child.

Effects on Children

Richard Redding, writing in a 2008 issue of the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, concluded that gay parents were more likely to have gay children. My meta-analyses of 26 studies and ten books on GLBT parenting concur with his findings (Schumm, in press). Furthermore, my research indicates that many literature reviews have systematically excluded information about negative child outcomes associated with gay parenting -- that is, greater levels of insecure attachment and drug abuse among daughters of gay fathers. The most recent review of literature on GLBT families did not mention Sirota’s (2009) research, even though I reported a summary of it two years ago.

Space does not permit an adequate treatment here, but some research suggests differential effects on sex role orientations of children and their views of non-monogamous sexuality. My hunch is that delayed gratification orientation may be an important intervening variable for understanding the influence of parental sexual orientation on child outcomes, but I am not aware of any studies on that variable.

Again, there appear to be differences in reporting of child outcomes, depending on the source of the data – whether parents, children, or teachers, for example. My sense is that maternal reports tend to be influenced by what the writers understand to be socially desirable outcomes, especially if the mothers sense the political purposes of the study.

Ends do not justify the means

One could probably write a book on the misuse of research regarding LGBT individuals and families. Even if the political goals of the researchers were laudable, the misuse of science would not be. In my view, the ends do not justify the means. Numerous legal and social science scholars have virtually sworn that the idea that GLBT parents might tend to have GLBT children was nothing but a myth; however, close examination of multiple sources of data suggests otherwise, as my forthcoming article will show.

Today, some would say, so what? That might be a plausible position, but it was not the position taken by most scholars between 1990 and 2005. Then, and now, I presume, most of the public would deem relationship instability to be unfavorable for the welfare of children, and would want to consider the evidence that lesbian parents have much less stable relationships than do married heterosexual parents.

As I noted at the beginning, it is risky to express such views about same-sex parenting, no matter how objectively based they are. But the public has a right to consider all the evidence in such an important matter, affecting as it does the welfare of children.

Dr Walter Schumm is a Professor of Family Studies in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. He has published over 250 scholarly articles and book chapters and is co-editor of the Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach (Plenum, 1993; Springer, 2009). He is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, a former brigade and battalion commander. His views may not reflect the positions of Kansas State University or the US Department of Defense.

For further information, including a list of references for the above article, contact Dr Schumm at schumm@ksu.edu

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