March 2021 Pulse
In the past twenty years or so, a number of studies have been conducted to ascertain whether there are significant differences between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by opposite-sex couples. The results of these studies unexpectedly show that the former fared as well or even better than the latter in terms of their general wellbeing and emotional health.
These findings are so consistent and well publicised that for many it is a settled conclusion. This new orthodoxy that says that there is ‘no difference’ between a homosexual and a heterosexual family as far as the child’s wellbeing is concerned has profound implications for public policy and the law. For example, in Perry v. Schwarzeneggar the district court could pronounce quite categorically that ‘same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents are of equal quality’.
However, a number of critical reviews have since been published that highlight serious flaws in these studies, thereby also calling to question their conclusions. These problems have to do with fundamental assumptions that undergirded the studies and their inherent methodological deficiencies. They include small, biased and non-random samples; the failure to differentiate the type of same-sex family (i.e., created by assisted reproductive technology, adoption or divorce); insufficient longitudinal data to ascertain how the children of same-sex couples develop socially and emotionally, and their long-term relationships when they become adults.
The reviewers believe that these flaws are not inconsequential because they do invariably influence the outcomes and findings of the research. Even Michael J. Rosenfield from Stanford University, who is a supporter of the gay movement, could concede that ‘there has never been a comprehensive study of same-sex parents and their children from nationally representative data … The studies that have been done on same-sex couples … have mostly been small scale studies of non-random samples from sampling frames that are not nationally representative’.
Many of the studies use volunteers as samples. Researchers have generally doubted the validity of self-selected samples, and for good reasons. As George Dent has rightly pointed out: ‘The legal guardians of children – of whatever sexual orientation or legal relationship – are unlikely to volunteer for a study if their children are not doing well’.
Recent history has demonstrated how ideology and values can trump science when it comes to matters of human sexuality. The removal of homosexuality from the list of pathological psychiatric conditions from the American Psychiatric Association in 1974 is a case in point.
Scientific data can also be manipulated to validate prevailing public sentiments about human sexuality and the family. Douglas Abbott reminds us of the fact that ‘Scientists and scholars are human and inevitably have biases and personal values that influence their work – whether they admit it or not’. It is therefore fallacious to think that scientists and researchers are always objective and unbiased, and that they will never manipulate the statistics to support their personal values or promote their social agendas.
But does this apply to research on same-sex parenting? After reviewing much of the literature, Walter Schumm concludes that ‘It appears clearly that value biases have dramatically influenced how social scientists evaluate scientific literature, how they develop their models, and how they conduct their research in the area of lesbigay parenting’.
In similar vein, public reception of the studies on same-sex parenting must not only be evaluated on the basis of their scientific merits (or lack thereof); it must also take seriously the temper of the times. Again, it would be naïve to think that cultural factors are not at play in shaping these studies and in influencing the public’s response to them.
One of the most insidious forces at work in contemporary society that has stymied objective scientific research on human sexuality is the culture of political correctness. ‘Politically correct proclamations’, write Nicholas A. Cummings and William O’Donohue, ‘no matter how well meaning, prematurely end debate and slam the door on sceptical research, which is the very essence of all science’.
In a paper that examines the profound effect of the culture of political correctness has on family therapy, Milewski-Hertlein and Rodriguez write: ‘Political correctness has become too much of a good thing. The important beliefs and practices of political correctness, such as sensitivity, awareness, and tolerance, have reached pathological proportions. This pathology has sparked silence, discomfort, and whitewashing within the therapy room’.
These same cultural forces are also at work in research on same-sex parenting.
Apart from the problems attending the studies conducted on the same-sex family, there are also numerous factors that suggest that the ‘no difference’ hypothesis is both implausible and untenable.
Research has shown that heterosexual couples are more likely to be better parents than homosexual couples because their bond is more durable. As George Dent has argued, because same-sex bonds have no biological basis, ‘[h]omosexuals have less reason to bond as couples and, when they do, less reason for the bond to be enduring and exclusive’.
Studies have shown that homosexuals are generally less inclined to marry, and those who do marry have a high divorce rate. A study conducted in 2004 found that gay couples in Sweden are more than 50% more likely to divorce, while lesbian couples are 167% more likely to divorce, than heterosexual married couples.
Another reason why the ‘no difference’ hypothesis is implausible is that gay men tend to be more promiscuous than their heterosexual counterparts. This in part explains why gays have higher rates of diseases. This is also the case of lesbians, who not only suffer a higher rate of certain diseases, but also drug abuse, according to a 2000 study conducted by Katherine Fethers and her colleagues.
Studies have also shown that same-sex relationships are often violent. One study found that 39.2 per cent of women reported to have been assaulted by their same-sex cohabitant, while 23.1 per cent of men suffer domestic violence at the hands of their male cohabitants. In addition, there are also higher incidences of suicide, mental illness and drug and substance abuse among homosexuals.
The socialising that children of same-sex parents are subjected to has a profound effect on their sexual preferences and behaviour. For example, Dean Byrd has observed that ‘Lesbian mothers tend to have a feminizing effect on their sons and a masculinizing effect on their daughters’. Such gender nonconforming behaviour is often a precursor of homosexuality in adulthood.
In his article entitled, ‘It’s Really About Sex: Same-Sex Marriage, Lesbigay Parenting, and the Psychology of Disgust’ Richard E, Redding writes: ‘Available studies provide evidence that children … raised by lesbigay parents are more likely to experience homoerotic attraction, to engagement in homosexual relationships, and to show gender non-conforming behaviours’.
Children generally learn about male-female relationships through their parents. To suggest, as the proponents of the ‘no difference’ hypothesis do, that children of same-sex couples are not in any significant way influenced by their guardians’ sexuality is highly implausible. ‘It would be surprising indeed’, writes Diana Baumrind in her article published in the journal Developmental Psychology, ‘if … children’s own sexual identities were unaffected by the sexual identities of their parents’.
The differences and complementarities of parents of opposite sexes play an important role in the wellbeing of children. Dean Byrd’s assertion that ‘Mothers and fathers contribute in gender specific and in gender complementary ways to the healthy development of children’ is supported by a number of significant studies by family therapists.
These factors taken together would strongly suggest that the ‘no difference’ hypothesis is simply untenable.
For the Christian same-sex marriage and parenting is a violation of the structure of marriage and the family instituted by God at creation. As the Vatican document on same-sex marriage entitled, ‘Truth and Love’ clearly states: ‘There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar to or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’.
In a joint statement on marriage and the family, theologians from the Roman Catholic and Evangelical traditions further declare that: ‘Marriage creates “one body”, a new reality, ennobling the sexual union of a man and a woman by ordering it towards a common life that promotes the good of the couple, the family and the community as a whole’.
Conversely, this means that as distortions of God’s plan for marriage and family, same-sex union and parenting will inflict harm not only to the homosexual couple and their children, but also to the wider society.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.