Amid a firestorm of criticism over a pair of new studies on gay parenting, the world's largest organization of psychologists has affirmed its own position that sexual orientation is not a factor in parental fitness.
The American Psychological Association (APA) said this week that it and other prominent health and social organizations "have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation."
This is based on "a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children," the APA said in its Monday statement.
The APA's response came after two academics challenged these kinds of assertions in separate, peer-reviewed studies in Social Science Research.
One of the studies - by Louisiana State University associate professor Loren Marks - took aim at the APA's 2005 paper on gay parenting that said "[N]ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."
Mr. Marks said that a "close examination" of the 59 studies cited in the APA paper revealed an array of serious problems, including the use of small samples of similar people who agreed to be part of the studies.
"Strong assertions" about gay parenting, "including those made by the APA," are not "empirically warranted," Mr. Marks wrote, adding that fresh, rigorous research is needed to answer questions affecting families and children.
In the second study, University of Texas-Austin associate professor Mark Regnerus used a large, new data set to randomly identify some 3,000 young adults, ages 18 to 39, who grew up in eight family forms, including about 250 persons who grew up with parents who had same-sex relationships.
Mr. Regnerus reported that, based on 40 outcomes in the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), the children who grew up with their married father and mother had "different" - often better - outcomes than children raised in other family forms, including lesbian mothers and gay fathers. Thus, the "empirical claim" that there are no significant differences between gay parents and heterosexual parents "must go," wrote Mr. Regnerus.
Both men recognized the combustibility of their work - Mr. Marks described his efforts as "charging into a firestorm with a squirt gun" - and gay rights groups and their liberal allies didn't hesitate in condemning the new studies.
The Regnerus study is a "flawed, misleading and scientifically unsound paper that seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents," leaders of the Human Rights Campaign, Family Equality Council, Freedom to Marry, and Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation said in a statement.
"What Hurts Children More: Having Lesbian and Gay Parents or Junk Science about Their Parents?" E.J. Graff wrote at The American Prospect. "Same-Sex Parenting Study Already Proven Flawed," a Huffington Post article declared, while authors at Slate.com and The New Republic offered lengthy methodological critiques.
In an interview with The Washington Times, University of California-Davis psychology professor Gregory Herek said the Marks study didn't say anything "terribly new" about the APA report.
The author of the report, University of Virginia psychology professor Charlotte Patterson, fully noted the limitations of the studies, said Mr. Herek, who has written and testified extensively on gay issues, including parenting, sexual orientation and policy.
What's more important, he said, is that even as gay parenting studies improved over time, there wasn't much change in the basic finding - "which was that when you compare children raised by lesbian or gay parents ... they really don't look much different from kids raised by comparable heterosexual parents."
But other observers said the Regnerus and Marks studies challenge "gay orthodoxy."
At National Review Online, Ed Whelan wrote a three-part series praising the new studies for challenging "the schlock social science on gay parenting."
At Heritage Foundation, Jennifer Marshall and Christine Kim wrote that "At present, far too little is known about this new household form into which activist courts are pushing America - and much of what has been presented to date gives an inaccurate picture of the reality that children of same-sex parenting have experienced."
Gay-rights supporters further pounced on the conservative funding sources for the Regnerus study, asserting that anti-gay groups had found a way to concoct data to their liking.
A Witherspoon Institute spokeswoman said Wednesday that the institute - which has now launched a website for NFSS - had "no say" about the design, research or findings in the Regnerus study. "We basically put the money down and then we took our hands off," said Ana Samuel.
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