Two studies released Sunday may act like brakes on popular social-science assertions that gay parents are the same as — or maybe better than — married mother-father parents.
“The empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go,” University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus said in his study in Social Science Research.
Using a “gold standard” data set of nearly 3,000 randomly selected American young adults, Mr. Regnerus looked at their lives on 40 measures of social, emotional and relationship outcomes.
He found that, when compared with adults raised in married, mother-father families, adults raised by lesbian mothers had negative outcomes in 24 of 40 categories, while adults raised by gay fathers had negative outcomes in 19 categories.
Findings like these contradict claims that there are no differences between gay parenting and heterosexual, married parents, said Mr. Regnerus, who helped develop the New Family Structures Study at the University of Texas.
Instead, “[C]hildren appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day,” he wrote.
Mr. Regnerus’ study of 2,988 people ages 18 to 39 — including 175 adults raised by lesbian mothers and 73 adults raised by gay fathers — marks the first research from the new data set, which initially included some 15,000 people.
The second study, also in Social Science Research, takes a critical look at the basis of an oft-cited American Psychological Association report on gay parenting.
The APA brief says, “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.”
After looking at the 59 studies that undergird this assertion, however, “The jury is still out,” said Loren Marks, an associate professor at the School of Human Ecology at Louisiana State University. “The lack of high-quality data leaves the most significant questions [about gay parenting] unaddressed and unanswered.”
Problems with the APA-cited studies were their small size; dependence on wealthy, white, well-educated lesbian mothers; and failure to examine common outcomes for children, such as their education, employment and risks for poverty, criminality, early childbearing, substance abuse and suicide. Instead, the APA studies often looked at children’s gender-role behaviors, emotional functioning and sexual identities.
An APA spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. Mr. Marks’ findings, though, have been presented in gay-marriage lawsuits on behalf of those arguing in favor of traditional marriage. Critics noted that Mr. Marks’ paper had not been published yet and that he was not an expert on gay families.
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, declined to comment on the studies, which she had not seen.
But she was confident they could not counteract “the very deep and rich body of research that has been conducted over the last 30 years” that shows children raised by gay, bisexual and transgender parents “do equally as well as their counterparts raised by heterosexual couples.”
“And I can tell you anecdotally that, given the thousands and thousands of families that I spend time with on a regular basis, [what happens in their lives] bears out and confirms everything that we see in the research, in terms of the positive outcomes for these kids,” said Ms. Chrisler, who is raising twin sons with her wife, Cheryl Jacques.
Michael E. Lamb, a University of Cambridge scholar who has testified on behalf of gay parenting in same-sex marriage lawsuits, asserted in a study this year that neither family structure nor having a biological mother and father in the home is necessary for healthy child adjustment.
“[A]vailable evidence is sufficiently conclusive [that] children and adolescents being raised by same-sex parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children and adolescents with heterosexual parents,” Mr. Lamb concluded in Applied Developmental Science in April.
Researchers should focus on other family issues “rather than … belabor questions that have already been answered,” he added.
Mr. Regnerus cautioned that his study does not attempt to “undermine or affirm arguments” about gay rights, or link poor adult outcomes solely to gay parenting.
It should raise the bar, however, for research on gay parenting, especially since it is does not rely on “snowball samples,” in which gay parents are recruited in the same places as their gay friends and colleagues, said Patrick F. Fagan, a family and marriage scholar at the Family Research Council.
The Regnerus study is the “gold standard,” said Mr. Fagan. If “you can’t draw conclusions from it [about causality], there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell you can draw conclusions from those other [gay parenting] studies.”