Currently, there are 3 million gay fathers and 5 million lesbian mothers in America1. Most states no longer consider sexual orientation a valid reason to end or limit parent-child relationships, and at least 21 states have granted second-parent adoptions to lesbians and gay men. Only three states (Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi) have passed laws expressly restricting gays and lesbians from adopting children, and another ten are considering, or have considered, such laws3. But the issue of same-sex parenting continues to be widely debated, and policy makers nationwide are turning to sociologists for answers untainted by bias, religious or otherwise.
But people tend to take sides when discussing such a controversial issue, and sociologists are no exception. There are scientists who believe that homosexuality is "inherently evil" (e.g. Paul Cameron, see http://www.familyresearchinst.org) and are using their research to push a hetero-normative worldview according to which a child can only develop normally in a heterosexual family. Strangely, this hetero-centrism seems to have contaminated the other side as well. Most gay-sympathetic research to date is done from a defensive position, trying to prove that same-sex families are every bit as good for children as heterosexual families, thus implicitly recognizing heterosexual parenting as the "gold standard". From a purely theoretical perspective this is unfortunate for a number of reasons, but mostly because genuine differences in outcomes between homosexual and heterosexual parenting tend to be downplayed3.
The case against same-sex parenting
Paul Cameron's brand of alarmist anti-gay research is quite popular in fundamentalist Christian circles, but does not stand up to academic scrutiny. In fact, Cameron has been expelled from the American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association denounced him for "willfully misrepresenting research", which, interestingly enough, did not stop lawyers and politicians from citing his works in court decisions and policy hearings3.
Reputable studies that advocate the rule of exclusive heterosexual parenting are relatively few, and they often tend to concentrate on pointing out methodological flaws in pro-gay studies. According to Lerner and Nagai, such flaws include "non-random samples", "missing or inadequate comparison groups", "samples too small to yield meaningful results", "unclear hypotheses and research designs", and other major flaws which, in the authors' opinion, render most pro-gay studies irrelevant2. Lerner and Nagai examined 49 such studies and found every one of them to exhibit at least one fatal research flaw.
Perhaps the most common argument against same-sex parenting is that children of gay parents are more likely to develop homosexual interests and behaviors themselves. Such an outcome is considered undesirable because "homosexual behavior among youth is associated with suicidal behavior, prostitution, running away from home, substance abuse, HIV infection, highly promiscuous behavior with multiple sex partners, and premature sexual activity"4. On a somewhat related note, Wardle concludes that children of gay parents are more likely to be confused about their own gender identity; she cites studies that have found "increased cross-dressing [tendencies] among daughters [of lesbians]", and "a lower self-image regarding masculinity" among sons of lesbians4.
Another argument against same-sex parenting is that homosexual parents subject their children to greater risks. Studies show that gays are more sexually promiscuous, more likely to die of AIDS, to molest their own children, and more likely to separate than heterosexual couples3. Also, children of gay couples have been found less likely than children brought up in heterosexual families to want to have families and children of their own4, although it is unclear why this is regarded as a negative trait. According to anti-gay scholars, all these factors are contributing to a significant negative influence on children brought up in same-sex families.
The case for same-sex parenting
As mentioned earlier, most pro-gay studies reach the somewhat defensive-sounding conclusion that "homosexuality is compatible with effective parenting", tacitly accepting the assumption that differences indicate deficits. Studies focused on parents usually compare groups of parents of different sexual orientation. Such a study shows that "although they differed in approach, philosophy, and type of parenting, [gay] men were similar in their overall parenting abilities and skills [to heterosexual men]", and "lesbian mothers were found to be more confident and to seek leadership roles more often than their heterosexual counterparts"1.
Studies focused on children conclude that there are no differences between children raised in homosexual families and those raised in heterosexual families with respect to self-esteem, emotional and behavioral difficulties, hyperactivity, gender identity and sexual orientation. Mental health and social adjstment levels were not found to be significantly different between the two groups. Children of gay parents were also found not likely to be molested by their parents in a study that shows 9\% of all pedophiles in America to be heterosexual males.
Admittedly, due to difficulties generated by the social impact of homophobic prejudices, some of these studies rely on "small-scale, snowball and convenience samples drawn primarily from personal and community networks or agencies", and have been mostly conducted on "white lesbian mothers who are comparatively educated, mature, and reside in relatively progressive urban centers"3. However, more objective meta-studies, such as Stacey and Biblarz's meta-analysis of 21 pro-gay studies which have been conducted between 1981 and 1998, validate most of their conclusions.
The one area where the conclusions of pro-gay studies have been found to be grossly inconsistent with the data they rely on is gender identity and sexual orientation of children raised in gay families. Stacey and Biblarz note that "lesbian mothers reported their children, especially daughters, more frequently dress, play, and behave in ways that do not conform to sex-typed cultural norms", and "daughters with lesbian mothers reported higher aspirations to nontraditional-gender occupations [...] such as doctor, lawyer, engineer and astronaut".
Sadly, this relatively new area of sociology is suffering a great deal of political influence. Most academic studies on gay parenting skew their results to concur with some political agenda. Scholars who are biased against homosexuals tautologically classify the possibility of some children becoming homosexuals as an evidence of harm, while pro-gay sociologists consistently ignore even the most obvious differences in psycho-social outcomes of children of gay couples compared to those of heterosexual couples.
However, an increasing number of prominent scholars are calling for less defensive research on same-sex family issues3. Hopefully, with more accurate demographic data available from the 2000 census, and more studies that reach beyond hetero-normativity, policy makers and the public at large will be served with an increasingly unbiased view on family diversity. Until then, homosexuality remains "inherently evil".
- Brooks, Devon and Goldberg, Sheryl. Gay and Lesbian Adoptive and Foster Care Placements: Can They Meet the Needs of Waiting Children? Social Work 46 (April 2001)
- Lerner, Robert and Nagai, Althea K. No Basis: What the Studies Don't Tell Us About Same-Sex Parenting Marriage Law Project, 2001
- Stacey, Judith and Biblarz, Timothy J. (How) Does Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter? American Sociological Review 66 (April 2001)
- Wardle, Lynn D. The Potential Impact of Homosexual Parenting on Children University of Illinois Law Review (1997)