That APA report has now been challenged by new research published in the July, 2012, issue of Social Science Research. In one article, Loren Marks points to the serious methodological weaknesses in the research cited by the APA report. In another article, Mark Regnerus reports new research suggesting that the children of gay and lesbian parents really do show a higher risk of social and psychological problems as compared with the children reared by heterosexual parents in stable marriages. Regnerus has summarized his research in a popular essay for Slate. Also at Slate, William Saletan has written a commentary on Regnerus' research.
This has provoked a fierce debate. Some of the opponents of gay marriage are claiming that this proves that gays and lesbians cannot be good parents. Some of the proponents of gay marriage are insisting that this research is so flawed that it does not prove anything. The fact that this research was financed by $800,000 from the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute--two conservative organizations--has been noted by some critics as evidence that the research suffers from bias. (The Witherspoon Institute provides a website on this research with links to the various articles.)
Andrew Ferguson has written an article for The Weekly Standard on this controversy as showing "the perils of politically incorrect academic research." But if one reads Ferguson's article carefully, one can see that he is critical not just of Regnerus' liberal opponents but also of the conservatives who are using Regnerus' research to attack gay marriage. In fact, Ferguson suggests, the flaws in the gay parenting research--including Regnerus' research--are so pervasive that it's not clear that any firm conclusions can be drawn.
But I think there is at least one clear conclusion, which is stated by Saletan: "Kids do better when they have two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home. If that's good advice for straights, it's good advice for gays, too."
This supports my argument for the biological model of marriage and family bonding as part of a biological conservatism that looks to our evolved biological nature as a ground for moral and political judgment. That biological model could support gay marriage as good for children insofar as it provides "two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home."
Although conservatives like Robert George, Matt Franck, and others at the Witherspoon Institute would not agree with me that homosexual marriage could approximate the natural biological model, it's significant that they do now agree with me in appealing to human biological nature, and thus they no longer rely on a transcendental Kantian rationalism that denies the normative character of human biological nature.
The conclusions of the APA report of 2005 were based on 59 published studies. Loren Marks shows that this report failed to recognize the many methodological flaws in these studies. For example, she concludes, "with rare exceptions, the research does not include studies comparing children raised by two-parent, same-sex couples with children raised by marriage-based, heterosexual couples" (742). The sample sizes in these studies tend to be very small, and they tend to be biased in various ways--as, for instance, in studying only the children of well-educated, middle-class, lesbian mothers. In many cases, the children of gay parents are compared with the children of single heterosexual mothers, rather than with the children of still-married heterosexual parents. Moreover, the APA report does not cite at least one study that concludes that "children of homosexual parents report deviance in higher proportions than children of (married or cohabiting) heterosexual couples" (744).
As an alternative to the weak research surveyed in the APA report, Regnerus has written the first report from the New Family Structures Study, which he claims to be the largest, random dataset designed to answer questions about households in which one or both of the parents were homosexual. Young adults (between the ages of 18 and 39) were surveyed. They were asked if their mother or father had ever had a romantic relationship with a same-sex partner. 175 answered yes for their mothers, and 73 answered yes for their fathers. These children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers were then compared with the children of heterosexual parents. The children of the homosexual parents were more likely to show signs of problems in their lives than were the children of heterosexual parents. For example, the children of homosexual parents were more likely to be unemployed, more likely to have had an affair while married or cohabiting, and more likely to be in treatment for psychological problems.
The problem with this study, however, as even Regnerus admits, is that most of these children of homosexual parents were products of broken homes. Most of these children were products of a "failed heterosexual union" in which a lesbian mother or a gay father left the household after the children were born. If these children were less healthy than the children from stable heterosexual households, that probably shows the damage from broken homes.
What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. But that finding isn't meaningless. It tells us something important: We need few broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights. We need to study Regnerus's sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago. No more sham heterosexual marriages. No more post-parenthood self-discoveries. No more deceptions. No more affairs. And no more polarization between homosexuality and marriage. Gay parents owe their kids the same stability as straight parents. That means less talk about marriage as a right, and more about marriage as an expectation.If lesbian women and gay men have the same natural desires for sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care as heterosexual men and women, and if gay marriage increases the likelihood of gays living in households with "two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home," this would support a biologically conservative argument for legalizing gay marriage.
The study does raise a fundamental challenge for same-sex couples. Since they can't produce children from their combined gametes, they suffer, in Regnerus' words, "a diminished context of kin altruism." He points out that in studies of adoption, stepfamilies, and cohabitation, this kinship deficit has "typically proven to be a risk setting, on average, for raising children when compared with married, biological parenting." Homosexuals who want to have kids could emulate the biological model by using eggs or sperm from a sibling of the non-biological parent, though the effects of this practice on family dynamics are unknown.
A few of my previous posts on this topic--with responses to Robert George and Matt Franck--can be found here, here, and here.