November 19, 2009

Same-Sex Parents and the Cost to Children

In the long-standing effort to prevent loving, committed same-sex couples from attaining the matrimonial rights enjoyed by heterosexuals, one of the most prominent arguments for continued discrimination against gays and lesbians has been that any costs associated with expanding the definition of marriage would be borne by their children. Just over a year ago, for instance, David Blankenhorn of something called the Institute for American Values wrote this:
All our scholarly instruments seem to agree: For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other.
Every child being raised by gay or lesbian couples will be denied his birthright to both parents who made him. Every single one. Moreover, losing that right will not be a consequence of something that at least most of us view as tragic, such as a marriage that didn't last, or an unexpected pregnancy where the father-to-be has no intention of sticking around. On the contrary, in the case of same-sex marriage and the children of those unions, it will be explained to everyone, including the children, that something wonderful has happened!
There's a funny thing about the "scholarly instruments" cited by Mr. Blankenhorn, however. Until very recently, they consisted largely of conjectures based on the examination of the children of divorced and single parents, as well as small studies of same-sex couples who volunteered to be counted. In other words, conclusions drawn from these populations should be taken with a healthy dose of statistically significant salt.

About 20 years ago, however, the Census Bureau
added a category for unwed partners, which included same-sex couples and provided considerably more demographic data. As it turns out, roughly one-fifth of male homosexual couples and about one-third of lesbian couples are raising children, a proportion that has grown considerably over the past two decades. Together with the passage of time, this growth means that there is now a large cohort of the children of same-sex couples who are old enough to yield solid data. This data, in turn, provides insights into the true cost to children of their homosexual parents' union:
In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.
What is so startling about this finding, of course, is not the conclusion itself - which would seem to be a wrench in the gears for fear-mongering outfits like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) - but that it isn't widely reported and that it confirms the findings of other studies. A Tufts University report from 2005, for example, found the following:

The vast consensus of all the studies shows that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way. In some ways children of same-sex parents actually may have advantages over other family structures.
So, there it is - out in the open. Now we know the terrible consequences of same-sex marriage to children: a tendency to rough-house a bit and a predisposition to tolerance.

No wonder religious bigots fight so hard against gay marriage; tolerance is, after all, a threat to their recruiting base.

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