July 29, 2012

Truth Test: Studies don't support Protect Marriage Maine's claim that heterosexual couples make better parents

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

"The social science evidence is overwhelming that children do best on virtually every measurement of health, happiness and attainment when they are raised in an intact family with a mother and a father."

-- Protect Marriage Maine's website

The overwhelming message from studies of families is that children do best when raised by two committed parents who are devoted to each other.

Notice how that isn't qualified by saying "heterosexual." That's where this statement goes wrong.

On another part of its website, Protect Marriage Maine makes a common mistake in anti-gay-marriage circles: conflating studies comparing two-parent families to single-parent families. Many of these studies don't look at same-sex parents, making the comparison useless.

The group says a 2002 report by Child Trends, a nonpartisan national group focused on improving children's lives, is a "recent report" that "clearly demonstrates the family structure that helps children the most is a family with two biological parents in a low conflict marriage."

Don't tell Child Trends that.

"The 2002 report by Child Trends did not examine families headed by same-sex parents. It focused on children being raised in families headed by single-parents, step-parents, and married biological parents," said Marci McCoy-Roth, a Child Trends spokeswoman, in a statement. "Therefore, conclusions cannot be drawn from that report about children raised by same-sex parents."

One study, to be published in November in Social Science Research by University of Texas at Austin sociology professor Mark Regnerus, purports to show issues surrounding gay couples' parenting abilities.

While it's been hailed by gay-marriage opponents as scientific proof of their cause, the methodology has been attacked by many as flawed. An auditor the journal assigned to review the study called it "bull-" in an article published Thursday by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a scathing audit provided to the newspaper, Darren Sherkat, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said the study used inadequate definitions of gay and lesbian parents, saying almost all of those who were studied didn't raise children with a same-sex partner. Sherkat also found cause for concern that there were biased peer reviewers and that the study was funded by conservative groups.

Even if you believe the Regnerus study, it does not a standard make.

In June, after the Regnerus study came out, the American Psychological Association released a statement reaffirming its stance that "there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation," citing "a remarkably consistent body of research."

A 2010 article in the Journal of Marriage and Family, summarizing 81 studies on single, same-sex and opposite-sex parents, found little evidence that parents' gender made a difference on kids. It said different kinds of parents typically have different strengths and weaknesses, saying "single-sex parenting seems to foster more androgynous parenting practices in women and men alike."

The study said two-person heterosexual parents often "confer social legitimacy" but with less involvement in parenting from the father. It said lesbian parents "typically bestow a double dose of caretaking, communication and intimacy" but are more likely to split up due to "asymmetrical biological and legal statuses and their high standards of equality."

Gay male parents are under-researched, it said, but their parenting styles are usually more like mothers than heterosexual fathers.

"Compared to all other family forms, families headed by (at least) two committed, compatible parents are generally best for children," the study said.

Verdict: You have to seek out claims that fit your viewpoint if you think same-sex parents harm children. We'll trust academic studies. There's no body of reputable evidence that two straight parents are better for kids than two gay parents.

We rate this statement false.

 

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