Gay Parenting

Michael Demmons criticizes President Bush for, saying, “Studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman.”
Michael observes,

There actually are differences between kids who grow up with heterosexual parents and those who have gay parents. Here are just a few of those problems:

  • Being made fun of by straight kids for having gay parents
  • Being beat up by straight kids because daddies are gay
  • Knowing that books describing relationships like that of your parents are taken out of libraries because they are “wrong”
  • Being discriminated against by parents who don’t want children of gay people in their school
  • Possibly not being able to see a doctor or dentist if one daddy loses his job and the other daddy cannot get his kids covered at work
  • Not being able to go to father/son mother/daughter events because of the possibility that someone will make a fuss over it

None of this is the fault of gay people or the children involved, is it?

Certainly not. Although it would seem to corroborate Bush’s point, no?

Let’s presume that the things on Michael’s list are in fact the only disadvantages to being reared by two parents of the same sex. All other things being equal, which kid would you rather be?

    A. Reasonably healthy with two loving parents and having to deal with the normal strains of growing up.
    B. Reasonably healthy with two loving parents and having to deal with the normal strains of growing up plus the six things on Michael’s list.

If you chose A, would you not agree that it is in fact the “ideal”?

To clarify, I’m not suggesting that, therefore, gays shouldn’t be allowed to raise children. But recognizing that the “ideal” situation is a happily married heterosexual couple is a reasonable starting point. Going back to the NYT article linked above, we see,

The experts, who cross the political spectrum, say studies have shown that on average, children raised by two married heterosexual parents fare better on a number of measures, including school performance, than those raised by single parents or by parents who are living together but are unmarried. But, said Dr. Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, “there is not a single legitimate scholar out there who argues that growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for children.”

If “children raised by two married heterosexual parents fare better on a number of measures” then, on aggregate, it is preferable. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that “growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for children,” at the aggregate level, it’s presumably not as good. (One presumes these studies already account for other variables such as wealth, region, family history, and so forth that have a bearing on the issue.) Similarly, having a single parent raise the kids is less than ideal, although many single parents raise kids with great success. Most of Michael’s problems exist for children of inter-racial couples, too.

We shouldn’t commit the ecological fallacy and conclude that, because these things are true in the aggregate, they apply to individual cases. Surely, many healthy kids are reared in domestic arrangements that are far less than ideal. Presumably, we’d rather have kids parented by a supportive gay couple than an abusive heterosexual one. But, even in studies that the article acknowledged may well be biased toward finding no differences between these arrangements, we find that the one long-established in our culture as “normal” does better. (Indeed, as Michael’s list suggests, the mere fact that our culture prefers one to another may be a factor in making the outcome better.)

Further, I’d note that we don’t have the full transcript of Bush’s remarks, just his answer to a question about gay adoption. Even based on the Stacey’s comments, we see that Bush is right. Indeed, it’s rather remarkable that a just-reelected evangelical conservative president only notes that the norm is “ideal,” he doesn’t condemn homosexual adoption out-of-hand.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Parenting, Religion, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kappiy says:

    Of course the most absurd thing about Bush’s comment was his implication of familiarity with “studies” that “have shown” some “ideal” of family structure.

    Coming from someone who brags about not even reading the newspaper (or the Presidential Daily Brief, for that matter), it stretches the imagination to envision Bush pouring over the latest peer-review journal articles in developmental psychology, analyzing the methodology, and assessing the evidence. This new-found appeal to science and empricism goes against much of his record as a policymaker.

  2. James Joyner says:

    One doesn’t expect presidents to read studies in peer-reviewed journals. One does expect presidents to read their briefing materials which likely refer to such studies.

  3. SteveL says:

    I noticed this from Demmons; there’s “no scientific evidence” to prove that kids reared by gay parents do any worse than kids reared by straight parents. Well that shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering this is a new idea and there is no evidence to study.

    I saw a story from a woman in San Francisco, who was raised by her mother and her mother’s lover. She said she always accepted and loved her mother and hated her mother’s lover. Not for any homophpobia, but due to her innate understanding that children have two biological parents, a mother and father. She said it seemed unnatural.
    She’s right, it’s something that cannot occur in nature. I’m always surprised that that point never gets more consideration.

    I’m sure Demmons will say that his list of problems results from bigotry and can be “cured” in some fashion. Doubtful on both counts.

  4. Michael says:

    I’m surprised.

    Are you saying that gay parents should not have children so those kids won’t have to cope with the bigotry directed at them from straight people who are responsible for all the things I mentioned?

    You’re putting the onus on the people who haven’t done anything wrong to modify their lives to accommodate bigotry. If I’m uderstanding you correctly, you’re saying the solution is for gay people to change?

  5. Michael says:

    SteveL: From the American Psychological Association. There are lots of studies, if you actually have an interest in looking for them:

    Beliefs that gay and lesbian adults are not fit parents likewise have no empirical foundation (Cramer, 1986; Falk, 1989; Gibbs, 1988; Patterson, 1996). Lesbian and heterosexual women have not been found to differ markedly either in their overall mental health or in their approaches to child rearing (Kweskin & Cook, 1982; Lyons, 1983; Miller, Jacobsen, & Bigner, 1981; Mucklow & Phelan, 1979; Pagelow, 1980; Rand, Graham, & Rawlings, 1982; Thompson, McCandless, & Strickland, 1971), nor have lesbians’ romantic and sexual relationships with other women been found to detract from their ability to care for their children (Pagelow, 1980). Recent evidence suggests that lesbian couples who are parenting together tend to divide household and family labor relatively evenly (Hand, 1991; Patterson, 1995a) and to report satisfaction with their couple relationships (Koepke, Hare, & Moran, 1992; Patterson, 1995a). Research on gay fathers has similarly found no reason to believe them unfit as parents (Barret & Robinson, 1990; Bigner and Bozett, 1990; Bozett, 1980, 1989).

    In fact, that one link blows any assertion you made about the lack of studies. Gay and lesbian parenting is NOT a new idea. It’s been happening for decades.

    And, all else being equal, when children of g & l parents live in communities where their parents relationships are more accepted, they do just fine. In most cases, they do just fine regardless.

  6. Kappiy says:

    Michael’s post, I think demonstrates the problems with Bush appealing to “science” to make an apparently “objective” claim.

    Sure, James, we don’t necessarily expect a President to be up on the debates in specialized academic journals. But in a culture where scientific discourse is given a privileged legitimacy, it is imperative that an honest accounting of scientific research is understood, if it is going to be the basis for policymaking.

    Of course, the reporter should have asked Bush a follow-up: “What studies are you referring to?” This would have given him the ability to contextualize his assertions and is a perfectly legitimate question.

    More often than not, social science researchers highlight the contextuality of their findings–something which is often glossed over when someone with no understanding of the scientific method asserts that “studies say…”

    Perhaps during Bush’s next visit to Crawford, he might curl up with a copy of Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

    Imagine the ensuing press conferences when Bush–in a characteristic attempt of showing off his knowledge of new concepts–would be harping on “paradigm shifts!” Soon the wave of enthusiasm he has for “political capital” will subside, making Kuhn’s pithy phrase the new slogan of the day!

  7. caltechgirl says:

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, two loving parents is the “ideal”, whether that’s heterosexual parents or not. Kids who know that their parents love and respect thrm generally thrive regardless of their situation, and caring parents make up for a lot of bad things in the outside world.

    Any of those taunting things could be said about kids with hetero parents, just change the subject to $$: “Why does your dad drive an old car? How come your clothes are old?” etc. etc. Kind of makes those differences insignificant.

    I do think that kids of both genders need both male and female role models, though, so Gay parents should perhaps have a friend or relative who is willing to play that role.

  8. Teri says:

    Michael’s list should be reduced to five, with the insurance issue eliminated. Any family member who is insured through an employer’s group plan has the right to continue coverage through that plan if the insurance is terminated due to a job loss. Yes, it has to be paid for – but kids of straight parents are in the same situation.

  9. Attila Girl says:

    Kappiy, what is it, exactly, that you’d like Bush to “pour” over journal articles? Maple syrup?

    * * *

    If there are differences in the results between parenting by happily married straight couples and happy gay couples, I suspect they pale in comparison to the differences between being raised by a couple and being raised by a single mom/dad.

    Yes, kids should probably have role models of each sex, ideally, but I almost *never* hear the condemnation of single parenting from the right that I hear about gay parenting, and it tends to come across as rank hyprocrisy.

    So far, the studies seem to suggest that gay parents have done just fine. The point Bush is making is theoretical (“boys and girls need role model of each gender”), rather than a policy recommendation.

    But the people who are up in arms about gay parenthood appear to care not at all about single parenthood, wherein:

    1) one person’s say is law, and there is no “court of last resort’;
    2) if there is abuse present, there’s no other adult to keep it in check;
    3) no matter how tired or frazzled the parent gets, there isn’t anyone to spell him or her, so the child/children get the full brunt of whatever bad mood he/she happens to be in;
    4) there is often not enough money to really take care of the children’s needs.

    If your concern is about quality childraising, start with single parenthood rather than gay parenting.