All the gay parenting studies are flawed

David Benkof Contributor
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Friday’s federal district court ruling that struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was the first such decision to center on same-sex parenting research. Judge Bernard Friedman utterly dismissed the testimony of University of Texas Sociology Prof. Mark Regnerus, whose controversial research purports to show disadvantages for children being raised by lesbian and gay couples. Friedman called Regnerus’s testimony “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.”

Indeed, media and LGBT organizations have repeatedly declared the Regnerus study to be “flawed,” which it is.

But all the gay parenting studies to date have been flawed, some even deeply flawed in their objectivity, methodology, and focus. In preparing for this essay, I read more than 50 studies that supposedly “prove” same-sex parenting is completely equal to opposite-sex parenting. Every single bit of research had at least one of the substantial drawbacks I outline below.

Can LGBT scholars be objective researchers?

To start with, objective research requires objective researchers. My survey of the publicly available information about the sexual orientations of the researchers on gay parenting suggests at least 60 percent are LGBT themselves. Another 15 percent or so are straight-identified or in opposite-sex relationships, and I could find no data about the sexualities of the others.

Even if a gay psychological or sociological researcher isn’t consciously designing a study to support gay-parenting rights, subconscious factors could tip the scales in that direction. And what if the final research data supports a conclusion that opposite-sex parenting is superior? Might an LGBT scholar “conveniently” leave such research on the shelf?

Studies on gay parenting written by LGBT researchers have at least the appearance of bias, and if such scholars want parenting research to be taken seriously by public policy officials, they should have recused themselves or at least disclosed the potential conflict. Judges don’t rule on cases involving firms they own and IRS agents never audit themselves.

The principal researcher for the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, often considered the “gold standard” of this kind of research because of its longevity and scope, is Dr. Nanette Gartrell. She’s married to a woman. And in the Michigan decision, the judge called one of the main witnesses for the plaintiffs, demographer Gary Gates, a “highly credible witness.” Yet Gates is so prominent in the LGBT community he was named to OUT magazine’s 2010 list of the “OUT 100” top gays and lesbians.

Beyond Gartrell and Gates, the list of LGBT scholars on this topic who have a personal vested interest in validating gay Moms and Dads is long. It includes Lee Badgett, Jerry Bigner, Rachel Farr, Steven Forssell, Shawn V. Giammattei, Naomi Goldberg, Gregory M. Herek, Joan Laird, Arlene Istar Lev, Valory Mitchell, Betty Morningstar, Charlotte J. Patterson, Heidi Peyser, Stacey Shuster, and Dava Weinstein.

But, one might object, nobody accuses heterosexual researchers of bias when they write about opposite-sex parenting. But there is no “straight agenda” for those scholars to bolster. Besides, they generally work at universities, where only a small percentage of faculty members are conservative on social issues.

Does money matter?

Judge Friedman’s decision repeats a frequently lodged complaint that Regnerus was funded by outsiders who expected him to reinforce traditional ideas about marriage and the family: “The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged.”

But the court found the testimony of David Brodzinsky to be “fully credible” and gave it “considerable weight” even though Brodzinsky’s own research has been subsidized by $100,000 from the foundation of openly gay entrepreneur David Bohnett and another $20,000 from the “Rainbow Endowment.” How could Brodzinsky ever be expected to say anything negative about the influence of same-sex environments on children when he’s taken six figures from the LGBT community?

Methodological flaws

Aside from the problems related to objectivity, many gay parenting studies have fundamental flaws in methodology. I’m not talking about the longstanding conservative complaints about small sample sizes, non-random subject recruiting methods, and the lack of control groups. Judge Friedman found that small, constrained “convenience studies” are common and helpful, and that the 150 such studies done so far on gay parenting repeatedly buttress parenting equality.

For the sake of this essay, I’ll ignore the limited sampling, selection biases, and other structural problems with the convenience studies and accept Judge Friedman’s contention that they are sufficient to establish equivalence between straight and gay parenting. Even so, every single one of those studies I’ve been able to find has an LGBT researcher and/or contains methodological problems such as these:

Some of them make comparisons based on the sexual orientations of the parents, instead of the presence or lack of a mother-father family format. Personally, I believe a lesbian can make a perfectly good mother, so studies that reinforce that point are irrelevant to me. But I don’t think a lesbian can ever be a good father. That means my opinion can only be swayed by research that suggests mothers and fathers provide nothing uniquely important to their children.

Other studies consider children in lesbian households without regard to their origins. That means some of them actually have dads, but don’t live with them. Since the question most relevant to me is whether children deserve both moms and dads, all those studies need to be disqualified from serious public policy consideration..

The factors that really matter

Many studies focus on factors that seem irrelevant to the question of the best environment for children. My greatest concern about parenting equality is the wholesome nurturing of children in a way that helps them grow from boys to men and from girls to women. I want boys, for example, to learn how to be comfortable with their masculinity and to treat women with respect, a process that seems to me best provided by both a mother and a father.

Of course, most LGBT activists reject the very notion of essential distinctions between men and women. If they didn’t, they’d be more open to seeing fundamental, complementary differences between mothers and fathers. But that’s the very thing we’re arguing about.

Do supporters of gay parenting really think their opponents are mainly concerned with the grade-point averages of children with two moms? Some of the major research “proving” equivalence in parenting cited in the Michigan decision relies on success in school. Similarly, studies that focus on self-esteem or peer relationships are not directed at the most important reasons mothers and fathers are not interchangeable.

Even people who think girls just need to learn how to become an adult (and not specifically a woman) should examine these studies critically, since nearly all can be thrown out based on lack of objectivity and methodological problems. And certainly anyone who’s concerned about children developing sound attitudes toward their own and the opposite gender as they grow up should be aware that virtually none of the research addresses that question.

Support from professional organizations is unimpressive

Frequently, people who say gay parenting is equal to straight parenting point to support from organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Medical Association (AMA). But these organizations, like many national professional organizations, lean sharply leftward. The APA, for example, has issued studies and statements favoring abortion and mandatory handgun licensing, and opposing welfare reform. The AMA has supported global-warming activism, Obamacare, and higher alcohol taxes. It should be no surprise that these organizations also parrot liberal orthodoxy on LGBT issues.

And besides, what if tomorrow all the professional organizations changed their stances and began fighting same-sex parenting? Would the LGBT community throw up its hands and say, “Whoops! I guess both mothers and fathers do matter after all?” Of course not. So why should the rest of us treat those essentially political positions with deference?

Nonsense research yields nonsense results

If none of the above is convincing, think about one final point: Any research that makes no sense is usually nonsense. Here are two examples of research on gay parenting that can’t possibly be true:

1) Many studies, especially older studies on gay parents, have purported to show that children of same-sex couples are no more likely to report being gay than children of opposite-sex couples. Is that logical in any way? Wouldn’t a Mormon or Hasidic young woman be less comfortable telling a researcher she’s a lesbian than the daughter of two dads? To make up for such reticence about self-identification, there would have to be some balancing factor that would make children with same-sex parents less likely to actually be gay themselves, and I cannot think of any.

2) Some research, including Gartrell’s longitudinal study, purports to prove that same-sex parents are actually better than opposite-sex parents. A 2010 paper co-authored by Gartrell said “17-year-olds of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts.”

Do LGBT parenting advocates really expect us to think not only that gays are equally good parents, but that they’re superior? If parental gender doesn’t matter, why would two-mom families have such striking advantages? It seems more likely that the studies have intentional or latent predispositions that confirm their author’s preconceptions, and they sometimes overshoot their mark. If gay parenting and straight parenting were truly equal, LGBT scholars would report as many disadvantages for same-sex parents as advantages. That has not happened.

Since those two kinds of research strain credulity, all the other LGBT parenting research deserves serious skepticism.


My top civic objection to same-sex marriage relates to its effects on children. I believe that just as various taxation, regulatory, and licensing policies favor things the state considers best for society, the government should be privileging, protecting, honoring, and benefiting mother-father families – the ones that provide the best environment for the nurturing of children.

Before settling on new, untested family policies, we must be sure we have good scholarship that is unbiased, methodologically solid, and focused on the right questions. The supposed scholarly consensus on gay parenting relies on studies that have one or more of the flaws mentioned above.

The conversation about the influence of mothers and fathers in childrearing isn’t over, as the judge in Michigan tried to suggest. It hasn’t even begun.

David Benkof is a frequent contributor to the Daily Caller. E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook.