Today’s tiny range of acceptable opinion on homosexuality came into focus Thursday, when The New York Times ran an op-ed titled “Heterosexuals Deserve Our Support.” That unfunny satire was penned by Lisa Pryor, a straight woman alarmed that the gay marriage debate raging in her native Australia seems to have more than one side.
The essay feebly jests that society should have compassion for heterosexual parents, because they are inherently inferior to lesbian mothers, as demonstrated by “multiple studies.” Pryor’s bit of fluff would not be worthy of serious response, except for the nucleus of her piece, which accepts as valid some outrageous research supposedly demonstrating that lesbians do “have a slight advantage when it comes to raising children.”
The studies she’s referring to suggest children of same-sex parents outshine other children in measures of health, education, and social adjustment. They have been treated respectfully and even celebrated by the media, despite their fundamental flaw: the results of the studies in question were entirely set in advance.
One of the two studies she references was conducted by the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, a research project whose principal researcher is Dr. Nanette Gartrell, a scholar in a same-sex marriage who wrote a book on “funding lesbian activism.” Her primary co-investigator, Dutch researcher Dr. Henny Bos, is involved in an organization whose mission is to support gay parents.
The lead researcher for the other work cited, the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families, is Simon Crouch, an openly gay father of twin boys.
Leave aside the obvious possibilities for bias in the design and execution of studies whose researchers have a strong interest in specific results. Ask yourself this: if Gartrell or Crouch found the children of same-sex parents at a severe disadvantage in some area, would they be as likely to publish their research? Would they promote it as widely in the media?
Obviously, they wouldn’t – which makes any “positive” studies they publish about LGBT parenting completely worthless.
Several of my gay friends are raising children, and under different circumstances I could have been among them. I have tremendous admiration for same-sex couples who nurture the needy by adopting parentless children. That doesn’t excuse promoting nonsense science.
LGBT people like me who oppose bans on same-sex adoption and other restrictive policies should nonetheless drop the pretense that lesbian Moms are the “ideal.” Consider:
- The research showing the importance of fathers (and not just “male role models”) is voluminous. Children who grow up with fathers are more successful emotionally, socially, and academically than other children. And the research doesn’t say kids need a second parent of any gender, but rather demonstrates the ways fathers provide different and essential support for their growing children. Most importantly, the research about fathers doesn’t have the, well, disadvantages of research designed to reassure gay scholars that their children and those of their friends are doing just fine.
- Cultural products like President Obama’s Dreams from My Father and the Broadway musical Mamma Mia! whose themes center on how children need their Dads are utterly uncontroversial and even beloved by the LGBT community. It’s only when the debate turns to what adults want (equal parenting opportunities) instead of what kids need (both mothers and fathers) that gays and lesbians get upset.
- Even if unbiased research showed equal or better outcomes for the children of lesbian parents, that data would be barely relevant to public policies regarding gay parenting, because the group studied is so self-selected. Right now, the lesbians who are raising children are the most privileged, with more resources, education, and time to devote to child-rearing. If their children do better, their parents’ sexual orientation might not be the reason – and thus even legitimate, impartial scholarship on children’s outcomes would say nothing about the effectiveness of lesbian parenting itself.
I don’t know how to design apolitical studies on gay parenting, but I don’t see the need. The grades or self-esteem of children are an odd metric to replace the age-old wisdom that mothers and fathers are different and essential. At the same time, we already have generations of children successfully raised by same-sex parents, and many loving same-sex homes stand ready to welcome children without parents.
It’s not hard to split the difference: same-sex parenting should be endorsed by the government, but not to such a degree that institutions like adoption agencies can’t favor mother-father families.
One more point: as refreshingly clever as Pryor thought she was, her essay was hardly “Man Bites Dog.” In fact, how often do major publications run stories favoring opposite-sex parenting, whether it’s by applying the lessons of father studies, or exposing the biases of gay parenting researchers?
In the ideal future for gays and lesbians, our sexual orientations will be considered boring. Honest, respectful interactions with fellow citizens who may be hesitant might get us there. Junk science almost certainly won’t.