March 1, 2009 in Features

Social scientists challenge studies on gay parenting

Bonnie Miller Rubin Chicago Tribune
 

Tina Fakhrid-Deen was 10 when her mother came out and told her she was a lesbian.

“She didn’t look like other moms. … She was a construction worker and didn’t wear makeup,” says Fakhrid-Deen, now 35.

Despite being embarrassed and teased about her mother at times, she grew up well-rounded, well-educated – and straight.

“Aside from my husband, my mom is my best friend,” the wife, mother, consultant and high school teacher says from her South Side Chicago home.

Of course, in wide swaths of America, a child being raised by gay parents is considered profoundly disturbing.

The November election – with defeats of same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona, and approval of a ban on gay foster-parenting in Arkansas – left little doubt that many voters disapprove of nontraditional families. Along with abortion, it remains one of the most divisive issues of our time.

“A chaotic culture that will rip kids apart emotionally” is how James Dobson of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family characterizes such households.

What do researchers really know about people like Fakhrid-Deen? Do children like her fare better or worse than those with heterosexual parents? Are they, as social conservatives assert, more apt to experience harmful effects and confusion about their sexuality?

At least 4 million U.S. children have one or both parents who identify themselves as homosexual, says Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

But long-term studies of the issue still are limited.

Sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz published an analysis in 2001 in the American Sociological Review of 21 studies of children raised by homosexual parents and found that, overall, they were no more likely to suffer from psychological problems than kids raised in conventional homes.

Ultimately, their findings were generally endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and other mainstream organizations.

Peter Sprigg, a vice president at the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy organization, points to decades of research that examines children of divorce. That evidence overwhelmingly concludes children do better in a two-parent, heterosexual home, he says.

“Homosexual-headed households are lacking in stability … and children are more likely to suffer from all the problems that are related to an unstable home,” Sprigg said.

Social scientists raise issues about the methodology of any studies on the subject, arguing that the field is too young, the samples too small and the variables too many to obtain reliable data.

But the bottom line is that within the research community there are no empirical studies demonstrating adverse effects, says Stacey, who is now at New York University.

“We know that a parent’s sexual orientation is not a significant factor,” she says. “A good parent is a good parent … and parents who get along and are consistent in their child-rearing … have better outcomes than those who don’t.”

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