Are Same-Sex Families Good for Children?

Are Same-Sex Families Good for Children?

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There've been a few studies recently claiming that gay couples actually make better parents than straight couples.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, and being familiar with how studies are done and how they can be skewed (I participated in a few during grad school), I wanted to know more. I studied the reports. I sought the counsel of Glenn Stanton, Research Fellow for Global Family Formation at Focus on the Family. I read the debates.

Turns out, the studies are flawed to such a degree that the findings are in fact invalid.

For the purposes of this blog entry, I'll just stick with a study by Charlotte J. Patterson entitled "Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents" which was published in 2006 by the Association for Psychological Science.

She begins her report by acknowledging that previous studies are flawed because the participants of those studies (the "sample") were not sufficiently representative of the general population, and therefore reliable conclusions about the general population couldn't be made.

The thing is, Patterson's studies are flawed because she doesn't sufficiently describe the study participants (or "sample") that she's selected. She compares same-sex "parents" with heterosexual parents (who are in "marriage-like relationships"), for example, but doesn't tell us what kind of heterosexual parents are included in her study. Are they biological parents who are in fact married? Are they cohabiting college students who just happened to have a child out of wedlock? Are they step-parents? She doesn't say, and that is significant.

In her report, Patterson concludes that "the findings suggest that parental sexual orientation is less important than the qualities of family relationships. More important to youth than the gender of their parent's partner is the quality of daily interaction and the strength of relationships with the parents they have."

The problem is that there's an incredibly large, diverse and conclusive literature showing that family formation DOES matter to children, even when the adults in the home are very loving, a body which Patterson has never recognized in any of her work. This body shows that children suffer when they live apart from their own fathers, really for any amount of time, as well as when they live with single, divorced, cohabiting or remarried parents.

See these studies from Child Trends and the Center for Law and Social Policy which survey this research:

This is the concluding problem with Patterson's work: She says that children from same-sex homes look like kids from two-parent heterosexual homes. (She makes that stark conclusion elsewhere, but seems to not make it as boldly in this paper, but she assumes it.) The significant problem is that the various forms of heterosexual two-parent homes are very different: married biological, married non-biological, remarried with step children, cohabiting, etc. Patterson makes no effort to say WHICH heterosexual homes she is comparing her same-sex home kids to.

And that is the fatal error which should get her paper failed in any respectable graduate school program.

It shouldn't make a difference in a truly scientific study, but it is notable that Patterson is a lesbian in a relationship with a female partner, and the couple has three children between them; that may account for her bias and activism on behalf of those practicing the homosexual lifestyle.

For more information showing how these studies are flawed, see "Refuting Points No One is Making" and "Are Same-Sex Families Good for Children?"

In the end, frankly, regardless of what the researchers tell us, we at Boundless and Focus on the Family unequivocally oppose homosexual "parenting" and adoption, and believe that such living arrangements are inherently immoral and are detrimental to the wellbeing of children.

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  • Comment by  JB:

    But what the Patterson study *does* show is that a statistical sample of children with same-sex parents is virtually identical to a statistical sample of children with different sex parents. Sure, it would be nice if she had characterized her two study groups more carefully, but the study is strong enough to let us make some claims about same sex parenting. We might not be able to say that same sex parents are just as good for children as monogamous, married, heterosexual parents, but we can say that the *average* child of same sex parents is not worse off than the *average* child of different sex parents. Since the social question is whether the sex of the parents alone is enough to prohibit adoption, Patterson's study is perfectly relevant. Now, if you want to propose that children should only be adopted by heterosexual married couples, then Patterson can't resolve the issue, but that's not the question on the table at the moment.

    In any case, your last paragraph is very telling. The facts don't matter, you'll just keep claiming that same sex parents are "detrimental" in some undefined way.

  • Comment by  BrooX:

    Ted, thanks for a good explanation of how large qualitative studies of all kinds can easily contain very significant, conclusion-skewing flaws.  Further, as you implied, it seems personal biases can often be significant factors even among technically minded people who are honestly trying to be unbiased in their conclusions.  I'm a systems engineer who now and again, finds some of his past personal experiences lending bias in his technical work and conclusions.  I also recall an annecdote regarding how even Einstein's personal expectation led him in a wrong conclusion for a while.  Our personal experiences have A LOT to do with how we understand and interpret everything else.  

    So, I can certainly understand how people who have experienced childhood trama and/or unhealthy heterosexual family relationships can conclude that more harmonious homosexual family relationships are 'good' and an acceptable solution to the problem of so many unhealthy hetero family relations - or non-existent parental relations in the case of orphans.  

    Not to say that same-sex parenting is "right" from a Christian perspective but nor do I think we can say that it is any more "wrong" than unhealthy and tramatic heterosexual parenting.  And there's the log-in-the-eye for some believers.

  • Comment by  TedSlater:

    JB -- are you not even in the least suspicious of the pro-homosexual work published by gay activist Charlotte J. Patterson, founding member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty, Staff & Graduate Student Association at U.Va. and founding co-chair of the Advisory Board for the University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center?

    Do you not wonder how her being in a "marriage-like" relationship with another woman, with three children betwen them, might affect her conclusions, and how her motivations are likely primarily to defend and legitimize her immoral lifestyle choices by cherry-picking seemingly supportive data from a variety of studies?

    Again, her study includes "a group of 44 12- to 18-year-olds who lived with parents involved in marriage or marriage-like relationships with same-sex partners." That's a pretty small sample size. The data itself comes from a the "Add Health" study, a qualitative study which gathers its data via a self-administered questionnaire and some over-the-phone interviews. These are teenagers, giving their personal opinions about their living situations. I'd imagine most teenage children of gay "parents" would be quite defensive of their "parents," a consequence of self-presentation bias that would naturally make its way into Patterson's report.

    Turns out it's not a very objective study after all. The Add Health study may be good for some things, but it seems to me it's entirely inappropriate for what Patterson used it for -- to legitimize her lifestyle choices and promote her pro-gay agenda.

  • Comment by  S:

    Ted, putting parents in quotes is really offensive.  Unless every single one of the profiled families adopted unrelated children, then one parent in the couple is the biolgical mother or father.  

    Would you call Ted Haggard a "father" or "parent"?  Or Paul Barnes?  

    Do you believe that a homosexual parent should lose parental rights?

    Maybe those children feel "defensive" of their parents because they know their parents are so frequently being attacked.  

  • Comment by  KathleenM12:

    Ted Slater writes:  "It shouldn't make a difference in a truly scientific study, but it is notable that Patterson is a lesbian in a relationship with a female partner, and the couple has three children between them; that may account for her bias and activism on behalf of those practicing the homosexual lifestyle."  

    Then any research on the same subject done by *heterosexuals* must also be discarded for 'bias', right?  After all, if they're heterosexual, they'll skew the results in favor of heterosexuals and against gays, right?  

  • Comment by  AaronShackelford:


    Drunkeness is a sin very clearly defined in scripture as is homosexuality.  Should we let a couple adopt where one of the people is a practicing alcoholic?  Sure everyone has sin issues to deal with but some sins more harmfull to other people and you wouldn't knowingly subject a child to that.  Would you?

  • Comment by  Jethro:


    Why should anyone be any more suspicious of publications by 'pro-homosexual activists' like Patterson, than by anti-homosexual activists like Focus on the Family?  

    Oh, and Ted, as someone who apparently knows a fair bit about research methodology, the fact it was a qualitative study should have raised alarm bells straight off the bat.  As someone who has spent many years working in the research industry I can tell you that qualitative studies are not typically used for the purposes of generalizing results.

  • Comment by  HER:

    I am a first year teacher.  One thing that I was not prepared to deal with was having a child in my class with two moms.  I firmly believe that these women are living an immoral life.  However, the students in my class with a mom and dad living together unmarried also have parents living immoral lives (and I don't even need to mention the moms who have a different boyfriend every other week).  One thing I must admit though is that the two moms are probably the best parents in my class.  Their child always comes to school clean, dressed neatly, and well fed.  When their child has had behavior problems they supported me with consequences at home (they even created a home privilege program based on his school behavior - he looses various priveleges when he has poor behavior).  I still firmly believe the relationship is wrong, but I also must recognize that they are doing an increadible job as parents.  If all parents were like these two a teachers job would be so much easier!  So do I believe that this is the best situation for children?  NO!  But I wonder if it isn't better than what many children currently have.

  • Comment by  TedSlater:

    Whew! So many comments to respond to. Let me start with the comment by "S."

    S -- "parents" is a plural noun. It refers to "two," rather than "one." When I wrote "parents" in quotes, I was referring to two adults of the same sex acting as "parents" to children. As far as I know, two women cannot bring about a baby together. Similarly, two men cannot bring about a baby together. It takes one man and one woman to bring about a baby. So a lesbian couple cannot, by definition, be "parents." Certainly a lesbian woman can have a child, through various means, and she would indeed be a "parent." She should not necessarily lose parental rights simply because of her being a lesbian. Does that make sense?

    Kathleen12 -- Do you not see a difference between a researcher who's passion is gay activism and a researcher for whom homosexual activity is not the center of their life? I do believe that Patterson's work, since she is so immersed in defending the gay lifestyle, should be suspect.

    Aaron -- I believe that alcoholism could indeed be a deciding factor when a couple is being considered as adoptive parents.

    Jethro -- I concur with your comment about qualitative research. It should raise alarm bells. Regarding your first paragraph, let's just consider the evidence -- what Patterson is presenting and what we are presenting.

    her -- There are exceptions on all sides. We still believe that couples whose relationship by its very nature is immoral should not become adoptive "parents." See Motte's recent blog post for an explanation of some of the problems related to having someone in the homosexual lifestyle take on the role of parent. But as I mentioned earlier, we are primarily against homosexual adoption and parenting because it goes against the basic family structure established by God Himself.

  • Comment by  IsaacMcPheeters:

    One thing to keep in mind here is that the reason we are having to defend against same-sex "marriage" is because we have not defended heterosexual marriage. Large numbers of Christian couples get divorced. It's military tactics. You lose one battlefield, you fight further back and have to regain lost territory. If we had defended marriage between husband and wife, then we would not be fighting this battle.

  • Comment by  Jethro:


    That's a good question.  What is the evidence you're presenting?  So far all you have done is tried to discredit Patterson, you haven't actually provided positive evidence for your position though...

  • Comment by  TedSlater:


    That's a valid question. While I'd primarily rely on Scriptural support for the preferability of heterosexual married parenting, scientific evidence exists to support the benefits of such a parental arrangement over other kinds of arrangements.

    I did include links to two documents supporting the benefits of "traditional" marriage and parenting:

    Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?

    You can also visit this page and this page for more research

  • Comment by  ZephGreenwell:

    And you thought this blog was safe Ted. It seems people on this blog can never truly agree.

    People who encourage children to live a sinful lifestyle will never be good for the child. That is true for heterosexuals and homosexuals and anyone who claims to be anything else. Only by training their children to be obedient to God can parents instill any good into their childrens' lives.

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