Nel's New Day

February 10, 2015

Study on Children of Same-Sex Couples Flawed

A major argument for banning marriage equality is that children do not thrive with same-sex parents as they do with parents in a heterosexual relationship. The same issue will most likely appear in April when the Supreme Court hears more cases about same-sex marriage. Conservatives who oppose marriage equality use the false argument that children are damaged in a home with same-sex parents because bigots don’t want to seem hateful. Because no valid studies shows that children with same-sex parents are worse off, conservatives decided to create one before arguments before SCOTUS.

Father Donald Paul Sullins, a Catholic priest and sociology professor at Catholic University of America, has done exactly that. His credentials show him to be fully prepared to oppose LGBT rights in any way that he can. A fellow of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute from the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, Sullins is also a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus that has given millions of dollars to the first against marriage equality. In a 2010 study, Sullins connected female homosexuality to growing up in a broken home, and his writings about married same-sex couples always use quotations around “marriage” to delegitimize it.

In his newest study, Sullins’ analysis of data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 1997-2013 concluded that children of 512 same-sex parents have more emotional problems that children raised by their biological different-sex couples. He concludes that this finding “justifies social and policy concerns about differences between family structures, including between opposite-sex and same-sex families.”

Examining the study reveals that Sullins has no information about whether the same-sex couples were married. He noted, “Almost all opposite-sex parents who are raising joint biological offspring are in intact marriages, but very few, if any, same-sex parents were married during the period under observation.” Instead, he used couples as “those persons whose reported spouse or cohabiting partner was of the same sex as themselves.”

Sullins provided no information about whether the children with same-sex couples had a biological connection to one of the parents.

An earlier study from Mark Regnerus from two years ago with similar findings was similarly flawed and biased. Only two of the children in his study were reared from birth by same-sex couples. Regnerus admitted that these children did not exhibit the same negative outcomes as children with parents who separated before having the same-sex relationships. In another analysis of a study from the same NHIS data, Regnerus refuted the finding “that children in same-sex families are quite similar to children in married couple families” by arguing that what matters is “how scholars present and interpret the data.” As he admitted, one of the ways to make children “appear to fare fine (if not better)” with same-sex parents is to control for factors like relationship instability and residential instability. Obviously neither he nor Sullins did that. The only way to get negative results is to not control for any relationship instability before a parent enters a same-sex relationship.

Regernus studied children raised during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s who were raised in “failed heterosexual unions” where one parent had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex.” Half of the children in the study with a same-sex mother had never lived with that parent. Sullins’ data ended at 2013, meaning that most of the same-sex couples would not have been married.

“Biology matters,” Regnerus asserts, and Sullins emphasizes that his study identifies “the importance of common biological parentage for optimum child well-being.” Their conclusions omit any connection with adoption or foster care with different-sex couples. (Sullins has two adopted children.)

Regnerus was a star witness in Michigan when officials were defending the state’s bans on same-sex couples either marrying or adopting. His New Family Structures Study (NFSS) continues to be used as evidence although the American Sociological Association debunked it two years ago before the Supreme Court. Even his own sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin distanced itself from what they called his “fundamentally flawed” testimony.

In his testimony, Regernus identified three core components of marriage: “permanence, exclusivity, and an expectation of producing children.” Yet he doesn’t oppose marriages in groups that have higher rates of divorce or might have poorer outcomes for their children.

According to Sullins, children with same-sex couples are better off than children in single-parent families. “Child emotional problems in opposite-sex families are highest for single parent families and lowest with married joint biological parents. Compared to single parents, children with same-sex parents have less than twice the risk of emotional problems, but they are at almost four times the risk of emotional problems when compared to children residing with married biological parents.” Yet neither Sullins nor Regnerus is opposed to single parents or adoption. Not one state prohibits single people from adopting, but 11 states prohibit joint adoption by same-sex couples at least in parts of the state.

Regnerus and Sullins will want to avoid the largest study of its kind about children of same-sex couples recently released in Australia. It found that children raised with same-sex couples do better “than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion.” In a survey of 325 same-sex parents and 500 children, the children scored about six percent higher than children in the general population. Lead researcher, Dr. Simon Crouch, noted that same-sex couple parents have to “take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes.” This leads to a “more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and well being.” The study is in accord with “existing international research undertaken with smaller sample sizes.”

Rock-bottom, however, banning same-sex marriage doesn’t stop children from living with same-sex couples; it just blocks them from the stability of married parents.

The religious right has grabbed Sullins’ study like a drowning person. They need to be told who Sullins skewed and misrepresented his data.

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