Washington Blade: ‘Anti-gay legal briefs ‘mischaracterized’ parenting study’

01.25.2013, 3:32 PM

There is a new story by Chris Johnson on the 2002 Child Trends brief which concluded, based upon then-available research, that “the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents.” Carol Emig, president of Child Trends, has repeatedly refuted use of that study in debates about same-sex marriage, pointing out, correctly, that data available in 2002 did not separate out same sex couple headed homes in ways that could meaningfully be studied or reported. (Links for quotes below are provided in Johnson’s piece.)

“The Child Trends brief in question summarizes research conducted in 2002, when same-sex parents were not identified in large national surveys,” Emig said. “Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents.”

In 2008, when my friend and boss David Blankenhorn opposed same sex marriage, and cited the Child Trends brief as one example of why we might consider how redefining marriage could impact child well-being, Emig wrote in a letter to the editor:

“In research studies, the number of gay parents, even in large national surveys, has been too small to allow for separate analyses,” Emig wrote. “What is needed is a large-scale study of a representative sample of same-sex couples. Clearly, a better understanding of the diversity, strengths, and challenges faced by varied types of families is needed to better inform debates such as this one.”

I have also referred to the Child Trends study in the past when seeking to raise concerns about redefining marriage, such as in this report.

I think Emig’s 2008 letter to the editor still represents the best thinking on this question. We need to know more. Which means we need to keep asking the question and get beyond ripping each other’s heads off when anyone dares to ask the question. Here’s a post I wrote in December on what I see as a research agenda moving forward: “When Marriage Also Means Gay Marriage—A Proposed Research Agenda Related to Family Structure and Child Well-Being.”


15 Responses to “Washington Blade: ‘Anti-gay legal briefs ‘mischaracterized’ parenting study’”

  1. Maggie Gallagher says:

    Whether this is a mischaracterization depends on what the briefs actually said. What they said is nothing against gay parenting. Only that scientific evidence support the idea that in general mothers and fathers are the ideal context for childrearing.

    The weakness of Chris’s story is he doesn’t quote the briefs in any length to determine the context. No doubt Child Trends does not want to be part of any gay marriage debate.

    But the science is the science.

    Compared to family structures that have been well studied, the intact biological family has value.

    The mistake here is in belieiving opposition to gay marriage requires believing gay parents are bad parents.

  2. Kevin says:

    “We need to know more.”

    Why? For what purpose? We already know volumes about the benefits of marriage to couples and their children, and yet there is still an astonishingly powerful movement to stop same-sex couples from getting married, and stopping the children of same-sex couples from receiving the benefits of marriage. We don’t effectively use the knowledge we have on families and marriage; why accumulate more?

    Parenting is not synonymous with marriage. No one has to have kids in order to get, or stay, married. Not even the potential to have kids, as proven by the marriage rights of the elderly, the infertile and the incarcerated.

    In addition, gay couples can raise children together in a shared dwelling in all 50 states. It is extremely unlikely that that will ever change, regardless of the status of legal same-sex marriage. Studying same-sex parenting, therefore, is likely to be no less purposeful yet divisive than studying black couple parenting, which no one seems interested in. I smell an agenda, especially after the fraudulent Mark Regnerus “study.”

    It’s always interesting to study the human condition and its myriad variations. But if this is the latest tactic to delay equal legal rights for gays and lesbians, I doubt it will work, and it shouldn’t work.

    “Compared to family structures that have been well studied, the intact biological family has value.”

    Ok, say it does. Then what? I think we all can agree that having wealthy college-educated white parents, statistically, is an advantage in our society. Shall we outlaw or somehow discourage non-wealthy, non-educated non-white persons from procreating or raising children?

  3. David Blankenhorn says:

    I agree with the need for new, good studies of gay families with children, but I think Carol was wrong when she went around insisting — she called up, after one article, most emphatically to insist — that no one talking about gay marriage could cite the Child Trends study. Her position was not, cite the study properly. Her position was, do not cite the study at all. If everyone felt and acted that way, it would by definition rule out of bounds about 98 percent of all scholarly work ever done on family structure — which would not have improved the debate one bit.

    I think she and Child Trends basically just wanted to avoid the grief that they felt would come their way — and for all I know did come their way — if anyone speaking out against gay marriage cited their study. Which to me is understandable, but entirely unwise and lacking in integrity.

    The solution to an improper citation is a proper citation. The solution to an insufficiency of evidence is gathering of more evidence. An attempt at censorship, even when what you want to censor is your own work, is not the answer.

    At the same time, this little controversy really didn’t and doesn’t matter that much in the larger scheme, since their are scores of other analyses and meta-analyses that reach the exact same coclusion as the Child Trends people did about the bio-married-two-parent home.

  4. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    Maggie G, “Only that scientific evidence support the idea that in general mothers and fathers are the ideal context for childrearing.”

    I disagree, the statements filed in court are stated a way that misleads. The topic is gay marriage and they are bringing up gay parenting in that context. The actual statements lead the reader to believe that gay parents were included in the study and in fact they were never identified at all in the study.

    This is akin to saying, “The best auto is the GMC SUV,” when only SUV’s were tested not regular cars.

  5. Concerned By Fallacy says:

    What they said is nothing against gay parenting. Only that scientific evidence support the idea that in general mothers and fathers are the ideal context for childrearing.

    Maggie, I have to ask if you can see the contradiction you’re drawing.

    If a study makes no claim against the quality of gay parenting, or any other alternative form of parenting, then it can’t possibly claim that opposite-sex parenting is the ideal, it can only claim that opposite-sex parenting is one ideal.

    You’re asserting that what is good is really what is best, without evidence, and to the detriment of same-sex parents.

  6. Clarknt67 says:

    It’s all well and good to say, “we need to know more.” Personally, I think we can conclusively know, orientation is not a significant factor relevant to whether a person is fit to be a parent. Asked and answered many times. But study it some more if you wish.

    But it isn’t irrelevant to the question of legalizing civil marriage. Same-sex couples are and will continue to have children, by natural means, or adoption, by happenstance. Nothing is going to change that. This is because many gay and lesbian people, like straight people, just wish to be parents in course of their lifetimes. And they will do this whether the state recognizes their relationship or not.

    The only relevant to the question is it better for children to be raised in a home that is legally protected by the state, or is it better for these kids to be raised in a legal no-man’s land where an abrupt tragedy could lead to legal chaos (of custody, of inheritance) for the survivors?

  7. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    Sorry I wasn’t done with my comment and it posted (darned iPad).

    Notably absent is the Mark Regnerus study. If you will recall Regerus claimed that no one from his funders collaborated on the research, but a Freedom of Information Act request showed that Regnerus permitted Brad Wilcox to participate in the design and analysis.

    Then Wilcox who is also a blogger here on FS wrote here, that in fact he did work on the research with Regnerus but that his position with the Witherspoon Institute, as Director of the Witherspoon Program that funded Regnerus almost $800,000, his position was just “honorary”. Investigation shows that Wilcox provided leadership and time and effort over several years to Witherspoon, so I guess “Honorary” is in the eye of the beholder.

    Whereas Regnerus said in his reports that no one from his funding agency participated in the research, and then Wilcox said, “We’ll I helped a little”, I guess that BLAG in the Windsor DOMA brief and the Prop 8 proponents i their brief, didn’t have enough confidence in Regnerus to cite him, so they fell back on the Child Trends article instead.

    I was sure we were going to see Regnerus cited in the briefs, but the lawyers must have thought better of it. I think the lawyers were right.

    Finally it isn’t often that we are treated to an article here on FS from a gay rights publication, this is nice for a change. Usually we are discussing articles from right wing publications, so I would like to send this acknowledgment and props to FS for quoting from a gay rights source, it’s nice. It’s nice for a change, you should do this more often :)

  8. SexualMinoritySupporter says:

    David B, “that no one talking about gay marriage could cite the Child Trends study. Her position was not, cite the study properly. Her position was, do not cite the study at all. If everyone felt and acted that way, it would by definition rule out of bounds about 98 percent of all scholarly work ever done on family structure — which would not have improved the debate one bit.”

    I agree with the editor. IF the study is brought up in the context of a gay rights discussion, it is improper to bring it up at all because the study did not identify families headed by sexual minorities.

    What would a correct citation of the article be?
    Blah blah blah discussion on gay rights, blah blah blah, and there is a Child Trends article that says married biological parents provide the best results for children, however this study did not study gay parenting so you should not infer anything about gay parenting from the Child Trends study. Why bring it up at all, and then to properly cite it you have to say it doesn’t measure gay parents?

  9. Clarknt67 says:

    Opponents of same-sex marriage frequently use studies that find two-parent households as superior to single-parent households to argue two-parent gay and lesbian households are an inferior environment. It’s intellectually dishonest. Doubly so because they know they are doing it.

  10. Manny says:

    “What difference does it make!!!!!”

    We don’t qualify marriage on any outcome.

  11. Diane M says:

    Ultimately, I think we do need to do studies of how children are affected by having same-sex parents. There’s nothing wrong with calling for that.

    The studies should be focused on the kids, their feelings, and how they are affected and on how to help them and their parents.

    I see four main areas to look at:

    1. Discrimination – What kind of discrimination do the children face? Who? What can we do for them?

    2. Gender roles – How do the children deal with not having a role model of their own or the opposite sex? What do they think about it? What works for supporting them? Are the children any different when they grow up? What good effects can this have as well as challenges?

    3. How do they handle the issue of having families with less of a boundary? I’ve read that step-families are never quite like other two-parent families, they have another parent or family or families involved. It’s a different kind of family.

    4. Just general comparison to other families. There’s nothing wrong with this, if it’s done right. Families need to be compared to families with the same structure and income and education, etc.

  12. ki sarita says:

    Whereas the whole idea of a study of “same sex parents” makes no sense to me.
    I have yet to see a study of “heterosexual parents.”
    Sure when it comes to heterosexual couples, we understand that their sexual orientation doesn’t tell us the whole story.
    When we study heterosexual parents, we study adoptive parents, stepparents, married v. cohabiting parents, single parents etc.
    Same sex parents can be any one of those things. The only thing they can not be is both biological parents. They can also consist of 2 males or 2 females, whose results could be (all though not inevitablly be) radically different.
    A study of “same sex parents” therefore tells me absolutely nothing.

    Regarding the effect of marriage on children raised by same sex couples, it’s too early to really get enough data. One would have to compare married couples to cohabiting couples similar to what Elizabeth shared on heterosexual couples. I’d say until then anything else is a conjecture.

  13. Clarknt67 says:

    I agree, ki sartia. There are ultimately way too many other important factors in a child’s development to isolate sexual orientation.

    Take Child A: Say the child is the product of a same-sex couple were one partner is a substantial bread winner and affords the other partner time to stay home full-time, and the child gets lots of school tutoring and extracurricular activities and lives in an upscale safe neighborhood surrounded by other children, and attends superior schools.

    Take Child B: Lives in opposite sex home, where both parents are minimum wage earners. Together, even working extra shifts, they may not even reach above the poverty level. They can barely pay the rent, feed and cloth him. They have little time to help with homework, can’t afford tutors or extracurricular activities, must miss parent-teacher conferences to work. Parents fight a lot as money is always a problem. The neighborhood is dangerous and the child is encouraged to stay inside. The local schools are over crowded and under-perform national standards.

    Which child thrives? Betting it’s child A, which you couldn’t conclude means gays are superior parents. What part did the parents’ gender have on the outcome? Likely little.

  14. Phil says:

    We need to know more. Which means we need to keep asking the question[...]

    What is the question to which you’re referring?

  15. Ned Flaherty says:

    Maggie Gallagher wrote — incorrectly — that “… the briefs said nothing against gay parenting.”

    That’s not so. They said plenty.

    The briefs said that same-gender couples have no need — and no human right — to marry, on the [false] assumption that they do not have or raise any children at all, but that mixed-gender couples often procreate, usually by accident. The briefs initially imply this by mentioning — 48 times over 76 pages — that mixed-gender couples procreate, and further imply this by pretending that same-gender couples never have children by prior marriage, fertilization, surrogacy, foster care, and/or adoption. Pretending that same-gender couples aren’t parents at all is, indeed, saying quite a bit “againt gay parenting.”

    Gallagher also wrote — also incorrectly — that, “… mothers and fathers are the ideal context for child-rearing.”

    That’s also untrue. It’s false to declare mixed-gender child-rearing “the ideal” when intact same-gender child-rearing has never been scientifically studied, validated, peer-reviewed, and upheld. No such study exists, because the first adult children raised by intact same-gender couples will not even start reaching adulthood until 2025.

    Gallagher wrote, “… the science is the science” and implied that mixed-gender families are scientifically superior to same-gender families, even though she knows full well that the necessary comparison study doesn’t exist, and can’t even start for another 12 years.

    Finally, Gallagher concluded that “Compared to family structures that have been well studied, the intact biological family has value.” But her imagined value of mixed-gender families has never been scientifically compared to the actual value of same-gender families. Without that comparison, her perceived value of mixed-gender families has no context, so her conclusion is baseless.