The Supreme Court’s refusal this week to review any of the same-sex marriage cases that had been sent for appeal undercut such bans in several states. Supporters of gay marriage celebrated the move. Opponents criticized it as further proof that "unelected judges" have the power to overrule the will of the majority.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading group in the fight against gay marriage, said children’s welfare is central to the council’s position.
"We know from the social science that children do best with a mom and a dad," Perkins said Oct. 12 on Fox News Sunday.
We have examined this sort of claim before. The independent research fails to back up Perkins’ view.
The Family Research Council has a Web page with 10 arguments from social science against same-sex marriage. We went through the list to see which spoke to the welfare of children, and of those points, which were based on studies that compared children in same-sex and opposite-sex households.
Not addressing the welfare of children
Five of the 10 had more to do with marriage and society than children. They advanced claims that opposite-sex marriage promotes the domestication of men, paternal commitment, sexual fidelity, "gender-typical" roles and the association of marriage with procreation. A sixth one spoke of how children conceived through artificial insemination "hunger" to know about their biological fathers. While those questions no doubt occur, the book cited by the Family Research Council focused largely on what fathers can bring to child-rearing. It was more a guide to fathering, and less a comparison study of different kinds of households. In fact, it wasn’t a peer-reviewed comparison study at all.
The remaining four pieces of evidence
That leaves four items on the Family Research Council list. One asserted that children need fathers and cited a study on households where the father is absent. However, that research looked at single-parent households, not children with same-sex parents, and so it addresses a different issue entirely.
The Web page offers the corollary point that children need mothers. It cites books, not academic studies, and again, the books are not focused on comparing same-sex and opposite-sex households. They look at gender differences and how children develop over time.
The final two points from the Family Research Council address the data on children of same-sex households. You can find many research papers that claim that growing up in same-sex households does no harm. But the council cited the court affidavit of a University of Virginia professor who said that not one of those studies "was conducted according to generally accepted standards of scientific research."
That testimony has been critiqued on two scores: It came in 2001 and research has passed it by, and it overlooked a range of studies. But even if the methodological critique were correct, it wouldn’t prove that growing up in an opposite-sex household is better.
The council then cited the work of New York University sociologist Judith Stacey to make the point that children raised in same-sex households "are more likely to experience gender and sexual disorders."
When we looked at this topic before, Stacey said this represents a "complete misuse of the research." Stacey wrote that the differences she described, such as children being more open to same-sex relationships, need not be seen as deficits. Stacey accused same-sex marriage opponents of cherry-picking her findings.
What other research shows
We did find one study funded by conservative organizations as showing gay parents are worse than straight ones, but it was denounced by the American Sociological Association, the researcher’s own university and many reputable sociologists. In conducting the study, the researcher loosely defined same-sex couples and, in doing so, only spoke with two children who were actually raised by gay parents.
In contrast, we found several research projects that compared much larger numbers of children in same and opposite-sex households. One published in 2012 looked at 78 children -- about half boys and half girls -- raised by lesbian parents. The mothers joined the research project as far back as 1986, long before their children were born. The children were assessed over time and those results were matched to children from heterosexual couples.
When asked about how they felt about themselves, their relations with their parents and with their peers, the children of lesbians responded much as did the children of straight parents. However, they were more likely to report being teased at school because of their parents.
The American Psychological Association produced a comprehensive review of studies going back three decades. The most relevant section focuses on research that compares the children of lesbian or gay parents. The studies looked at children in terms of their school performance, their relations with their peers, intelligence, self-esteem and a number of other variables.
According to this review, "the belief that children of lesbian and gay parents suffer deficits in personal development has no empirical foundation."
Perkins said that based on social science, we know "that children do best with a mom and a dad." The research cited on the website of Perkins’ group, the Family Research Council, does not provide any support. It relies on books rather than peer-reviewed research, it quotes selectively or mischaracterizes from the work it cites, or at best, challenges the quality of the methodology behind findings that go against its position.
In contrast, we found recent peer-reviewed social science research that finds that at the very least, children of lesbian parents do as well as other children.
We rate Perkins’ claim False.