Tuesday, July 02, 2013
by Timothy J. Dailey, Ph.D.
This article was originally published by the Family Research Council in 2002.
A number of studies in recent years have purported to show that children raised in gay and lesbian households fare no worse than those reared in traditional families. Yet much of that research fails to meet acceptable standards for psychological research; it is compromised by methodological flaws and driven by political agendas instead of an objective search for truth. In addition, openly lesbian researchers sometimes conduct research with an interest in portraying homosexual parenting in a positive light. The deficiencies of studies on homosexual parenting include reliance upon an inadequate sample size, lack of random sampling, lack of anonymity of research participants, and self-presentation bias.
The presence of methodological defects—a mark of substandard research—would be cause for rejection of research conducted in virtually any other subject area. The overlooking of such deficiencies in research papers on homosexual failures can be attributed to the “politically correct” determination within those in the social science professions to “prove” that homosexual households are no different than traditional families. However, no amount of scholarly legerdemain contained in an accumulation of flawed studies can obscure the well-established and growing body of evidence showing that both mothers and fathers provide unique and irreplaceable contributions to the raising of children. Children raised in traditional families by a mother and father are happier, healthier, and more successful than children raised in non-traditional environments.
David Cramer, whose review of twenty studies on homosexual parenting appeared in the Journal of Counseling and Development, found the following:
“The generalizability of the studies is limited. Few studies employed control groups and most had small samples. Almost all parents were Anglo-American, middle class, and well educated. Measures for assessing gender roles in young children tend to focus on social behavior and generally are not accurate psychological instruments. Therefore it is impossible to make large scale generalizations . . . that would be applicable to all children.”1
Since these words were penned in 1986, the number of studies on the subject of homosexual parenting has steadily grown. The fact that these studies continue to be flawed by the methodological errors warned about by Cramer has not inhibited the proponents of homosexual parenting from their sanguine assessment of the outcomes of children raised in homosexual households.
Silverstein and Auerbach, for example, see no essential difference between traditional mother-father families and homosexual-led families: “Other aspects of personal development and social relationships were also found to be within the normal range for children raised in lesbian and gay families.” They suggest that “gay and lesbian parents can create a positive family context.”2
This conclusion is echoed in the official statement on homosexual parenting by the American Psychological Association’s Public Interest Directorate, authored by openly lesbian activist Charlotte J. Patterson of the University of Virginia:
“In summary, there is no evidence that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of gay men or lesbians is compromised in any respect…Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”3
PROBLEMS WITH HOMOSEXUAL PARENTING RESEARCH
Upon closer examination, however, this conclusion is not as confident as it appears. In the next paragraph, Patterson qualifies her statement. Echoing Cramer’s concern from a decade earlier, she writes: “It should be acknowledged that research on lesbian and gay parents and their children is still very new and relatively scarce…Longitudinal studies that follow lesbian and gay families over time are badly needed.”4 The years have passed since Patterson’s admission of the inadequacy of homosexual parenting studies, and we still await definitive, objective research substantiating her claims.
In addition, Patterson acknowledges that “research in this area has presented a variety of methodological challenges,” and that “questions have been raised with regard to sampling issues, statistical power, and other technical matters (e.g., Belcastro, Gramlich, Nicholson, Price, & Wilson, 1993).” She adds, revealingly:
“Research in this area has also been criticized for using poorly matched or no control groups in designs that call for such controls. . . . Other criticisms have been that most studies have involved relatively small samples [and] that there have been inadequacies in assessment procedures employed in some studies.”5
Though she admits to serious methodological and design errors that would call into question the findings of any study, Patterson makes the astonishing claim that “even with all the questions and/or limitations that may characterize research in the area, none of the published research suggests conclusions different from those that will be summarized below.” But any such conclusions are only as reliable as the evidence upon which they are based. If the alleged evidence is flawed, then the conclusions must likewise be considered suspect.
One suspects that the lack of studies with proper design and controls is due to the political agendas driving the acceptance of homosexual parenting, which favor inadequate and superficial research yielding the desired results.
In a study published in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, P. Belcastro et al. reviewed fourteen studies on homosexual parenting according to accepted scientific standards. Their “most impressive finding” was that “all of the studies lacked external validity. The conclusion that there are no significant differences in children raised by lesbian mothers versus heterosexual mothers is not supported by the published research data base.”6 Similarly, in their study of lesbian couples in Family Relations, L. Keopke et al. remark, “Conducting research in the gay community is fraught with methodological problems.”7
A careful reading of studies used to lend support to homosexual parenting reveals more modest claims than are often attributed to them, as well as significant methodological limitations:
“Nearly all of the existing studies of homosexual parenting have major deficiencies in sampling: They use a small sample size; they fail to obtain a truly representative sample due to sources of sampling bias; they do not use a random sample; or they use a sample with characteristics that are inappropriate for the crucial development research question involved in the study.”8
Inadequate Sample Size
Studies examining the effects of homosexual parenting are weakened by inordinately small sample sizes:
After finding no significant difference between a group of nine children raised by lesbians and a similar group of children raised by heterosexual parents, S. L. Huggins admitted, “The meaning and implications of this finding are unclear, and the small sample size makes any interpretation of these data difficult.”9
A report by J. M. Bailey et al. in Developmental Psychology, commenting on studies of the children of gay and lesbian parents, notes that “available studies [are] insufficiently large to generate much statistical power.”10
S. Golombok and F. Tasker admit in their follow-up study of children reared by lesbians, “It is possible that the small sample size resulted in an underestimate of the significance of group difference as a result of low statistical power (Type II error).”11 Elsewhere they caution that negative effects of children reared by lesbians “could have remained undetected because of the relatively small sample size. Therefore, although discernible trends were identified, caution is required in interpreting these results.”12
In his study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development comparing the children of homosexual and heterosexual mothers, G. A. Javaid frankly admits that “the numbers are too small in this study to draw any conclusions.”13
J. J. Bigner and R. B. Jacobson state in the Journal of Homosexuality:
“Those who do study gay fathers may be frustrated by the difficulties of obtaining valid and adequate sample sizes. Most often, researchers must deal with many methodological problems in locating and testing gay fathers in numbers sufficiently large to make acceptable statistical analyses of data. For this reason, what is known currently about gay fathers is weakened by these methodological problems. It is practically impossible to obtain a representative sample of gay fathers, and those studies published to date frequently utilize groups of white, urban, well-educated males for study because of convenience sampling.”14
In her study of lesbian families, Patterson admits to sampling bias: “Some concerns relevant to sampling issues should also be acknowledged. Most of the families who took part in the Bay Area Families Study were headed by lesbian mothers who were White, well educated, relatively affluent, and living in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. For these reasons, no claims about representativeness of the present sample can be made.”15
Similarly, N. L. Wyers, in his study of male and female homosexual parents that appeared in Social Work, acknowledges that his study “cannot be considered representative” and that “therefore, the findings cannot be generalized beyond the sample itself.”16
By contrast, R. Green et al. writing in Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that the few experimental studies that included even modestly larger samples (13—30) of boys or girls reared by homosexual parents:
“[Found] developmentally important statistically significant differences between children reared by homosexual parents compared to heterosexual parents. For example, children raised by homosexuals were found to have greater parental encouragement for cross-gender behavior [and] greater amounts of cross-dressing and cross-gender play/role behavior.”17
Lack of Random Sampling
Researchers use random sampling to ensure that the study participants are representative of the population being studied (for example, homosexuals or lesbians). Findings from unrepresentative samples have no legitimate generalization to the larger population.
L. Lott-Whitehead and C. T. Tully admit the inherent weaknesses in their study of lesbian mothers: “This study was descriptive and, therefore, had inherent in its design methodological flaws consistent with other similar studies. Perhaps the most serious concerns representativeness. . . . Probability random sampling . . . was impossible. This study does not purport to contain a representative sample, and thus generalizability cannot be assumed.”18
N. L. Wyers acknowledges that he did not use random sampling procedures in his study of lesbian and gay spouses, rendering his study “vulnerable to all the problems associated with self-selected research participants.”19
Golombok et al. write of their study: “A further objection to the findings lies in the nature of the samples studied. Both groups were volunteers obtained through gay and single-parent magazines and associations. Obviously these do not constitute random samples, and it is not possible to know what biases are involved in the method of sample selection.”20
Lack of Anonymity of Research Participants.
Research procedures guaranteeing complete anonymity are necessary to prevent a source of bias as to who will consent to participate as a research subject, and ensure the truthfulness and candor of their answers.
M. B. Harris and P. H. Turner point out in the Journal of Homosexuality:
“Most gay/lesbian parents who participate in such research are concerned about their parenting and their children, and most have established a public gay identity. ‘Closet’ gay parents are difficult to identify, and their problems may be quite different from those of more openly gay parents.”21
Harris and Turner employed superior research techniques to ensure the complete anonymity of their research subjects. As a result, in contrast to other studies, they reported problems associated with being a homosexual parent that had gone unreported by earlier studies: “Perhaps the anonymity of the present sampling procedure made subjects more willing to acknowledge those problems than those in earlier studies.”22
A lack of random sampling and the absence of controls guaranteeing anonymity allow subjects to present a misleading picture to the researcher that conforms to the subject’s attitudes or opinions and suppresses evidence that does not conform to the image he or she desires to present.
In their National Lesbian Family Study N. Gartrell et al. found that eighteen of nineteen studies of homosexual parents used a research procedure that was contaminated by self-presentation bias. Gartrell mentions the methodological problems of one longitudinal study of lesbian families:
“Some may have volunteered for this project because they were motivated to demonstrate that lesbians were capable of producing healthy, happy children. To the extent that these subjects might wish to present themselves and their families in the best possible light, the study findings may be shaped by self-justification and self-presentation bias.”23
Harris and Turner admit, with regard to their study: “There is no way of knowing how representative the sample is…The high proportion of gay subjects who indicated a willingness to be interviewed suggests that they were perhaps unusually interested in the issues raised in the questionnaire and thus willing to divulge their homosexuality to the researchers.
“Moreover, even though the questionnaire was anonymous, the gay parents may have been particularly biased toward emphasizing the positive aspects of their relationships with their children, feeling that the results might have implications for custody decisions in the future. Thus, all generalizations must be viewed with caution. . . . Because all uncorroborated self-report data are subject to biases, and because parents may deliberately or unconsciously minimize the extent of conflicts with their children, these findings cannot be accepted at face value.”24
Evidence from Marmoset Monkeys?
Some advocates of homosexual parenting claim to find confirmation of the “normalcy” of homosexual parenting by observing animal behavior. Silverstein and Auerbach, for example, adopt the unusual tactic of appealing to the offspring-raising habits of a soft-furred, tree-dwelling South American monkey to support their contention that homosexual households lead to positive child outcomes:
“Marmosets illustrate how, within a particular bioecological context, optimal child outcomes can be achieved with fathers as primary caregivers and limited involvement by mothers. Human examples of this proposition include single fathers . . . and families headed by gay fathers.”25
The twenty-six species of marmosets live in family groups of up to thirty monkeys. Only the dominant female of the group gives birth, usually to twins. What Silverstein and Auerbach find so impressive about these tiny primates is that, after birth, the males as well as females of the group help carry the baby marmosets, passing them back to the mother for nursing.
It is difficult to grasp the significance Silverstein and Auerbach attach to what they readily admit is an “extreme example” of the supposed “limited parenting involvement by mothers.”26 The authors contend, “Male marmosets behave like full-time mothers.”
It seems there are specific chores that the male marmosets cannot perform. As the authors themselves admit, marmoset mothers perform the essential function of nursing their young, without which the baby marmosets—who must depend upon their mother’s milk for the first three months of life—could not survive. In turn, the males of the group fill the vital role of watching the baby marmosets, protecting them from predators, while the nursing mother forages to replenish herself. In short, one could just as well argue, contrary to Silverstein and Auerbach, that the behavior of marmoset monkeys demonstrates that both male and female fulfill separate and important functions in the raising of young.
Psychologist David Blankenhorn, head of the Institute for American Values and author of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, criticized such attempts to rely upon behavioral studies of non-human primates to draw conclusions about the character of human families:
“I always appreciate critical articles, because they can focus your argument and point out weaknesses. But [Silverstein and Auerbach’s] article was unusually silly. Not one thing they said was what I would call a serious insight.”27
In their thorough review of homosexual parenting studies, Robert Lerner and Althea K. Nagai found little evidence to support the oft-repeated mantra that homosexual households are “just like” traditional families:
“We conclude that the methods used in these studies are so flawed that these studies prove nothing. Therefore, they should not be used in legal cases to make any argument about ‘homosexual vs. heterosexual’ parenting. Their claims have no basis.”28
1 David Cramer, “Gay Parents and Their Children: A Review of Research and Practical Implications,” Journal of Counseling and Development 64 (April 1986): 506. See also Frederick W. Bozett, “Gay Fathers: A Review of the Literature,” in Homosexuality and the Family (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1989), p. 152. Bozett writes: “Most studies of gay fathers are based on nonrandom small sample sizes, with subjects who are Caucasian, middle- to upper-class, well educated with occupations commensurate with their education, who come mostly from urban centers, and who are relatively accepting of their homosexuality. There is severely limited knowledge of gay fathers who vary from these demographics. Moreover, the validity and reliability of the instruments used in the studies reported are not always addressed.”
2 Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach, “Deconstructing the Essential Father,” American Psychologist 54 (June 1999): 397–407.
3 Charlotte J. Patterson, “Lesbian and Gay Parenting,” American Psychological Association Public Interest Directorate (1995): 8.
5 Ibid., p. 2.
6 P. A. Belcastro et al., “A Review of Data Based Studies Addressing the Affects of Homosexual Parenting on Children’s Sexual and Social Functioning,” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 20 (1993): 105, 106.
7 L. Keopke et al., “Relationship Quality in a Sample of Lesbian Couples with Children and Child-free Lesbian Couples,” Family Relations 41 (1992): 225.
8 J. Paul Guiliani and Dwight G. Duncan, “Brief of Amici Curiae Massachusetts Family Institute and National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality,” Appeal to the Supreme Court of Vermont, Docket No. S1009-97CnC.
9 S. L. Huggins, “A Comparative Study of Self-esteem of Adolescent Children of Divorced Lesbian Mothers and Divorced Heterosexual Mothers,” Journal of Homosexuality 18 (1989): 134.
10 J. M. Bailey et al., “Sexual Orientation of Adult Sons of Gay Fathers,” Developmental Psychology 31 (1995): 124.
11 Susan Golombok and Fiona L. Tasker, “Do Parents Influence the Sexual Orientation of Their Children? Findings from a Longitudinal Study of Lesbian Families,” Developmental Psychology 32 (1996): 9.
12 F. Tasker and S. Golombok, “Adults Raised as Children in Lesbian Families,” Developmental Psychology 31 (1995): 213.
13 Ghazala A. Javaid, “The Children of Homosexual and Heterosexual Single Mothers,” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 23 (1993): 245.
14 Jerry J. Bigner and R. Brooke Jacobson, “Adult Responses to Child Behavior and Attitudes Toward Fathering: Gay and Nongay Fathers,” Journal of Homosexuality 23 (1992): 99–112.
15 Charlotte J. Patterson, “Families of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Parent’s Division of Labor and Children’s Adjustment,” Development Psychology 31 (1995): 122.
16 Norman L. Wyers, “Homosexuality in the Family: Lesbian and Gay Spouses,” Social Work 32 (1987): 144.
17 Richard Green et al., “Lesbian Mothers and Their Children: A Comparison with Solo Parent Heterosexual Mothers and Their Children,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 15 (1986): 167–184.
18 Laura Lott-Whitehead and Carol T. Tully, “The Family Lives of Lesbian Mothers,” Smith College Studies in Social Work 63 (1993): 265.
19 Wyers, “Homosexuality in the Family,” p. 144.
20 Golombok et al., “Children in Lesbian and Single-parent Households: Psychosexual and Psychiatric Appraisal,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 24 (1983): 569.
21 Mary B. Harris and Pauline H. Turner, “Gay and Lesbian Parents,” Journal of Homosexuality 12 (1985): 104.
22 Ibid., p. 112.
23 Nanette Gartrell et al., “The National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews with Prospective Mothers,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 66 (1996): 279.
24 Harris and Turner, “Gay and Lesbian Parents,” p. 111, 112.
25 Silverstein and Auerbach, “Deconstructing the Essential Father,” p. 400.
27 Justin Torres, “APA Fatherhood Report ‘Utter Nonsense,'” Conservative News Service, July 16, 1999.
28 Robert Lerner and Althea K. Nagai, No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us About Same Sex Parenting (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 2001): 6.