How’s this for a deal? “Wanted: millions of children to participate in a social science experiment. Young children preferred. Once engaged in the experiment there is no opportunity to withdraw. There may be long term problems for certain participants although the extent of any potential risk cannot be predicted at this time. The researchers cannot be held liable for any negative outcomes.”
Ready to sign up your kids?
I neglected to mention that the study would involve finding an answer to the question of whether or not children reared by gay or lesbian couples show any different outcomes as compared to those raised by straight parents. Since gay marriage has become part of the daily news cycle, some analysts have suggested that the children of gay parents would be happier if their parent could marry. Witness the title of a recent article in the New York Times: "For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy."
The children chosen for the Times article were portrayed as mostly happy with their situation, but do we know anything much about the general effects of gay parenting? Most people publicly supporting gay marriage fall back on the bogus claim that social science research proves no difference in outcomes. However, one such advocate, Ann Hulbert writing for Msn.com’s popular Slate website, admitted that the data supporting gay parenting is of such poor quality that no substantial conclusions can be drawn from it.
In her article, The Gay Science published March 12, she writes: “All the evidence—as both sides acknowledge—is seriously flawed and doesn't begin to supply anything like solid support for either the hopes of gay family harmony or the fears about scarred children and skewed parenting.” The evidence she refers to is research comparing children of gay and straight parents. The truth is that the studies are so flawed methodologically that little can be said about the impact of gay parents. While one difference we can anticipate involves a greater likelihood of homosexual experimentation in girls reared by lesbians, we cannot go much farther without resorting to speculation. To her credit, Ms. Hulbert acknowledges that fact.
However, at the point in her article where she acknowledges the flaws in the research, her reasoning takes an unexpected twist. She writes: “…until gay couples are allowed to marry, there can't possibly be decent studies of whether the honorable estate confers the same benefits on kids whose parents are the same sex as it does on those who have a mom and a dad.” She then discounts science as adding anything important to the current debate and suggests gay marriage should be supported because her sister and female partner are happy being parents.
Why didn't I think of that? Another reason to support gay marriage! Legalize gay marriage and we make gay parents and researchers happy.
Just think of the decent studies we could have. We could research girls produced by a surrogate mother and reared by gay men, and boys produced through artificial insemination parented by two women and so on. The sample sizes would be a researcher’s dream. And if the effects are positive or neutral then we would allow gay marriage to remain intact. But if the results are negative as compared to straight control groups, we could just change public policy and all go back to having marriage be one man and one woman and honor our fathers and our mothers.
Yeah, and while we’re at it, we’ll make divorce harder to arrange.
Perhaps most proponents of legalizing same sex marriage and thus liberalizing gay parenting wouldn’t make the argument as boldly as did Ms. Hulbert, but isn’t the majority of Americans being asked to support a major social experiment with almost no supporting data because some adults would be happier?
When I read Ms. Hulbert’s concluding pitch for gay marriage, I immediately thought of the haunting words of Judith Wallerstein concerning divorce from her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She wrote: "What about the children? In our rush to improve the lives of adults, we assumed that their lives would improve as well. We made radical social changes in the family without realizing how it would change the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be affected." Maybe gay parenting advocates could be proven right in some or all instances but would it not be wise to carry out a program of careful inquiry before we leap?
Despite the fact that as a society we blew it with divorce, we are not going back. Seems to me, we either err on the side of caution this time or we simply determine that the “rights” and “improved lives of adults” always trump the best interests of children. If we experiment with the latter now, I don’t see the point in doing the research later. It will be too late.
Warren Throckmorton is Director of College Counseling and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grove City College. His research "Initial Empirical and Clinical Findings Concerning the Change Process for Ex-Gays," was published in the June 2002 issue of the American Psychological Association's publication Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.