Groundbreaking Study on Alternative Families

This morning a reputable scholarly journal published two key studies that could unsettle some of the happy talk about alternative family forms. The studies have already been the subject of major stories in the Deseret News and Washington Times. Maggie Gallagher and Charlie Cooke have both made important comments at National Review Online.

In the first study, Dr. Loren Marks of Louisiana State University carefully critiques the research relied on by the American Psychological Association in its policy statement supporting parenting by same-sex couples. Dr. Marks effectively demonstrates that the methodology of the studies is poor enough that the conclusions drawn from them by the APA are unwarranted.

The second study, by Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, is even more startling. It examines a large national data set, randomly selected, and assesses the outcomes for children across a wide-range of variables. 

Importantly, it is based on the reports of the grown children rather than on the perceptions of those who raised them. It finds that on 25 of 40 variables children raised by same-sex couples experienced significantly different outcomes from children raised in intact biological family (IBF) households. An IBF household is a family with both the biological father and mother.

For instance: 8% of children in IBF homes reported being forced to have sex against their will compared to 31% raised by lesbian mothers; 2% of children in IBF homes reported being touched sexually by a parent or other adult compared to 23% raised by lesbian mothers; 13% of children in IBF homes reported having an affair while married or cohabiting compared to 40% raised by lesbian mothers; 9% of children in IBF homes reported currently cohabiting compared to 24% raised by lesbian mothers; and 17% of children in IBF homes reported their family received welfare while they were growing up compared to 69% raised by lesbian mothers.

Dr. Regnerus’ study is particularly important because for decades, the “conventional wisdom,” pressed with some fervor, is that children raised by same-sex couples show no differences from married, or at least “heterosexual,” parents. This claim has been cited in court decisions striking down marriage and adoption laws despite strong critiques of the methodology of the studies on which it is based. Dr Regnerus’ study avoids these methodological errors and finds something quite close to the opposite conclusion of the poorly designed studies.

Of course, these results must be replicated in other similarly well-designed studies before they will be accepted as definitive. Candidly, given the political stakes, there is reason to believe that some people will never accept what today’s studies demonstrate because these studies strike at the heart of some very powerful modern impulses. The desire to seek validation of the core myths of the sexual revolution, such as the idea that all that matters is adult satisfaction, is very strong. Public policy has yet to catch up with the knowledge we have about the impacts of divorce on children, for instance.

These studies, however, are still very, very important and their authors deserve high praise. At least for a moment, the hubris of academic supporters of family deconstruction has been interrupted. Maybe in this moment, a more careful and thoughtful discussion about the implications of marriage and family reconstruction can begin. We can hope, at least.