The research so far: Mom + Dad still best for kids

Family_playing_a_board_gameIn past decades, a large body of research has developed focused on the question of what family structures are most likely to promote child well-being. The basic consensus — based on comparisons of children raised by married biological parents, single parents, divorced parents, stepparents, etc. — is that children fare best, on average, when raised by their own biological parents in a stable marriage.

More recently, a different body of research suggests that this consensus would not apply if the population being compared were children raised by same-sex couples. In other words, the claim is that children raised by same-sex couples fare no differently than children raised by a biological mother and father. If true, this would be an important finding since the research on stepparenting (the situation most analogous to same-sex couples parenting a child, since at most one member of the couple would be biologically related) would seem to point in a different direction.

Of course, the importance of this finding, if established, would extend beyond the academy since the claim of “no differences” has been relied on by courts that have found that the U.S. or state constitutions require same-sex marriage. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s DOMA opinion seems to rely on this literature by implication in suggesting that children being raised by same-sex couples are harmed by the inability of the couple to claim the status of marriage, rather than inquiring whether any difficulties these children experience may come from separation from one or both biological parents or from a lack of relationship with either a mother or father.

Discordant notes

There has been some serious criticism of the same-sex parenting studies, however, because a number of analysts, representing diverse views on the political implications, have noted problems with sample sizes, non-random samples, poor or nonexistent comparison groups, etc. (See here, here, here, here and here.)

In 2012, Dr. Loren Marks at Louisiana State University published a detailed analysis of the studies relied on by the American Psychological Association for its support of same-sex marriage and found that the flaws in that research were so significant as to seriously call into question the validity of any conclusions derived from it.

Far more interesting was a new study released in the same journal as Dr. Marks’ report which attempted to correct the shortcomings of the previous literature by drawing on a much larger, representative sample, comparing child outcomes on more significant measures, and avoiding the problem of relying on reports of the adults raising the child. This study (and a follow-up study, using different comparison groups in response to critics of the initial research) demonstrated significant increases in problems for children raised by same-sex couples as compared to children raised by married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers.

This study, and to a lesser extent similar studies (here and here and here) suggesting children raised by same-sex couples don’t fare as well as children raised by married mothers and fathers, have been subjected to a firestorm of attacks (see also here, here, and here), including much ad hominem rhetoric and an apparently unprecedented and certainly highly unusual campaign of harassment and intimidation.

New studies

Now, three new studies by sociologist Paul Sullins, who teaches at the Catholic University of America, add to the data that seem to undermine the claim of “no differences.” Read more

Reflections from Rome: Inspiring conference focuses on the complementarity of men and women in marriage

humanumLast week my wife and I had the privilege of attending an historic international, interreligious colloquium in the Vatican.  Entitled Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman, the conference explored the complementarity of men and women in marriage.  Participants came from countries all over the world and from more cultures and religious traditions than appear on those “Coexist” bumper stickers.  Cardinal Mueller and his colleagues were wonderfully gracious hosts.

If the subject had been theology, the conference might have taken on the feel of a debate.  But in talking about the unique value that women and men individually bring to marriage, to their children and to each other, the common ground was deep, broad and immediate.  The presentations from Christian faiths drew on patterns and scripture that were familiar, while each faith’s emphasis differed enough to prompt new reflection on how I could be a better husband and father.  Pope Francis’ opening speech was a clarion call to strengthen marriage for the benefit of children and society.  Catholic clergy have spent centuries systematically studying these things, and they lay out the rationale and richness of marital union.  Jewish humanum3leaders, like colloquium speaker Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, blend scriptural detail, personal experience and their unique humor for a memorable portrait of spousal love and growth.  LDS representative President Henry B. Eyring shared much of the church’s Family Proclamation  though his speech may be best remembered for the personal expressions toward his wife and family which moved some of the audience to tears.

One presentation came from Daphne Sheng, a Taiwanese woman, speaking from her Taoist perspective.  I’ve made casual reference to Yin and Yang before, as perhaps you have, trying to use them as examples of some sort of fit between different things.  Our speaker shared the proverbial “rest of the story.”  Yin and Yang have something of each other within themselves, yet are also very different.  They fit and work together within the bounds of a circle.  So their differences matter and enable the fit, but so does the context in which they connect.  I can’t do the concept justice in a brief post like this one, but it gave me something new that I need to explore. Read more

Intergenerational families: Humanity’s keystone species

self-controlAt Yellowstone last summer, we heard about keystone species, “a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.” These species solve large ecological problems that would otherwise threaten the very existence of an ecosystem.

Consider the challenge of transmitting virtue. It was commonplace among the Founders of the United States to note that a free society requires a virtuous people. They accepted Edmund Burke’s observation: “Men qualify for freedom in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power is put somewhere on will and appetite, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

In an authoritarian state, social order of a sort is maintained by extensive controls from outside the individual. In a free society, virtue must be transmitted into the hearts of individuals—but not by the state. Consider this powerful observation of Professor Bruce C. Hafen:

[I]t remains fundamental to democratic theory that parents, through this institutional role of the family, control the heart of the value-transmission process. As that crucial process is dispersed pluralistically, the power of government is limited. It is characteristic of totalitarian societies, by contrast, to centralize the transmission of values. Our system thus fully expects parents to interact with their children in ways we would not tolerate from the state—namely, through the explicit inculcation of intensely personal convictions about life and its meaning. Read more

S.L. Tribune op-ed: World Conference of Families does not spread fear

WCFfamilyof3As administrator of the ninth World Congress of Families (WCF) to be held next fall in Salt Lake City, and as a lifelong Utah resident and Latter-day Saint, I appreciate the opportunity that Erika Munson’s Nov. 2 op-ed provides to explain why Sutherland Institute is bringing the ninth World Congress of Families to Salt Lake City.

When my dad founded the Institute almost 20 years ago, one of the core principles was: “To live as free people, Utah law, policy and culture must cherish family as the fundamental unit of society.” To this end, Sutherland has long worked on a variety of issues, from immigration to prison reform, with groups holding a diversity of viewpoints, always with these questions in mind: How do we strengthen families through public policy? How do we address challenges relating to the breakdown of the family? World Congress of Families IX has that same focus.

As the World Congress has done in the past, WCF IX will convene internationally recognized scholars, political leaders, world-class entertainment and family advocates to help organizations throughout the world learn, share ideas and collaborate on ways to strengthen the family.

Another essential part of this effort is bringing together diverse faiths that, despite doctrinal differences, unite to support the family – Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Protestants, Jews and Muslims.

The World Congress of Families stands with millions across the globe who do amazing work on a wide range of critical issues affecting the family, including declining fertility, human trafficking, parental rights, euthanasia, marriage, adoption, pornography, drug and alcohol addictions, fatherlessness, divorce, religious freedom, sanctity of human life and so on.

Notably, past speakers at WCF events include The Hon. John Anderson, former Australian deputy prime minister; Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (Holy See) and adviser to Pope Francis (Holy See); Sheri Dew, former second counselor in the LDS General Relief Society presidency; Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi of the Inter-Provincial Rabbinate in Holland; the late President Lech Kaczynski, past president of Poland; Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr.; Elder Russell M. Nelson, apostle of the LDS Church; Paige Patterson, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Jehan Sadat, former first lady of Egypt; Ellen Sauerbrey, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Brad Wilcox, associate professor of sociology, University of Virginia. Read more

U.N. Human Rights Commission defends the family unit

Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svgIn a post titled “No Good Document Goes Unpunished,” Laura Bunker of United Families International points out that even the United Nations recognizes the family as the fundamental unit of society. She writes,

In observance of the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, the UN Human Rights Council recently adopted a resolution on the “Protection of the Family.”

This remarkable, family-affirming UN document recognizes:

•    “that the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children and that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,”
•    “that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,”
•    “that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Perhaps even more significant than the language this resolution contains is what it does not contain. The Human Rights Council rejected an amendment that has been adopted in other past UN documents, endorsing “various forms of the family.”

Of course, there are those who object to this most natural, commonsense, human concept:

Opponents claim that the countries who voted for the resolution “betrayed their responsibilities as members of the Council,” and describe the document as “censorship,” “divisive,” “problematic,” “deeply flawed,” and “appalling.” …

For example, a Joint Statement opposing the resolution expresses concern that, “some states will seek to exploit it as a vehicle for promoting a narrow, exclusionary and patriarchal concept of ‘the family’” and “the family is also a setting in which human rights abuses sometimes take place.”

For our part, we’d like to applaud the U.N. Human Rights Council for getting this one right.

Click here to read “No Good Document Goes Unpunished” on the United Families International Blog.

There’s so much more to caregiving than government ‘support’ – Mero Moment, 7/8/14

elderlyThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Big-government advocates at AARP tell us that Utah ranks dead last in support for family caregivers. To be clear, AARP means that Utah ranks dead last in providing government support for family caregivers. A claim to which most Utahns would respond, “Well, isn’t that the cultural point of family caregiving?” We care for our own loved ones for a variety of reasons, including that most of us feel as if caring for our elderly parents and relatives is our personal responsibility.

The AARP research isn’t news. It’s politics. They admit that 89 percent of adults with disabilities in Utah are satisfied with their quality of life. Nearly every solution AARP has to the genuine needs of elderly Americans involves your tax dollars.

I was 26 years old when I asked to be and was appointed legal guardian for my disabled sister, my only sibling. I remember our small two-bedroom apartment in Provo back then. I was a student at BYU. My sister shared a bedroom with our two young daughters. When our son was born, we put his crib in the living room. We sacrificed to care for her.

Today, my elderly parents and my sister live with us. Mom is at a rehabilitation facility due to a broken hip. Dad has dementia and my sister has developed even more health complications. My wife and I live in our basement because my parents and sister can’t go up and down steps. Caregiving is what we do. We feed them. We shop for them. We handle their finances. We drive them to appointments. We keep them company. We have their health care proxies.

I think I can speak confidently for all family caregivers when I say – we’re exhausted. My wife and I hardly have time for each other. Family caregivers do need support but not like AARP thinks.

Here’s the support we could use. Read more

Self-selected sample sinks same-sex study

iStock_000002098320MediumAn Australian study about the well-being of children in families headed by same-sex couples has been seized upon as an indication that the children benefit from an ungendered structure that creates “a more harmonious family unit … therefore feeding on to better health and well-being.”

But wait a minute, and look deeper.

In addition to the problem of comparing children to the general population rather than children raised by married couples, you have the problem of a sample recruited through gay and lesbian media and events, and the problem that results are reported only by the parents.

Here are some other things we noticed looking at the actual study. The mean age of participants is 5.12 and the median age is 4. That doesn’t give us many years to pick up differences. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t report the corresponding demographics for the comparison group.

The number of children in the sample born while the current relationship is ongoing also seems much higher than is generally the case where far higher percentages of children of same-sex couples were conceived in a previous relationship.

The measures used seem to focus on physical health which (especially at the young age of the participants) would not seem to be very responsive to parenting, unless asthma is caused by parents. (The most touted value, “family cohesion,” is not defined.)

In an article for the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website pointing out the problem with the study’s methodology, social scientist Mark Regnerus writes:

[T]his non-random sample reflects those who actively pursued participating in the study, personal and political motivations included. In such a charged environment, the public—including judges and media—would do well to demand better-quality research designs, not just results they approve of.

Snowball sampling doesn’t cut it. When I want to know who’s most apt to win the next election, I don’t ask my friends whom they support. Nor do I field a survey asking interested people to participate. No, I want a random sample of the sort often conducted by Gallup, NORC, or Knowledge Networks.

Another reason for healthy skepticism is that the [study] participants—parents reporting about their children’s lives — are all well aware of the political import of the study topic, and an unknown number of them certainly signed up for that very reason. As a result, it seems unwise to trust their self-reports, given the high risk of “social desirability bias,” or the tendency to portray oneself (or here, one’s children) as better than they actually are.

So our question is this: Will the left and its academics take the path of integrity (dismissing this study because of its methodology) or the path of hypocrisy (embracing this study, despite its methodology, simply because its conclusions fit their ideological paradigm)?

Utah beware! A list of ‘extremists’ and potentially ‘very dangerous’ people at the World Congress of Families

Family_playing_a_board_gameYou may have heard a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) spokesman claim on Utah radio that Sutherland Institute will be bringing 3,000 “extremists” and “very dangerous” people to Utah to attend the ninth World Congress of Families (WCF) next year.

That struck us as an odd and rather irrational claim, given who has attended and spoken at WCF: presidents of nations, religious leaders and people of faith from most major religious denominations, widely published scholars and researchers, high-level government officials, and extraordinary people engaged in helping the less fortunate around the world. While this description evidently leads the HRC to see “extremists,” it reminds us of the majority of mainstream Utah.

In any case, we thought it would be useful to provide a brief list of some past WCF attendees, supporters and speakers. Read more

Sutherland’s amicus brief calls marriage and family ‘pre-political institutions’

Wedding ringsSutherland Institute filed an amicus curiae brief Monday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the state’s appeal of Kitchen v. Herbert – the case in which the judge struck down Utah’s Amendment 3, briefly allowing same-sex marriages to be performed.

Judge Robert Shelby wrongly “characterized the ‘goal’ of Utah’s marriage amendment as ‘imposition of inequality’ as if legislators had gathered in a brainstorming session to determine how to harm the chances of same-sex couples, and came up with a thing called marriage to which these couples could be intentionally excluded,” the brief says.

Marriage and family are “pre-political institutions,” it says. “Given that marriage and family are pre-political and not mere instruments of state policy, they are fundamental to a system of ordered liberty …”

“All of this is not to say the state has no role to play in regards to marriage and the family. The state can, and ought to, provide a legal structure for the family to be recognized and it can protect the integrity of that structure.”

Click here to read the full brief.

Why the ‘natural family’ matters to the community

Family beachMany Utahns are asking why, exactly, the “natural family” is so vital.

The short answer is this:

A free society requires formal and broad recognition that the natural family is the fundamental unit of society. Marriage is the cornerstone of the natural family.

Defining marriage as between a man and a woman is the central characteristic of this cornerstone because a man and a woman provide a free society with many vital benefits such as child-bearing and child-rearing.

An equally important benefit comes from the complementarity between a man and a woman – combined, men, women and children are healthier, more prosperous, better educated, happier, more communal and transcendent, and physically safer.

In other words, the natural family promotes limited government; any other “family” formation increases government dependency.

The recent Judge Shelby ruling, on the backs of several Justice Anthony Kennedy rulings, has dethroned the natural family as the fundamental unit of society and replaced the natural family with selfish individualism – meaning these radical court decisions seek to center a free society on any chosen behavior between consenting adults, regardless of the common good and the state interest.

If you believe in limited government within a free society, you would support the natural family as the fundamental unit of society.

For more on the social science research, you can read this report, “Why Marriage Matters,” found here: http://sutherlandinstitute.org/…/why_marriage_matters.pdf