Marriage equality opponents across the world repeat one stale argument: “Think of the children!” But according to a paramount new study, “thinking of the children” is actually a very good reason to embrace and empower same-sex couples.
The new study out of Australia shows that, contrary to the propaganda spouted by conservative Christian groups like Tony Perkins‘s Family Research Council, the children of same-sex parents are actually happier and healthier than their peers of different-sex parents.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne surveyed 315 same-sex parents (80% male and 18% female) of 500 children, making this the largest study of its kind in the world. Family structures ran the gamut from couples who had adopted together, to those who used assisted reproductive technologies, to those who raised children from one another’s previous relationships (and plenty in between).
According to the full study, previous research on the subject has been mostly limited to kids of lesbian couples, has taken a narrow perspective when considering children’s health, and has not thoroughly considered the effects of anti-LGBT stigma. This study included a sizable (though not immense) sample of male parents and looked more closely at health and stigma in families. It also included data from same-sex attracted single parents (about 7% of the pool).
Overall, the study found that kids of same-sex parents performed about equally with the general population in health categories like “emotional behavior” and “physical functioning.” But the kids of same-sex parents had a leg up in other categories:
Lead researcher Doctor Simon Crouch said children raised by same-sex partners scored an average of 6 percent higher than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion.
“That’s really a measure that looks at how well families get along, and it seems that same-sex-parent families and the children in them are getting along well, and this has positive impacts on child health,” Dr. Crouch said.
There are plenty of casual theories floating around about why kids with two moms or two dads might fare better. One predominant idea is that kids with same-sex parents are far more likely to have been “planned,” borne of a massive parental investment of time, money and emotional energy. Researcher Simon Crouch says he suspects the difference is in parental gender roles and expectations, an explanation already seen in other studies.
“Previous research has suggested that parenting roles and work roles, and home roles within same-sex parenting families are more equitably distributed when compared to heterosexual families,” he said.
He says that same-sex couples experience less pressure to fill gendered roles in the family — Dad as the breadwinner, Mom as the homemaker, etc. — leading to a more collaborative, balanced home life.
“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes, which is mum staying home and looking after the kids and dad going out to earn money.
“What this leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”
The survey also looked into the effects of casual discrimination. For two-thirds of the children surveyed, parents reported some instance of anti-LGBT stigma from the outside world. According to Crouch:
“For these families it might be something as simple as a letter coming home from school addressed to Mr. and Mrs., which wouldn’t be appropriate for these families, but it can be more overt and damaging such as bullying in the playground.”
The results echoed earlier studies suggesting that stigma affects kids’ behavior and general wellbeing, but they showed that stigma can be especially harmful around matters of physical and mental health. Here’s one example as written in the study:
Lesbian parents in Australia have previously described the barriers they perceive when accessing healthcare services and often times have to choose a disclosure strategy to adopt when dealing with practitioners. Instead of feeling accepted when seeking healthcare for their children this perceived stigma can lead to a sense of vulnerability where in fact healthcare services should “be a safe place.”
Crouch himself is gay, which groups like the conservative Family Voice Australia say is reason enough to discredit the study. Clearly, though, anti-gay groups aren’t great at coming up with any research that supports their claim that LGBT people aren’t fit to parent. Their paramount doctrine, a survey by Christian researcher Mark Regnerus, has been decried as “fundamentally flawed” by institutions including the American Sociological Association and his own university:
Like all faculty, Dr. Regnerus has the right to pursue his areas of research and express his point of view. However, Dr. Regnerus’ opinions are his own. They do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families. We encourage society as a whole to evaluate his claims.
As PolicyMic’s Tom McKay wrote, it’s unlikely that Perkins or his minions will back down now that these results have been released. Another credible study has annihilated everything they stand for — same old! What we can be thankful for, rather, is that international visibility of happy, healthy queer families is on the upswing. For those of us who are excited to upend the “one-mommy-one-daddy” family structure, that can only mean good things.
(Image via Shutterstock)