By Graham Helft
Do children who grow up with gay parents have worse outcomes than kids with straight parents?
Well, if you grew up in a hyper-liberal family like I did, you’re probably internally screaming a resounding “No!” If you didn’t, you might be wondering about whether children need a mom and dad, a male and a female presence in their life, to actually function. The real answer is complicated and contentious, and we might have to wade through the research (a lot of which is just propaganda dressed up as academic study) to find it. This conversation is not an easy one to have. The threat of being called a homophobe is real and looms large over this particular debate. However, there are many who would love nothing more than to use “scientific” findings of difference between the children of straight and gay couples as a justification for denying gay people the rights to raise those children at all.
We have to be careful of the research
In 2012, the associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Mark Regnerus, caused a national uproar with his study on this very topic, which concluded that the adult children of same-sex couples had much worse mental health than those of heterosexual couples. He found that those children suffered from anxiety, depression and even poorer academic performance than their counterparts in heterosexual families. That is, until you reach the methods section of his paper. It turns out the Regnerus didn’t actually compare an established group gay couples raising children to an established group of heterosexuals raising children. Instead, he chose a group of people who had lived with gay people at some point. This particular method of identifying people who were raised by has a few holes to say the least. There’s no way of actually knowing whether any of the people surveyed were actually raised by gay people, or whether they had two parents raising them. He compared that group to an established group of people raised by heterosexuals. His results, taken from two groups of people who were not raised in the same environments, surprised no one.
There are many more people like Regenerus who have clear ideological agendas and create opinion pieces masquerading as scientific research. And let’s not forget that there is an equally large number of people who will be pretty angry at researchers who find results that don’t support the LGBTQ community.
So what does most of the unbiased research point to?
The existing body of research seems to show, with relative uniformity, that there are no differences between the two groups of children with respect to academic achievement, mental health, or behavior issues. But why would that be? It’s clear, even in 2021, that remains a good deal of hatred directed towards the gay community. In some parts of the country, gay people face verbal abuse and even violence simply because of their sexual preference. It’s hard to imagine how stressful living in such an environment can be, unless you’ve lived it. And stressed-out parents generally have stressed-out kids.
Gay people face struggles
Gay parents, and by extension their children, face bullying and abuse from their peers throughout their childhood and adulthood. Kids often feel as though they should be ashamed that they have two dads, or two moms, and should hide this from their friends and teachers. One would think that this stress alone might be enough to produce some negative outcomes for children once they grow up.
So why again does the research so consistently find that there isn’t a difference between children raised in gay families and children raised in straight ones? The answer might lie, somewhat counterintuitively, in the social pressures that gay people face on a day to day basis. It is logical that such pressures might lead to depression, stress, etc. for gay people and their kids.
Social pressure makes diamonds
It turns out that gay people still have to jump over a fair few legal hurdles in many parts of the country if they decide that they want to form families. Negotiating these barriers means that gay people usually have to bring children into the world with a lot more intentionality, precision, and financial/family planning than their straight counterparts. While a woman and man can just have a few drinks to start a family, lesbigay couples usually have to spend years waiting on adoption paperwork to go through. They have to have tens of thousands of dollars to burn on IVF or surrogacy (if it’s legal in your state).
In short, gay people usually have to wait around a lot longer than straight people to have children. They also usually have to be quite a lot more financially prepared than straight people to negotiate the legal and logistical processes of starting a family. It’s rare to find an established gay couple raising children without considerable financial means.
It turns out that all of this planning, all of this time, all of this effort, and all of this money make gay parents extremely invested in their child’s success. They’ll have the means to send their kids to the best schools, to treat their children’s illnesses and mental health problems if they ever should arise, and so on.
So what are the arguments against gay parentage?
Delving deeper into this topic, it turns out that the arguments against same-sex parents are usually fairly vague, circular or full-on disingenuous. One of the common circular arguments is that the children of gay parents report greater rates of homoerotic behavior and relationships. Now, if there were a single thing that is morally wrong or objectively harmful about having homosexual relations, that would be a fantastic argument. But there isn’t, and making such an argument exposes the biases with which people enter this debate in the first place. Another argument is that children need their biological parents to thrive, need a male and a female presence in their lives.
Do kids actually need a mom and a dad?
I struggle to think of even a single thing that a man could teach a child that a woman could not, or something that a woman could teach her child that a man could not. You don’t need a certain brand of genitalia to teach your child to love, to empathize, to learn, to tolerate, to think openly, to be a functioning member of society. As for the need for biological connection to one’s parents, it is only logical (and is proven by the existing research) that being a decent, loving parent who provides for their child matters infinitely more. Think about your parents. Were they good (or bad) parents because they provided for you or because you shared their DNA? Is this connection real or concrete in any sense? Or is it simply a construct derived from one’s assumption that they are in fact related genetically to their parents? If your biological parents told you that you were adopted tomorrow, what would happen to that “biological” connection you felt to them your whole life? If such a connection can be dissipated simply by receiving different information from your parents or children, the legitimacy of such a connection must be called into question. And lastly, what the hell is “male presence?”
I hope this article has given you a bit of insight into this debate.