The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced in
early February, 2002 "a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates
that children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay or lesbian parents fare as well
in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children
whose parents are heterosexual."1
Based on this, the AAP supports "legislative and legal efforts" to allow
homosexuals to adopt their partner’s children.2
However, the AAP received strong reaction from its
membership. An email memo from the lead author of the AAP’s Technical
Report to select members of the Academy on the issue laments:
…the AAP has received more messages—almost all of them CRITICAL—from
members about the recent Policy Statement on coparent adoption than it
has EVER received on any other topic… This is a serious problem, as it
means that it will become harder to continue the work we have been doing
to use the AAP as a vehicle for positive change.3
The Literature on Same-Sex Parenting
Concerning the Academy’s conclusion on what parenting
configurations yield positive results for children, there are a number of
important points to consider.
• First, we will examine
problems and inconsistencies in determining what is best for children in
the AAP’s Technical Report published in February, 2002.
• Second, we will examine
strengths of the comparative literature examining child well-being
outcomes in same-sex and heterosexual parenting homes.
1) Reasons for Caution within the AAP’s Own Report
There are a number of details in the AAP’s own
Technical Report that raise serious questions about their conclusion
that "children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay or lesbian parents fare as well
as in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children
whose parents are heterosexual."4
Ellen Perrin, author of the AAP’s Technical Report,
was co-author of a 1994 study published in Pediatrics in Review
entitled, "Children of Gay and Lesbian Parents." The study explained,
"Unfortunately, the research to date has limitations, including small
sample size, non-random subject selection, narrow range of socioeconomic
and racial background, and lack of long-term longitudinal follow-up."5
The Technical Report, published eight years
later, cautioned similar reservations, "The small and nonrepresentative
samples studied and the relatively young age of most of the children
suggest some reserve." This report recognized why these methodological
limitations exist, "Research exploring the diversity of parental
relationships among gay and lesbian parents is just beginning."6
But these original and persisting methodological
problems, rooted in the youth of the research, did not prevent the Academy
from making a strong conclusion. Within sentences of the two previously
stated cautions, the Academy claims "the weight of evidence gathered
during several decades using diverse samples and methodologies is
persuasive in demonstrating that there is no systematic difference between
gay and non-gay parents" in parenting outcomes.7
It also raises questions of how a conclusion can be reached when the field
of "research…is just beginning."
However, to say outcomes from same-sex parents are
similar to heterosexual parents is a very broad statement. There are many
kinds of heterosexual parenting configurations and some are better than
others at providing health and well-being benefits for children.
This is significant given the AAP Technical Report
explains, "these [same-sex] families closely resemble stepfamilies
formed after heterosexual couples divorce…".8
The report also says that most children in homosexual and lesbian families
come to that family via the divorce of their original heterosexual family.
Given this, the report indicates, "the considerable research literature
that has accumulated addressing this issue has generally revealed that
children of divorced lesbian mothers grow up in ways very similar to
children of divorced heterosexual mothers."9
This raises the question, "What are the qualitative
outcomes of heterosexual step- and divorced families and are they similar
to intact, heterosexual families?"
There are strong empirical indications they are not.
Consider the following:
CHILDREN OF STEPFAMILIES
David Popenoe, the eminent Rutgers sociologist,
Social scientists used to believe that, for positive child outcomes,
stepfamilies were preferable to single-parent families. Today, we are
not so sure. Stepfamilies typically have an economic advantage, but some
recent studies indicate that the children of stepfamilies have as many
behavioral and emotional problems as the children of single-parent
families, and possibly more. …Stepfamily problems, in short, may be so
intractable that the best strategy for dealing with them is to do
everything possible to minimize their occurrence.10
A common finding is that stepparents provide less warmth
and communicate less with their children than do biological parents.11
Children living in stepfamilies are also likely to have
significantly greater "emotional, behavioral, and academic problems" than
children living with their biological mother and father.12
Research on child-abuse indicates that preschool
children who live with one biological parent and one stepparent are 40
times more likely to become a victim of abuse than children living with a
biological mother and father.13
Findings such as this led domestic violence researchers, Martin Daly and
Margo Wilson, to conclude, "stepparenthood per se remains the single most
powerful risk factor for child abuse that has yet been identified."14
Compared to children in biological homes and even single parent homes,
"stepchildren are not merely `disadvantaged,’ but imperiled."15
A recent study published in Pediatrics indicated
that children residing in a home with a stepparent were 8 times more
likely to die of maltreatment than children living with 2 biological
These factors indicate why an article in Psychology
Today concluded; "stepfamilies are such a minefield of divided
loyalties, emotional traps, and management conflicts that they are the
most fragile form of family in America."17
Reasons for increased pathology in stepfamilies stem
primarily from the lack of parental interest and care from non-genetically
attached parents because humans tend to be "genetically selfish." Popenoe
The reason why unrelated stepparents find their parenting roles more
stressful and less satisfying than biological parents is probably due
much less to social stigma and the uncertainty of their obligations, as
to the fact that they gain fewer intrinsic emotional rewards from
carrying out these obligations.18
CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
For the past thirty years, we have seen an unprecedented
number of young people being raised by divorced parents. This has provided
researchers with the opportunity to study a robust sample of young people
experiencing parental divorce over a long period of time. Judith
Wallerstein (UC Berkeley), and Mavis Hetherington (U of Virginia) are two
scholars who have studied the impact of divorce on children since the
early 70s. Their studies have been longer and deeper than any such work in
the world. They both conclude that divorce impacts children more
dramatically and for longer periods of times than most scholars and child
psychologists ever imagined.
In her 30-year study, Hetherington found "divorce is
usually brutally painful to a child" and that 25% of adult children of
divorce continue to have "serious social, emotional, and psychological
problems" whereas only 10% of adult children from intact families who had
When Wallerstein began her 25-year study in the early
1970s, she assumed, along with most scholars, that divorce was a
short-lived bump in the road for children. They would recover and move on
with their lives. However, she found "divorce is a long-term crisis that
was affecting the psychological profile of an entire generation."20
She reported that almost half the children she observed were "worried,
underachieving, self-deprecating, and sometimes angry." Wallerstein
explains these children "spoke of divorce as having cut their life short."21
Specifically, Wallerstein warns that,
Children in postdivorce families do not, on the whole, look happier,
healthier, or more well adjusted even if one or both parents are
happier. National studies show that children from divorced and remarried
families are more aggressive toward their parents and teachers. They
experience more depression, have more learning difficulties, and suffer
from more problems with peers than children from intact families.
Children from divorced and remarried families are two to three times
more likely to be referred for psychological help at school than their
peers from intact families. More of them end up in mental health clinics
and hospital settings. There is earlier sexual activity, more children
born out of wedlock, less marriage, and more divorce. Numerous studies
show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems
than those raised in intact marriages.22
If children raised in same-sex households look like
children raised in step- and divorced families, as the AAP Technical
Report asserts, there is little research to indicate that this is a
healthy picture for children. Research indicates the picture is deeply
negative and in some measures, life threatening. The policy changes the
AAP is advocating will serve to increase these types of child-rearing
situations and are therefore contrary to their mission of attaining
"optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all
infants, children, adolescents and young adults."23
2) Research Comparing Same-Sex and Traditional Parenting
Research comparing outcomes in child well-being in
same-sex parenting homes and traditional mother/father parenting homes is
notoriously inconclusive. Consider the following surveys of the current
• Drs. Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai, both
professionals in the field of quantitative analysis, conducted a study
for the Marriage Law Project in Washington DC, looking at 49
empirical studies on same-sex parenting. They found no basis for the
conclusion that children raised by homosexual parents look just like
those raised by heterosexual parents. Why? As Lerner and Nagai explain,
"The studies on which such claims are based are all gravely deficient."
They found at least one fatal research flaw in each of the studies
examined. Most had very small and unrepresentative study samples with
missing or inadequate comparison groups. Most of the research subjects
volunteered for the studies and some participants were allowed to
recruit other participants. Authors of 48 of the 49 studies wished to
influence public policy in support of homosexual families. Lerner and
Nagai conclude, "For these reasons, the studies are no basis for good
science or good public policy."24
• Steven Nock, Professor of Sociology at the
University of Virginia and a member of the editorial board of Journal
of Marriage and Family, was asked to review the body of comparative
literature for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Nock arrived at a
conclusion similar to Lerner and Nagai’s. His affidavit states, "….[the
current literature on lesbian mothering] is inadequate to permit any
conclusions to be drawn. None had a probability sample. All used
inappropriate statistics given the samples obtained. All had biased
samples. Sample sizes were consistently small… I do not believe this
collection of articles indicates that lesbian and heterosexual mothers
are similar. In fact, from a scientific perspective, the evidence
confirms nothing about the quality of gay parents."25
Nock continues, "From a sound methodological
perspective, the results of these studies can be relied on for one
purpose—to indicate that further research…is warranted. …The only
acceptable conclusion at this point is that the literature on this topic
does not constitute a solid body of scientific evidence."26
• Another recent study in the Journal of Marriage
and the Family, analyzing the current research on homosexual
parenting, finds "a persistent limitation of these studies, however, is
that most rely on small samples of White, middle-class, previously
married lesbians and their children. As a result, we cannot be confident
concerning the generalizability of many of the findings…"27
• The American Sociological Review, in a
study examining the current body of research, explains it is currently
"impossible to fully distinguish the impact of parent’s sexual
orientation on a child." They explain most homosexual child-rearing
homes didn’t start out fresh from birth, but are clouded by the dynamics
of divorce, re-mating and stepparenting issues that are problematic in
themselves and separate from issues related to gender of the parents.
While the authors of this study are sympathetic with homosexual
parenting, they "disagree with those who claim that there are no
differences between the children of heterosexual parents and children of
They explain there are indications that problems
of gender identity and sexuality might be greater for children raised by
homosexual parents than any of the studies recognize.29
Specifically, this ASR study reports 64% of young adults raised
by lesbian mothers reported considering having same-sex relationships.
Only 17 percent of young adults in heterosexual families reported the
There are compelling reasons for caution in concluding
that children in same-sex parenting homes show outcomes just like children
in traditional mother/father homes. The Academy’s Technical Report
unwittingly communicates caution given the methodological problems in the
research as well as the conclusion that children from same-sex parenting
homes "closely resemble stepfamilies" and "are very similar to children of
Research is very clear that the best course of action for accomplishing
the AAP’s mission of optimal health for all children is to reduce,
rather than increase, the prevalence of families producing these
kinds of outcomes.
In addition, other studies show that the current
research comparing outcomes of children in same-sex and traditional
father/mother homes is young, plagued with fatal methodological problems,
and therefore, inconclusive.
We also have a recent past that can be instructive and
we should learn from it. The current research on same-sex and
mother/father parenting is much like the available research in the early
70s on divorce outcomes for children. At that time, the research was
minimal and large assumptions were made that children would be unaffected.
With that, America entered head-long into a divorce revolution that is
unprecedented in history. Of this, Judith Wallerstein observes:
We made radical changes in the family without realizing how it
changes the experience of growing up. We embarked on a gigantic social
experiment without any idea about how the next generation would be
affected. If the truth be told, and if we are able to face it, the
history of divorce in our society is replete with unwarranted
assumptions that adults have made about children simply because such
assumptions are congenial to adult needs and wishes.32
We now know that children of divorce are deeply and
negatively impacted from childhood and this follows them into adulthood.
It is unwise to embark on another historically unprecedented and unproven
social experiment with our children fueled by adult desire.
Finally, it is important to recognize that the ideal of
normalizing same-sex parenting is indeed historically and culturally
radical. For all the diversity seen in various cultures and time-periods,
we have never seen any culture adopt same-sex models of parenting as
normative or even tolerable.
Margaret Mead, in her work Male and Female,
illustrates the cultural universality of the mother/father parenting dyad:
When we survey all known human societies, we find everywhere some
form of the family, some set of permanent arrangements by which males
assist females in caring for children while they are young. …(I)n most
societies there is the assumption of permanent mating, the idea that the
marriage should last as long as both live….33
Famed anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, in Sex,
Culture and Myth observes,
In all human societies the father is regarded by tradition as
indispensable. The woman has to be married before she is allowed
legitimately to conceive … This is by no means only a European or
Christian prejudice; it is the attitude found amongst most barbarous and
savage people as well…The most important moral and legal rule concerning
the physiological side of kinship is that no child should be brought
into the world without a man—and one man at that—assuming the role of
sociological father, that is, of guardian and protector, the male link
between the child and the rest of the community. (T)his generalization
amounts to a universal sociological law….34
With something so critical as the health and well-being
of future generations on the line, we need more compelling reasons than we
have at present to so dramatically depart from the model of raising our
young that has been the generalized norm for all human civilizations
Glenn T. Stanton is the Director of Social Research and
Cultural Affairs and the Senior Research Analyst for Marriage and
Sexuality at Focus on the Family. He is also the author of
Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in
1 Ellen C. Perrin, MD, "Technical
Report: Coparent and Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents,"
Pediatrics, Vol. 109 No. 2, (2002) p. 341.
2 "Coparent or Second-Parent
Adoption by Same-Sex Parents," Pediatrics, Vol. 109, No. 2, (2002) p.
3 Email memo from Ellen Perrin, MD
to select AAP members, dated February 15, 2002.
4 Perrin, 2002, p. 341.
5 M.A. Gold, E. Perrin,
D.Futterman, S.B. Friedman, "Children of Gay or Lesbian Parents,"
Pediatrics in Review, 15 (1994) 354-358.
6 Perrin, 2002, p. 343.
7 Perrin, 2002, p. 343.
8 Perrin, 2002, p. 341.
9 Perrin, 2002, p. 342.
10 David Popenoe, "The Evolution
of Marriage and the Problems of Stepfamilies: A Biosocial Perspective,"
in Alan Booth and Judy Dunn, eds., Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who
Does Not? (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994), p 5,
11 E. Thomson, S. McLanahan, & R.
Curtin, "Family Structure, Gender, and Parental Socialization,"
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54 (1992): 368-378.
12 Nicholas Zill, "Understanding
Why Children in Stepfamilies Have More Learning and Behavior Problems
Than Children in Nuclear Families," in Alan Booth and Judy Dunn, eds.,
Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not? (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, 1994), p. 98.
13 Martin Daly and Margo Wilson,
"Child Abuse and Other Risks of Not Living with Both Parents,"
Ethology and Sociobiology, 6 (1985): 197-210.
14 Martin Daly and Margo Wilson,
Homicide, (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1988), p. 87-88.
15 Margo Wilson and Martin Daly,
"Risk of Maltreatment of Children Living With Stepparents," in R. Gelles
and J. Lancaster, eds., Child Abuse and Neglect: Biosocial Dimensions,
(New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1987), p. 230.
16 Michael Stiffman, et al.,
"Household Composition and Risk of Fatal Child Maltreatment,"
Pediatrics, 109 (2002), 615-621.
17 "Shuttle Diplomacy,"
Psychology Today, July/August 1993, p. 15.
18 Popenoe, 1994, p. 20.
19 E. Mavis Hetherington, For
Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, (W.W. Norton, 2002), p.
20 Judith Wallerstein, et al.,
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study,
(Hyperion, 2000), xxvii.
21 Judith Wallerstein, "The
Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review," Journal of the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 30 (1991)
22 Wallerstein, 2000, p. xxiii.
23 As stated on the masthead of
American Academy of Pediatrics’ website, http://www.aap.org/
24 Robert Lerner, Ph.D., Althea
Nagai, Ph.D. No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us About Same Sex
Parenting, Washington DC; Marriage Law Project/Ethics and Public
Policy Center, 2001.
25 Affidavit of Steven L. Nock,
Halpern et al., v. The Attorney General of Canada, Ontario Superior
Court of Justice, March 2001, Court File No. 684/00, par. 130-131.
26 Nock, 2001, par. 140,141.
27 David Demo and Martha Cox,
"Families with Young Children: A Review of Research in the 1990s,"
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62 (2000), p. 889.
28 Judith Stacey and Timothy
Biblarz, "(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?"
American Sociological Review, 66 (2001) 159-183.
29 Stacey and Biblarz, 2001, p.
30 Stacey and Biblarz, 2001, p.
31 Perrin, 2002, pp. 341,342.
32 Wallerstein, 2000, p. xxii.
33 Margaret Mead, Male and
Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, (New York: William
Morrow & Company, 1949), p. 188, 195.
Bronislaw Malinowski, Sex,
Culture and Myth, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1962),
p. 63; cited in Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Family and Nation, (San
Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1986), p. 169-170.