Everybody knows that kids do better when they grow up with both a mother and a father, right? According to their speeches, even presidents Obama and Bush agree on that one.
But a recent study proposes that children of gay parents may do better than kids of straight parents on self-esteem, confidence, academics and on behavior problems like rule-breaking and aggression.
Not equal, but better.
Published last week in Pediatrics, the study by Nanette Gartrell, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, and Henry Bos, a behavioral scientist at the University of Amsterdam, followed 78 children born of lesbian mothers. The moms, who conceived through donor insemination, were interviewed when their kids were 2, 5 and 10 and again when they reached 17. The children were interviewed at age 10 and filled out a questionnaire at 17.
For years the “common sense” argument has been made that these children would be damaged for life for lacking both male and female parents. “There are so many places in the United States where same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt or foster children in need,” Dr. Gartrell told Reuters.
“(But) there is not a single study that has shown there are any problems in terms of psychological adjustment (of the child).” No statistics had been gathered to track children of lesbians over a long period of time, so Gartrell undertook the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family study in 1986.
According to the U.S. Census, more than 270,000 children lived in homes of same-sex couples in 2005 and nearly twice that number had a single lesbian or gay parent.
The new study showed no differences on measures of development and social behavior but such wide difference in others that the researchers were surprised.
“We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample.” Gartrell told Time magazine, “I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems, it wasn’t something I expected.”
Gartrell is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, researcher and writer. She is the author of more than 50 research reports on topics ranging from medical students’ depression to sexual exploitation of patients by health care professionals. Her ground-breaking investigation into physician misconduct led to a cleanup of professional ethics codes and the criminalization of boundary violations. For this work, she was featured in a PBS Frontline documentary.
Her study seems to backstop a report earlier this year by Timothy Biblarz of USC and Judith Stacey of NYU that “nonbiological lesbian co-mothers” are “more skilled at parenting and more involved with the children than stepfathers” and that “lesbian partners in two-parent families ... enjoy a greater level of synchronicity in parenting than do heterosexual partners.”
The Gartrell-Bos study has of course stirred up controversy. Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America, a group that claims to support biblical values, questioned its financing. The study was funded by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
“That proves the prejudice and bias of the study,” she told CNN. “This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome — to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household.” (www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/0/lesbian.children.adjustment/index.html)
Gartrell and Bos openly addressed public opinion in their study.
“Although research had established by the late 1960s that homosexuality is not a mental illness, public opinion has been slow to catch up,” they wrote. “The legitimacy of lesbian and gay biological, foster and adoptive parenting is still under scrutiny.”
It seems to me that two loving parents, committed for 18 years to the future of their child, are the best possible team, regardless of gender.
“The things we know that make for good parenting are love, resources and being very involved in your child’s life,” Dr. Gartrell said.
P.S. On a totally personal note, I received permission from our oldest daughter and her partner to relate the following. Their adopted son, now 22 years old, is a fine young man. He was 5 years old when he came to them and immediately became a part of our extended family. By the way, he is very heterosexual.
Chuck Arnold is pastor of the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Vandenberg Village.