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Gay parenting: Sound science

Published October 27, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By ana j. samuel

LDS Church apostle Dallin Oaks has come under attack in The Tribune for his recent address, "Protect the Children," in which he defended the biological married family as best for raising children. Instead of a respectful and attentive reply to his carefully footnoted address (available online since Oct. 9), his critics have accused him of bullying.

This terrible tactic is used to try to silence those who question the redefinition of marriage. However, the research Oaks cited, and which his critics ignore or dismiss, merits attention. That research was funded in part by the Witherspoon Institute, where I am a research scholar.

In an Oct. 14 op-ed ("Children of gay parents bullied from pulpit"), Weston Clark alleges that Mark Regnerus' study on family structures, cited by Oaks, is flawed and lacks academic standing. The study, which found poor outcomes for children raised by one or more parents in a same-sex relationship, has been unpopular among same-sex marriage activists. Yet no social scientist has refuted the study with the accepted academic procedures necessary to do so (a "petition letter" disapproving the study does not count).

Moreover, the two academic institutions connected to the study — the University of Texas and the journal Social Science Research — concluded that nothing in the research or process of publication violated academic standards.

Clark notes: "Across the board, peer-reviewed studies on same-sex parents show that such couples raise happy, well-adjusted children."

However, all of the studies he cites either relied upon small convenience samples, or the American Psychological Association's 2005 brief on lesbian and gay parenting. This year, Loren Marks published a peer-reviewed academic paper in which he carefully examines the 59 studies referenced in that brief. He concludes that not one of those studies relied upon a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children.

Past studies have used small convenience samples to study gay parenting partly because it is difficult to find LGBT parents. Scientists have recruited participants by such means as posted advertisements and word of mouth. These methods have long been known to gather subjects who on average are more similar to each other and more eager to defend their views, yielding samples that do not represent the broad range of persons experiencing same-sex parenting.

Furthermore, the research Clark cites was largely based on interviews with parents about the upbringing of their children — a virtual guarantee of biased results. By contrast, Regnerus studied a sample that was large, random, and national. He interviewed the children in their adult years, after having been raised by persons who had same-sex relationships (http://www.familystructurestudies.com).

The most that critics of the Regnerus study can allege is that "the jury is still out" on gay parenting. As Oaks noted, the social science is still in its infancy; studies point in very different directions. Either things are "just fine" or they are tragically not well for the children, as Regnerus suggests. Until more research is done, we cannot know what the scientific consensus will be.

Therefore, the choice before us as citizens is whether we should err in favor of the rights claims of adults attracted to others of the same sex, or in favor of the rights of children, by not promoting uncertain, experimental forms of family life for them.

Oaks took the side of children's rights, saying that where the welfare of children is concerned, adults must be willing to make sacrifices. Before we give a political blessing to redefining the family, we must be certain that children will suffer no harm.

Ana J. Samuel is a research scholar at the Witherspoon Institute, which seeks to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies.