Ultimately, Mark Regnerus set out to answer the question of whether children who have parents in a same-sex relationship experience disadvantages when compared with children raised by their biological, married parents. The answer, contra the zeitgeist, appears to be a resounding yes. Children with a parent in a same-sex relationship “underperform” in almost every category. Some of these differences may be relatively benign — whether one voted in the last presidential election, for example — but most are decidedly not. One deficit is particularly worrying: Less than 2 percent of children from intact, biological families reported experiencing sexual abuse of some nature, but that figure for children of same-sex couples is 23 percent. Similarly disturbing is that 14 percent of children from same-sex couples have spent some time in foster care, compared with around 2 percent of the American population at large. Arrest, drug experimentation, and unemployment rates were all higher among children from same-sex families.
What should we take away from this? Well, this is where it gets tricky. To compare children raised by same-sex parents with the “gold standard” — i.e., biological parents who remained married and alive — is problematic. Given the way the study is set up, one could fairly ask whether this is not so much an analysis of homosexual parenting versus heterosexual parenting, but of childhood stability versus instability.
By definition, any child raised by two members of the same sex is going to be missing at least one of their biological parents and will probably have experienced some instability in moving from the biological dyad to whatever arrangement replaced it. And, as explained above, most of the children studied spent only a few years with their same-sex parents, which makes it likely that their family arrangement changed more than once and, thus, that their childhood was unstable.
Moreover, given that the study is a snapshot of a time period that predated legalization of gay marriage (in some states), one might speculate that social stigma played a role in Regnerus’s data, and that such stigma will have a smaller effect in future surveys. Indeed, one should concede that people could legitimately employ Regnerus’s study to justify gay marriage on the grounds that societal disapproval of unmarried gay parents leads to the very instability that causes their children to experience negative outcomes: Marriage between gay partners will enhance the family’s stability and therefore be good for the children. I consider this to be a step too far — the high rate of divorce among gays does not suggest that same-sex households will soon be a model of stability — but it is worth consideration.
Regnerus’s study is a success insofar as it answers the fundamental question of whether children raised by same-sex couples end up differently: Clearly they do, and it does not require a conservative viewpoint to see that “differently” very often means “worse.” It is debatable, though, whether this is an indictment of same-sex households or of instability. Indeed, the major takeaway from the report is less an indictment that same-sex households are a negative thing and more an affirmation that intact, biological households are a positive thing. Put simply, if you want to give your children the best start in life, you should have children inside of wedlock and stay together for the duration. But then, we already knew that.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate for National Review.