Three Takeaways From the State of Social Science and Gay Families

by David French

I was glad to see 18 social scientists step up to defend Professor Mark Regnerus (thank you, Maggie Gallagher, for linking). After reading days of debate about his research, I see three key takeaways:

First, it’s clear that previous research purporting to demonstrate that kids did just as well in gay families suffered serious flaws, and judges and activists who declared it to be definitive did so to their shame. As the 18 social scientists said in their letter, “The vast majority of studies published before 2012 on this subject have relied upon small, nonrepresentative samples that do not represent children in typical gay and lesbian families in the United States.” Thus, when political (and judicial) figures declare that gay and lesbian families are equivalent to heterosexual families in child-rearing outcomes and that the science is “settled,” they’re simply wrong.

Second, it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to generate anything close to a statistically reliable, apples-to-apples comparison between heterosexual and homosexual families. Homosexual families, after all, can’t have biological children, so with the narrow exception of those homosexual families who adopt babies or very young children, there will typically be a third parent in the picture. Married heterosexual families by default provide a level of inherent stability (unless disrupted by divorce or death) that homosexual families do not.  

Third, neither of the first two points ultimately matter to gay-marriage advocates. There could exist definitive social science that homosexual families produce — on average — worse outcomes for their children than heterosexual families, and the fervor of the gay-marriage advocates would be undimmed. After all (and like no-fault divorce), the case for gay marriage has never been about the welfare of children, but instead, the fulfillment of adults.  

As I said before, the gay-marriage debate is approaching a cultural stalemate, and it’s a stalemate that I fear no amount of social science will decide.

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