On Whether Homosexual Parents are Harmful to their Children

Disclaimer

You’re not going to like what I have to say. Please read with an open mind and a grain of salt. I do not mean to offend anyone with this or to cause division or controversy. I simply want to speak the truth. If you have questions or concerns, I would be more than happy to discuss them with you.

Introduction

The assertion is often made by defenders of the traditional family to the effect of “studies have shown that kids who are raised by homosexual parents are at a disadvantage when compared to kids raised by their mother and father.” They use this as an argument against gay marriage and gay adoption in a sort of “for the children” argument.

I always cringe when I hear this because it is a deplorable appeal to authority and an attempt to simply manufacture credibility. So I wanted to find out whether these claims actually had any basis in reality. It aggravates me to see the world successfully asserting that Conservatives on the right ignore facts and live in this made up fantasy world. It aggravates me so much because I find it to be true! I think Christians should have the highest regard for truth at all costs, if for no other reason than because we have supreme confidence in God’s Word. Or do we!?

When did we stop embracing the truth and start fearing it? Where is our faith in God that we are so afraid that some truth of science might contradict what he says? Our view of God and his Word is far too low!

So when it comes to these studies, I’m left with the following questions: What studies? When were they done? What was their methodology? What was their sampling method? Their sample size? Their margin of error? We need more information if we’re going to determine whether there is any worth in what has been said.

My Research

A quick survey led me to a report from the Canadian Psychological Association in which I found a bit of interesting information:

According to Herek’s extensive review of the literature in 2006, the research on which opponents to marriage of same-sex couples rely, look at the functioning of children in intact families with heterosexual parents compared to those children raised by a single parent following divorce or death of a spouse. They do not include studies that compare the functioning of children raised by heterosexual couples with the functioning of children raised by same-sex couples. In this group of studies, any differences observed are more accurately attributable to the effects of death or divorce, and/or to the effects of living with a single parent, rather than to parents’ sexual orientation. These studies do not tell us that the children of same-sex parents in an intact relationship fair worse than the children of opposite-sex parents in an intact relationship.

Huh. I would hope that anyone who has a desire to be intellectually honest would see the same red flags in this that I see. It would seem that as of 2006 there has never been a useful study on the subject. What would I consider a useful study? Simply an apples to apples comparison of children who were raised by gay parents to children who were raised by straight parents. And by apples to apples I mean that in both scenarios the parents must be in a committed, monogamous relationship and the children must spend their entire childhood, or at least the vast majority of it, with the same set of two parents. Since the desired outcome from the LGBT community is for gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt, then any useful study on the subject should only look at children of gay or lesbian parents who are in a committed relationship. It’s not literally possible to do this since gay marriage is still illegal in many states, but certainly we could find gay couples who have cohabited for life… i.e. the gay parents who want to get married. Even this might be hard to study since marriage is often a prerequisite for being approved for adoption. So we seem to be in a catch 22. But in any case, we should withhold judgment on the subject until such a study has been done, right?

A New Study

So since that report was published about seven years ago, I decided to keep looking. Hopefully there had been another study since then. As it turns out, sociologist Mark Regnerus from the University of Texas at Austin has done another study. In fact, at first glance it looks pretty good. He took great pains to try to get good samples. He controlled for several variables, including economic disparity. He even checked to make sure his results were statistically significant (though I don’t know his margin of error). Perhaps we have some useful information after all.

I’m not going to rehash in too fine of detail about the study itself. This article has a pretty good run down of what’s in it. I would suggest you go read that before you go on. I’m just going to highlight the points that stood out to me. The Regnerus study found that children of homosexual parents fared worse on most outcomes. The following are some of the key findings. According to his study, children of homosexual parents:

  • Are much more likely to have received welfare
  • Have lower educational attainment
  • Report less safety and security in their family of origin
  • Report more ongoing “negative impact” from their family of origin
  • Are more likely to suffer from depression
  • Have been arrested more often
  • If they are female, have had more sexual partners – both male and female
  • Are more likely to be currently cohabiting
  • Are almost 4 times more likely to be currently on public assistance
  • Are less likely to be currently employed full-time
  • Are more than 3 times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual
  • Are 3 times as likely to have had an affair while married or cohabiting
  • Are an astonishing 10 times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”
  • Are nearly 4 times as likely to have been “physically forced” to have sex against their will (i.e. have been raped) (it’s unclear whether this is by a parent or adult caregiver, or by someone later in life)
  • Are more likely to have “attachment” problems related to the ability to depend on others
  • Use marijuana more frequently
  • Smoke more frequently
  • Watch TV for long periods more frequently
  • Have more often pled guilty to a non-minor offense

Now when I first read this list, I identified several that I threw out of consideration for one reason or another. The first reason is that they clearly are only included in the list because of the bias of the person reporting this. They are only considered bad outcomes because of the person’s predisposition. The best example is that they “Are more than 3 times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual”. The Christian audience would read this and say, “That’s terrible!” The LGBT community would say “What’s wrong with that?” In an attempt to make the data more compelling, I’d rather focus on only those things which are clearly considered bad by both sides. So the adjusted list looks like this:

  • Are much more likely to have received welfare
  • Have lower educational attainment
  • Report less safety and security in their family of origin
  • Report more ongoing “negative impact” from their family of origin
  • Are more likely to suffer from depression
  • Have been arrested more often
  • If they are female, have had more sexual partners – both male and female
  • Are more likely to be currently cohabiting
  • Are almost 4 times more likely to be currently on public assistance
  • Are less likely to be currently employed full-time
  • Are more than 3 times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual
  • Are 3 times as likely to have had an affair while married or cohabiting
  • Are an astonishing 10 times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”
  • Are nearly 4 times as likely to have been “physically forced” to have sex against their will (i.e. have been raped) (it’s unclear whether this is by a parent or adult caregiver, or by someone later in life)
  • Are more likely to have “attachment” problems related to the ability to depend on others
  • Use marijuana more frequently
  • Smoke more frequently
  • Watch TV for long periods more frequently
  • Have more often pled guilty to a non-minor offense

The second group that I threw out are ones that are either too vague as to be useful for anything, or are not clear as to whether the information has anything to do with their upbringing or unrelated events that happened later. I’m not trying to belittle these as legitimate problems, I’m merely trying to pare down the results of the study to show only those things that would be universally recognized as problems that could directly be attributed in some way to a poor upbringing.

  • Are much more likely to have received welfare
  • Have lower educational attainment
  • Report less safety and security in their family of origin
  • Report more ongoing “negative impact” from their family of origin
  • Are more likely to suffer from depression
  • Have been arrested more often
  • Are almost 4 times more likely to be currently on public assistance
  • Are less likely to be currently employed full-time
  • Are an astonishing 10 times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”
  • Are nearly 4 times as likely to have been “physically forced” to have sex against their will (i.e. have been raped) (it’s unclear whether this is by a parent or adult caregiver, or by someone later in life)
  • Are more likely to have “attachment” problems related to the ability to depend on others
  • Have more often pled guilty to a non-minor offense

So the final list looks like this:

  • Are much more likely to have received welfare
  • Have lower educational attainment
  • Are more likely to suffer from depression
  • Have been arrested more often
  • Are almost 4 times more likely to be currently on public assistance
  • Are less likely to be currently employed full-time
  • Are an astonishing 10 times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”
  • Are more likely to have “attachment” problems related to the ability to depend on others
  • Have more often pled guilty to a non-minor offense

So in the end there appear to be nine ways in which the “children of homosexual parents” fared worse than children of married heterosexual parents in terms of being more likely to be criminals, psychologically scarred, economically or educationally disadvantaged, or to have been abused. That seems pretty damning doesn’t it?

The Rest of the Story

I was on the verge of being convinced, but I have a tragic vice of remaining skeptical until I have removed all doubt and/or heard the other side. So I read on and before I even consulted Google for a reason to doubt this study, I found this tidbit on my own in the section discussing limitations of the study:

The definition of what it means to have a homosexual parent is also a loose one in this study–by necessity, in order to maximize the sample size of homosexual parents. Not all of those who reported that a parent was in a same-sex relationship even lived with that parent during the relationship; many who did, did not live with the partner as well. Only 23% of those with a lesbian mother, and only 2% of those with a homosexual father, had spent as long as three years living in a household with the homosexual parent and the parent’s partner at the same time. Details like this involving the actual timeline of these children’s lives can reportedly be found in Regnerus’ dataset, which is to be made available to other researchers later this year.

This gave me significant pause. It seems to me that this may actually not be the apples to apples comparison that I was looking for. Then I looked for critiques and found several. One that I found to succinctly sum up what is wrong with this study can be found here.

This critique points out that the definition of what it means to have a homosexual parent was dependent on question S7 which asked:

S7. From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?

  • Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman
  • Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man
  • No

Think about that for a second. What this means is that even if your parent had an experimental fling or a one-night-stand with a same-sex partner, you were now in the category of the homosexual group. This study does nothing to make sure that it’s only looking at children who’s parents were in life-long, stable, intact relationships. Rather, it simply lumped a whole bunch of broken families together and called their parents “homosexuals”.

The critique further points out:

It also turned out that most of the adults that the study considered products of gay or lesbian parents were not, for the most part, raised by gays or lesbians. …“Only 42 percent of respondents reported living with a ‘Gay Father’ and his partner for at least four months—and less than 2 percent reported doing so for at least three years.” Less than two per cent of those (two people, three?) said that their whole childhood was spent with their mother and her lesbian partner

… if this study shows anything, it’s not the effect of gay parenting, but of non-, or absentee parenting…As [another critique] puts it, the study “doesn’t document the failure of same-sex marriage. It documents the failure of the closeted, broken, and unstable households that preceded same-sex marriage.” We already know that there are benefits to stability—which is what same-sex marriage advocates have been saying all along. If your only question is how to help children, then same-sex marriage remains a solid answer…

Here are some other critiques I found

What does this mean?

So we see that even this study, which is broadcasted from the mountain tops, utterly fails to say anything at all about the issue at hand. Is it not possible that a gay couple who is in a committed, stable, life-long, intact relationship – call it marriage for the sake of argument – can raise a child as effectively as a straight married couple? As far as I can tell, there has never been a scientifically rigorous study which has analyzed and compared the two groups sufficiently to make any statement one way or another.

Of course, this all begs the question of what the goal is in parenting. Christians would all agree that the primary goal in parenting is to raise a “godly seed”, or as Ephesians says to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Ted and Paul Tripp have lots of great material on what this looks like and what the outcome of this is. Ultimately, we could summarize it as adults who have come to know the Lord, been born again and are walking with the Lord.

Now, you will be quick to point out that, while God is clearly capable of saving and sanctifying anyone from any background, statistics would indicate that a child is far more likely to be raised as a godly seed if he is raised by parents who themselves are godly seeds. After all, godly parents are the primary prescribed instrument God has given for raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You will further point out that, since homosexuality is a violation of God’s law, homosexual parents are clearly not living for the Lord and therefore, homosexual parents are not equipped to raise a godly seed. All of these things are true.

But there’s the rub. Clearly children who do not have believing parents are at a disadvantage in terms of being raised to know the Lord. However, having checked out the studies, I feel confident to assert strongly that there is no difference in the level of this disadvantage between children of homosexual parents and children of heterosexual parents who are Atheists, or Mormons, or Deists, or Buddhists, or nominal Christians, or anything else. There is no demonstrable way in which parents being homosexual puts their children at any additional disadvantage than if they were heterosexual.

These studies that are supposed to show such a disadvantage have not done the apples to apples comparison necessary to prove the assertions they are making. What they do demonstrate is that a stable, life-long, intact, committed relationship between parents is clearly a better environment for raising children than parents who are divorced or widowed or not ever even married. This has never been in doubt. But this says nothing about the comparative ability of a stable, life-long, intact, committed straight and gay parents.

A Question of Credibility

I find it supremely ironic that these studies are not being used to try to ban those other parenting models. Instead they are used to try to ban the one parenting model they say nothing about. This makes me wonder whether the conservatives who use this study are even interested in doing good for the children in these scenarios at all, or if perhaps they are simply attempting to use these studies to manipulate the opinions of the nation in order to control the behavior of people who are not like them. This is what makes the world cry “bigotry!” Unfortunately, I can’t find reason to disagree with them.

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to anyone and everyone who cites these studies that they haven’t done the homework to find out whether these studies are legitimate, and therefore simply don’t know that they have problems. But this is just a different kind of troubling problem. Aren’t we responsible to check our facts and vet our sources? Ask yourself what someone with a high degree of academic and intellectual integrity would do. Do you cite facts without first making absolutely certain that they are irrefutable?

We have got to raise our level of intellectual integrity and academic credibility if we are ever going to be convincing in these arguments. It’s one thing when a source intentionally conceals key information, but that is not what happened here. When something is so easily debunked by simple due diligence, why are we ever citing such a source? It would be such a little thing to learn the discipline of not opening our mouths until we make sure that what we are about to say is irrefutable.

Behavior Modification

Even though the only ideal model for raising a godly seed is that children be raised by believing parents who are in a committed faithful marriage, is there a lesser outcome that we would consider acceptable? Perhaps children can be raised to be responsible, law abiding citizens even if they don’t know the Lord. I think you’ll find that unbelieving parents are quite capable of raising their children this well. And there is nothing to suggest that heterosexuals are any better at this than homosexuals. As any sociologist will tell you, the most important thing for children is stability. Clearly marriage provides that stability. But is it not possible to find the same stability in a homosexual marriage?

This might make you want to object, “Yes, but if we know what’s best, shouldn’t we try to hold that up as the standard?”. This is the underlying philosophy behind the policies of the “Religious Right”. This “we know what’s best for you attitude” drives the Republican party. This seems like a very noble cause, and I don’t necessarily disagree with you. After all, we should hold high the standard of God’s Word and his Law and call all to repentance. But there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. To do evil in the name of doing good is to do evil!

What evil do I speak of? I speak of violating conscience. Forcing someone to behave in a manner other than what their conscience dictates is wrong. It is a form of slavery. This is true even if the intended behavior modification is a good thing. This does not excuse their behavior before God, but we’re not talking about whether something is right or wrong before God. We are talking about whether a man has the right to choose for himself whether he will obey God’s Law or not.

We are acting like the Pharisees, focusing on externals, holding ourselves up as paragons of righteousness, and belittling those around us who fall short of our standard. And it doesn’t even matter that our standard is technically right, it has more to do with the fact that we are focusing on externals rather than on the heart, and that we use the coercive power of the state to force our will on others.

Whether someone obeys the Lord or not is between him and the Lord. It is not up to us to force them to change their behavior. It will do nothing to commend them to the Lord, since God is far more interested in their heart condition. It will do nothing to transform their heart, since legalistic behavior modification does nothing to convert the heart. Only the blood of Christ and radical heart change brought about by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit can reconcile someone with God. Our efforts to force a change in behavior will do no good to the person. Everyone bears the responsibility to obey the Lord on their own.

This goes back to the issue of self ownership. You own yourself. Now a Christian might be tempted to object, “you are not your own, you were bought with a price.” Yes, but whether you believe in God and that God owns you because he created you and has claim to your life, as a potter over the clay, or whether you believe that there is no god and you simply own yourself, the effect on your interactions with other people around you is the same. No other person or group of persons has an ownership claim on your life! In fact, I think the Christian concept of God ownership provides an even stronger argument for this than the Objectivist concept of self ownership. This is why I contend that Libertarianism IS the political philosophy of Christianity.

So, since God owns me, I bear a responsibility to obey him. I bear a responsibility to honor him. He has the right to control and command me. I am his slave. And because of that, nobody else has the right to command and control me. I am his! And the choice to ignore or to fulfill my responsibility to the Lord is mine and mine alone. The same is true in reverse. I own nobody else. Other people are owned by God and must bear their responsibility on their own. I cannot force them to honor him. If people are to successfully fulfill their responsibility to the Lord, they must be free. This is where I derive the right to liberty. It comes not from our self determination, but from the fact that we belong to God.

How Are We Supposed To Approach the World?

The only way that someone can change from a sinner to a saint is to be converted in the heart by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. This cannot happen through behavior modification. The person must come to recognize God’s claim on his life, must come to the Cross to be cleansed, must surrender his life to God and must set his heart’s desires on the Lord. Without this, nothing can be done to make him honor the Lord.

The only Christ honoring and effective witness is to patiently, humbly and lovingly share the Gospel as we live out our lives in relationships with our neighbors around us. Spreading the Gospel is supposed to be a peaceful undertaking. Violence is only ever supposed to be perpetrated by the other side.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:14-21)

To use the law to force people to obey our moral code against their will is to claim ownership of the person by imposing our will on them. Further, I believe it to be a direct violation of this command of Scripture!

Christians and Libertarians?

Libertarians and Christians are not perfectly compatible. A lot of Libertarians are atheists. But so long as they hold to the philosophy of self-ownership, it is possible for us to form an accord in order to accomplish the most good. And what is the most good that can be accomplished through government and politics? Freedom! Freedom to think for yourself and to act as you please. It is only in this environment that we are truly free and able to spread the gospel faithfully.

Which of you when seeing your next door neighbor doing something sinful would go over and scold them condescendingly? Which of you would go over and try to forcefully stop them? Which of you would go over and try to take away the means by which he is doing his wrong? If he is harming someone, then certainly you would try to stop him in the name of rescue, but if he is not hurting anyone, wouldn’t you be a little more tactful in trying to discuss the issue with your neighbor? Do we go door to door and yell “YOU’RE GOING TO HELL YOU DIRTY ROTTEN SINNER” in the faces of our neighbors? Would you approach your brother or your sister or your son or your father this way, even if they were an unbeliever? I’m not talking about tough love. I’m talking about self-righteous, condescending, judgmental confrontation.

Sadly, there are people who do this! (I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church!) We understand how this produces no outcome other than alienating our neighbors. Effective gospel witness involves patiently, lovingly, humbly, building relationships with our neighbor and speaking the truth in love to them. The Lord uses relationships such as this to call sinners to himself. We should see ourselves as Christ eating with the tax collectors and sinners.

How can we not understand that the national behavior of Christians who promote legislation that restricts the freedom of others does the exact same thing as us yelling at our neighbors? Only rather than alienating our neighbors ourselves, we find that the alienation has courteously been done for us! Christians who support these sorts of political positions think they are doing good in the name of the Kingdom, but ultimately they are doing harm.

Us Vs. Them

At this point, the conservatives will tend to play martyr. They’ll take this attitude that it’s ok for the World to dislike us, because they dislike the gospel. It is true that when we approach the World, we will face opposition. Christ warned us that they would hate us. However, we bear a duty to make sure that if there is a stumbling block in the way of anyone coming to know the Lord then it is the Christ himself and the sinner’s sin, not us! People are stumbling over our bigoted behavior, not over our message.

You may not like my use of the word bigotry. You might think that the World is the one acting the martyr and calling what we’re doing bigotry unfairly. Sure, there’s a level to which they read hatred in when there is no hatred. Sure, they overreact. I’m not going to deny that.

But. Attempting to use legislation to outlaw behavior that harms nobody simply because it offends your moral code is religious discrimination. It is bigotry. It’s one thing for you personally, or for a church, to proclaim the Word of God, but it is another entirely for us to make it the law and force others to change their behavior on penalty of suffering consequences. I often wonder if Christians aren’t so quick to go this route because it’s easier and more comfortable than actually going next door to talk to your neighbor!

Conclusion

I came across this statement in one of the articles: “It is unethical to subject children to an untested social experiment.”

Unfortunately, this is an intentional misrepresentation of the situation. This is not some “social experiment” we are talking about. These are people who have a desire to fulfill their felt need of nurturing a child and raising it to adulthood. Why should they be denied the freedom to do this when there is no evidence to show that it would be harmful? Is this an argument from silence? Where is the burden of proof? When the issue is over whether we deny someone the right to their freedom of choice in some particular manner, then the burden of proof is on the one who wants to take that right away. A lack of evidence showing an irrefutable, inevitable and causal link between the input and the output is insufficient to deny someone the freedom to do as he believes is right for himself.

If you’re concerned about judgment for violating God’s law, remember what God himself said, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” It is not ours to sit in judgment over the World in order to make sure justice is being done in God’s name. It is ours to honor him, be faithful to him, and to make disciples of all who are his elect. Our involvement in politics should be done with the aim of enhancing this mission, not in trying to force our way on others.

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