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FactCheck: are children ‘better off’ with a mother and father than with same-sex parents?

Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

(Australian) Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, interviewed on Sky News, August 13, 2017. YouTube

Optimally, you’ve got the input from both [a mother and a father] and the children brought up in those circumstances are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not.

… whether it’s in terms of health outcomes, mental health, physical health, whether it’s in terms of employment prospects, in terms of how this is generated from one generation to another, the social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard.

– Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, excerpts from an interview on Sky News, August 13, 2017.

Public campaigns for and against same-sex marriage have been heightened by the Turnbull government’s plan to conduct a $122 million voluntary postal survey asking the nation whether same-sex couples should be able to marry under Australian law.

Discussing his opposition to same-sex marriage during an interview on Sky News, Liberal MP Kevin Andrews said children who are brought up with a mother and a father “are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not”.

Andrews also said the “social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard”.

Let’s look at the research.

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support his statements, a spokesperson for Kevin Andrews told The Conversation:

Mr Andrews wrote a book called “Maybe I Do”. You might also like to look at the 2011 report, For Kids’ Sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney and studies by Douglas Allen (2015) in Canada and Paul Sullins (2015) in the US.

Verdict

Kevin Andrews’ assertion that children who are brought up with a mother and father are, “as a cohort, better off than those who are not” is not supported by research evidence.

The majority of research on this topic shows that children or adolescents raised by same-sex parents fare equally as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents on a wide range of social, emotional, health and academic outcomes.

Response to Kevin Andrews’ sources

First of all, let’s look at the sources provided by Andrews’ spokesperson to support his statements. A summary of Kevin Andrews’ book on the National Library of Australia website says it:

reviews the evidence on the benefits of marriage for society, children, and adults. It argues that healthy, stable, and happy marriages are the optimal institution for promoting individual well being and healthy societies.

It’s true that there is a large body of evidence to show that stability in marriage and family life is beneficial for children, particularly in early childhood. Some research has shown that these benefits are associated with higher average income and education levels among married couples, rather than marriage itself.

But these studies didn’t involve comparisons between opposite-sex and same-sex married couples, so they do not defend the argument that heterosexual marriage leads to better outcomes for children than same-sex marriage. In fact, some research suggests same-sex marriage would provide benefits for children being raised in these families.

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Patrick Parkinson’s report, For Kid’s Sake, links rising rates of divorce, family conflict and instability in parental relationships with increasing psychological distress among young people in Australia. One of Parkinson’s conclusions was that:

the most stable, safe and nurturing environment for children is when their parents are, and remain, married to one another.

There are studies that support these assertions. This research supports the importance of family stability, quality relationships between parents and children, and the need for access to socioeconomic resources – but not the need for parents to be heterosexual.

Douglas Allen’s 2015 paper is a critical, but not systematic, review of more than 60 studies relating to same-sex parenting and/or child outcomes. This paper does not present findings related to child outcomes.

Rather, Allen says that, due to sampling bias and small sample sizes in the existing body of work, there is currently no conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that children raised by same-sex couples do better or worse than children raised by heterosexual couples.

Andrews’ spokesperson also pointed to 2015 research from Paul Sullins. Sullins’ 2015 analysis of data from the US National Health Interview Survey indicated that children raised by same-sex parents were more than twice as likely to experience emotional problems than those raised by heterosexual, married parents who were biologically related to their children. But this analysis was criticised for not taking into account the stability of the family environment.

The author combined all children in same-sex families into one category, while placing children in opposite-sex families into separate categories – including different categories for step-parents and single parents, for example. So the comparison made was between all same-sex parented families, and a selection of stable heterosexual families.

Research on outcomes for children in same-sex parented families

Now let’s look at other studies that have been conducted around the world. Many of these studies examine the outcomes for children in same-sex parented families where both parents are women. There has been comparatively little research on families in which both parents are men. It can be difficult to achieve adequate sample sizes of children raised in two-father families, given the small number of these families. There is no research showing that children raised by gay fathers fare worse than other children.

A study published in 2016 using data from the US National Survey of Children’s Health for 2011-12 compared outcomes for children aged six to 17 years in 95 female same-sex parented families and 95 opposite-sex parented families.

The study found no differences in outcomes for children raised by lesbian parents compared to heterosexual parents on a range of outcomes including general health, emotional difficulties, coping behaviour and learning behaviour.

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A paper published for the American Sociological Association in 2014 reviewed 10 years’ of scientific literature on child well-being in same-sex parented families in the US. The literature review covered 40 original published studies, including numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies, many of which drew on nationally representative data.

The authors concluded there was clear consensus in scientific literature that children raised by same-sex couples fared as well as children raised by opposite-sex couples. This applied for a range of well-being measures, including:

  • academic performance
  • cognitive development
  • social development
  • psychological health
  • early sexual activity, and
  • substance abuse.

The authors noted that differences in child well-being were largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010 combined the results of 33 studies to assess how the gender of parents affected children. The authors found the strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appeared to the same degree in families with two mothers and potentially in those with two fathers.

The meta-analysis found no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fared worse than children raised by opposite-sex couples on a range of outcomes including:

  • security of attachment to parents
  • behavioural problems
  • self perceptions of cognitive and physical competence, and
  • interest, effort and success in school.

This review included studies from Europe, the UK and the US. The authors said that scholars had achieved

a rare degree of consensus that unmarried lesbian parents are raising children who develop at least as well as their counterparts with married heterosexual parents.

In Australia, a large study published in the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health Journal in 2014 (and of which I was one of five co-authors) surveyed 315 parents representing 500 children. 80% of children had a female same-sex attracted parent, while 18% had a male same-sex attracted parent.

The results did support previous research showing that stigma related to a parent’s sexual orientation is negatively associated with mental health and well-being.

But, overall, the study found children and adolescents raised by same-sex parents in Australia fared as well as children of opposite-sex parents, and better on measures of general behaviour, general health and family cohesion.

A follow up paper published in 2016 found there was no difference between children raised in female same-sex parent households and children raised in male same-sex parent households.

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Further work from the same project reported on surveys and interviews with adolescents raised by same-sex parents. This study (of which I was one of four co-authors) did find that some adolescents with same-sex parents reported experiencing anxiety relating to fear of discrimination, which was linked to poorer well-being.

A US study published in 2011 found adolescents raised by lesbian mothers were more likely to have reported occasional substance use, but not more likely to have reported heavy use, than other adolescents.

A 2010 analysis of data from the 2000 US census found that children raised by same-sex couples had no fundamental deficits in making normal progress through school compared to children raised by opposite-sex couples.

When parents’ socio-economic status and the characteristics of the students were accounted for, the educational outcomes for children of same-sex couples couldn’t be distinguished with statistical certainty from children of heterosexual married couples.

Analysing studies that show different results

Some studies have indicated that adults raised by same-sex parents fare worse on some educational, social or emotional outcomes. But the majority of research does not support this. There are also studies that have been published and later discredited, but continue to be used as references.

The 2012 US New Family Structures Study, also known as the “Regnerus study”, is often cited by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

The study looked at outcomes for adults aged 18-39. It compared outcomes for adults with a parent who had had a same-sex relationship, with outcomes for adults raised by still-married, heterosexual couples who were biologically related to their children. It showed the adults with a gay or lesbian parent or parents fared worse on a range of social, educational and health outcomes. But this study has been very widely criticised.

In a brief filed in the US Supreme Court in 2015, the American Sociological Association said:

The Regnerus study … did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.

As outlined by the American Sociological Association, the study removed all divorced, single, and step-parent families from the heterosexual group, leaving only stable, married, heterosexual families as the comparison. In addition, Regnerus categorised children as having been raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship regardless of whether they were in fact raised by the parent … and regardless of the amount of time that they spent under the parent’s care.

A subsequent reanalysis of the data, using different criteria for categorising respondents, found the results inconclusive, or suggestive that “adult children raised by same-sex two-parent families show a comparable adult profile to their peers raised by two-biological-parent families”.

Strengths and weaknesses of evidence on outcomes for children

The “gold standard” for research on child and family outcomes are studies that involve randomly selected, population-based samples. This has been difficult to achieve in research on same-sex parenting because many population-based studies don’t ask about parents’ sexual orientation. Even where they do ask, not all studies include a sample of children or adults raised by same-sex parents that is large enough to provide for reliable statistical analysis.

This has led to criticism of the quality of evidence on outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents, because most studies have relied on convenience or volunteer samples, which are not randomly selected, and so may include bias.

, there are methodological limitations in all studies. And, as outlined earlier, recent analyses of population-based data sets have supported the finding that children or adolescents raised by same-sex couples do not experience poorer outcomes than other children. So there is no clear basis to the argument that convenience samples lead to “incorrect” findings due to bias. – Jennifer Power

Review

This FactCheck gives a good broad overview of the research and scientific consensus in regard to child health and well-being in same-sex parent families. The studies included, on balance, represent the current understanding of academics and child health experts on child health and well-being outcomes in same-sex parent families.

The National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides additional evidence to support the verdict of this FactCheck. As a well established and methodologically robust longitudinal study, the National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides important additional insights.

In the Australian context, the 2013 Australian Institute of Family Studies review of same-sex parent families also supports the overall verdict of this FactCheck.

It should be noted that research has indicated that same-sex parent families experience stigma and discrimination, and when they do it can impact on child health and well-being.

Overall, however, the verdict in this FactCheck is appropriate based on current research. – Simon Crouch


The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit is the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

The ConversationHave you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe UniverSame-sex parented families in Australia sity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Sexual Diversity in Africa

Although two-thirds of countries in the world no longer outlaw lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) relationships, same-sex relationships are still illegal in 76 countries. In the recent past, new laws have been passed in Russia, India, Nigeria, Burundi, Cameroon and Uganda and are being contemplated in other countries to further prohibit same-sex relationships or the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’. There is evidence that such new laws precipitate negative consequences not just for LGBTI persons and communities, but also for societies as a whole, including the rapid reversal of key public health gains, particularly in terms of HIV and AIDS and other sexual health programmes, increases in levels of social violence, some evidence of reduced economic growth, and the diversion of attention from sexual and other violence against women and children.

Partly because those arguing in favour of criminalising sexual and gender diversity have made explicit appeals to science, this report examines the extent to which science supports any of the arguments that proponents of these new laws make. Drawing on recent scientific evidence and, where possible, on systematic reviews, the report seeks to provide an up-to-date overview of the state of the current biological, socio-psychological, and public health evidence and assess how this supports, or contests, the key arguments made in favour of new laws. This report considers the following questions:

  1. What is the evidence that biological factors contribute to sexual and gender diversity? To what degree is the wide diversity of human sexualities explained by biological factors?
  2. Do environmental factors such as upbringing and socialisation explain the diversity of human sexuality?
  3. Is there any evidence for same-sex orientation being ‘acquired’ through contact with others, i.e. through ‘social contagion’?
  4. What evidence is there that any form of therapy or ‘treatment’ can change sexual orientation?
  5. What evidence is there that same-sex orientations pose a threat of harm to individuals, communities, or vulnerable populations such as children?
  6. What are the public health consequences of criminalising same-sex sexual orientations and attempting to regulate the behaviour/relationships related to some sexualities?
  7. What are the most critical unanswered scientific research questions regarding the diversity of human sexualities and sexual orientations in Africa?

Global bodies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified homosexuality as an illness or disorder in 1990 and there is now a wide global consensus among scientists that homosexuality is a normal and natural variation of human sexuality without any inherently detrimental health consequences. In this context governments have a duty to consider scientific perspectives and draw on the most current scientific knowledge when creating policy and enacting laws. In terms of sexual orientation, significant and even path-breaking research in a variety of fields has taken place in the recent past. Much of this research is not widely known to policymakers yet, nor is it in the public domain. This report aims to bring the most recent replicated and respected global research to the attention of policymakers.

Examining the biological factors, including genetic, neurohormonal and other factors, the report concludes that contemporary science does not support thinking about sexuality in a simple binary opposition of hetero/homosexual and normal/abnormal. Rather, it favours thinking in terms of a range of human variation, very little of which can justifiably be termed abnormal. As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society. Efforts should rather be focused on countering the belief systems that create hostile and even violent environments for those who are made to feel alienated within societies that privilege male power across political, social and family domains. The panel concludes that there is substantial biological evidence for the diversity of human sexualities and for sexual orientations in particular. Studies have found significant linkage between male sexual orientation and regions of the X chromosome, though the exact manner in which gene expression impacts on sexual orientation remain to be determined. Familial patterns with regard to same-sex orientation, particularly in men suggest a strong likelihood of biological elements. In addition, although limited in number, some pedigree studies, tracing thousands of female relatives of heterosexual and homosexual men, found convincing evidence that female relatives of homosexual men have increased fecundity, i.e., on average, they bear more children compared to female relatives of heterosexual men. This may provide a key to the major evolutionary paradox of presumed reduced fecundity because of the relatively high prevalence of same-sex attracted men in every society. Although less well studied, there is also considerable evidence for a biological component for same-sex orientation in women and for bisexuality. Socio-behavioural research demonstrates unequivocally that both heterosexual and homosexual men feel that they have/had no choice in terms of their sexual attraction. The majority of women who experience same-sex attraction also express a lack of a sense of choice in their sexual orientation, although there is evidence for much greater fluidity in sexual orientation among women of all sexual orientations. The study explores – and finds lacking – evidence to support the contention that the way parents bring up their children, or the relationships formed between children and parents, impact on sexual orientation. While family environment may shape other elements of sexuality and the way sexuality is expressed, and while construction of gender and sexual identities have strong social and cultural components, there is little evidence that orientation is directly correlated to family upbringing. This report explores but could find no evidence that sexual orientation can be acquired through contact with LGBTI persons. Instead, the panel found substantial evidence that tolerance of same-sex orientation not only benefited LGBTI persons but impacted positively on public health, civil society and long-term economic growth in societies across the spectrum of economic development. ‘Peer pressure’, although a powerful influencer of young people’s behaviour, has not been shown to influence same-sex activity or the development of same-sex sexual or bisexual orientations.

The panel explores a wide variety of sources and studies and could find no evidence linking LGB sexual orientation or transgender people with the ‘recruitment’ of young people through childhood sexual abuse. Given the high prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in Africa, the protection of all children should be paramount. As there is no evidence that adult sexual orientation is correlated with abuse in childhood, this false connection should no longer be used to justify the marginalisation of LGBTI persons.

This study finds abundant and robust evidence that more repressive environments increase minority stress and impact negatively on LGBTI health. There is overwhelming evidence that this has a direct impact on the general population’s health, particularly in terms of HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) reduction efforts. There are no known positive impacts on public health because criminalisation cannot stop people from feeling same-sex attractions and expressing same-sex orientations. Such legislation also cannot stop same-sex or bisexually-orientated people from having relationships, sexual and otherwise, with the wider population in any society.

The study explores and could find no evidence that same-sex orientation can be changed through ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy. It highlights that 50 years of research have not found same-sex attraction to be inherently pathological or a malady of any kind. Studies have also not been able to show any particular social harm of consensual relationships between adults, nor any negative impact on broader communities. Given the documented dangers of such therapy and its direct conflict with medical ethics, these interventions are contra-indicated. Further, recognising the ineffectiveness of conversion therapy, we recommend the wide dissemination of this information especially to health professionals across Africa and beyond.

The study suggests that African health professionals and their associations should adopt affirmative stances towards LGBTI individuals. Psychosocial interventions and support particularly for adolescents are recommended to facilitate the adjustment of same-sex orientated persons to the stress, stigma, shame and discrimination they may face and to affi rm their choices and orientations. This report concludes that almost all of the recent scientific research regarding human sexualities needs to be much more widely disseminated and discussed in public, and should indeed be drawn upon by policymakers when contemplating new legislation.

Read more

Sexual Diversity in Africa (Academy of Science of South Africa)

Worldwide, Catholics Disagree with Vatican Sexual Doctrines.

There is an abundance of research evidence to show that US Catholics reject Vatican doctrines on almost all elements of sexual doctrines, from contraception through masturbation and cohabitation, to gay marriage. Conservative Catholics often respond to this evidence with the claim that outside North America and Europe, things are different. From a global perspective, they claim, most Catholics support church teaching. Findings of a new global survey show they are wrong.

Pope Francis faces church divided over doctrine, global poll of Catholics finds

Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception and are split on whether women and married men should become priests, according to a large new poll released Sunday and commissioned by the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision.

Catholics worldwide approve of contraception (graphic - Washington Post)
Catholics worldwide approve of contraception (graphic – Washington Post)

On the topic of gay marriage, two-thirds of Catholics polled agree with church leaders.

Overall, however, the poll of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries reveals a church dramatically divided: Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral.

The widespread disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis’s year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.

 – The Washington Post.

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Australian Government study finds kids with gay parents do as well as those with straight parents

A new review of research by the Australian Government’s Institute of Family Studies has found that kids who are being brought up in families headed by gays and lesbians do as well as their heterosexually parented peers

24 JANUARY 2014 | BY ANDREW POTTS

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has released a report on the well being of children raised by gays and lesbians and found they did just as well as those raised by heterosexual men and women.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is the Australian Government’s key research body in the area of family well being and provides an evidence base for developing policy supportive of the well being of families in Australia.

The report was authored by Dr Deborah Dempsey – a Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology.

‘Research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children,’ the report found.

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‘Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.’

‘Some researchers have concluded there are benefits for children raised by lesbian couples in that they experience higher quality parenting, sons display greater gender flexibility, and sons and daughters display more open-mindedness towards sexual, gender and family diversity,’ the report found.

Gay Star News

 

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