Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.009

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an official brief on lesbian and gay parenting. This brief included the assertion: ‘‘Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents’’ (p. 15). The present article closely examines this assertion and the 59 published studies cited by the APA to support it. Seven central questions address: (1)
homogeneous sampling, (2) absence of comparison groups, (3) comparison group characteristics, (4) contradictory data, (5) the limited scope of children’s outcomes studied, (6) paucity of long-term outcome data, and (7) lack of APA-urged statistical power. The conclusion is that strong assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted.
Recommendations for future research are offered.

Conclusion
The 2005 APA Brief, near its outset, claims that ‘‘even taking into account all the questions and/or limitations that may characterize research in this area, none of the published research suggests conclusions different from that which will be summarized’’ (p. 5). The concluding summary later claims, ‘‘Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments
provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth’’ (p. 15).96
We now return to the overarching question of this paper: Are we witnessing the emergence of a new family form that provides a context for children that is equivalent to the traditional marriage-based family? Even after an extensive reading of the same-sex parenting literature, the author cannot offer a high confidence, data-based ‘‘yes’’ or ‘‘no’’ response to this
question. To restate, not one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief (pp. 23–45; see Table 1) compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way. Such a statement would not be grounded in science. To make a generalizable claim, representative, large-sample studies are needed—many of them (e.g., Table 2).
Some opponents of same-sex parenting have made ‘‘egregious overstatements’’97 disparaging gay and lesbian parents.
Conversely, some same-sex parenting researchers seem to have contended for an ‘‘exceptionally clear’’98 verdict of ‘‘no difference’’ between same-sex and heterosexual parents since 1992. However, a closer examination leads to the conclusion that strong, generalized assertions, including those made by the APA Brief, were not empirically warranted.99 As noted by Shiller (2007) in American Psychologist, ‘‘the line between science and advocacy appears blurred’’ (p. 712).
The scientific conclusions in this domain will increase in validity as researchers: (a) move from small convenience samples to large representative samples; (b) increasingly examine critical societal and economic concerns that emerge during adolescence and adulthood; (c) include more diverse same-sex families (e.g., gay fathers, racial minorities, and those without middle-high socioeconomic status); (d) include intact, marriage-based heterosexual families as comparison groups; and (e) constructively respond to criticisms from methodological experts.100 Specifically, it is vital that critiques regarding sample size, sampling strategy, statistical power, and effect sizes not be disregarded. Taking these steps will help produce more methodologically rigorous and scientifically informed responses to significant questions affecting families and children.


 2012 Elsevier – Loren Marks

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