Maggie Gallagher

On Father's Day, whom do we celebrate?

If you are President Obama issuing a Father's Day proclamation, the answer is: fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, two dads and my personal favorite, the totally genderless "caring guardians." When it comes to children, so many voices seem to be saying, there's nothing special to celebrate about the father.

And, after all, didn't the prestigious journal Pediatrics just publish a study showing that lesbian moms are better parents? Fathers don't seem to matter anymore.

Well, if that's what the science says, maybe we have to face the fact: Men, this is your get out of family free card.

For if it is true that fathers don't matter in particular, that the body is irrelevant, that what counts is adults' desire to form families, not children's longing for a mother and a father -- then for how long can we continue to hold men accountable for children created from passing sexual acts? Why are these guys deadbeat dads? Why aren't they just part of the great national trend toward family diversity?

But in fact, the science on gay parenting is far less definitive than the media is reporting, especially given the breadth of evidence that children do best raised by married mothers and fathers.

Take the Pediatrics study.

Here's what this study didn't do: It didn't look at how the average child raised by two mothers fares. This is a volunteer sample, not a random sample of lesbian mothers. That in itself makes it difficult to say how typical these women are of lesbian mothers generally. (The 93 percent retention rate of original participants, amazing after a decade or more, also suggests this is an unusually motivated set of mothers). If you want to know how children fare on average in different family forms, you need a probability sample, not a self-selected sample.

Here's another thing this study did not do: It did not study a comparison group. The reports of the mothers on their children's outcomes were compared statistically to children in a database known as the Achenbach normative sample of American youth. This is a system designed primarily for "screening" to identify children in possible need of interventions and evaluation, not to settle family structure questions. The sample included children in a wide variety of family structures, making the study's relevance to the marriage debate particularly unclear.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.