Do children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as children raised by married moms and dads?
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California's Proposition 8 in part on those grounds. The scientific evidence is so strong, he ruled, that only an irrational human being could imagine the ideal for a child was a mom and dad.
This week a big hole was punched in Walker's storyline by a new study in the peer-review publication Social Science Journal.
Using a new, nationally representative survey of young adults ages 18 to 29, professor Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin compared how adult children who reported their mom had a same-sex romance fared on a wide variety of outcome measures. On 25 of 40 of these measures, children who reported their mom had had a same-sex romance fared worse than children in intact married families.
The outrage in the press is palpable and ongoing. The same media that routinely report the pro-gay parenting studies with scarcely a hint of their scientific limitations are posting headlines like: "A Faulty 'Gay Parenting' Study" (The New Yorker) and "It's Time for Mark Regnerus to Get Collectively Dumped" (The New Republic).
Gary Gates, perhaps the leading demographer of gay families, hurled the most serious charge: "He intentionally chose a methodology that is absolutely primed to find bad outcomes in those kids."
The outrage has focused on how the study defines "lesbian moms."
His survey asked young adults if their moms or dads had had a same-sex romance. Regnerus took this approach because it was seeking, for the first time, to collect enough new data from a nationally representative sample to identify all children who lived with a same-sex couple, and from this larger group to identify those raised from birth by two lesbian moms.
Only a funny thing happened on the way to the first really good large study of such lesbian parents: They didn't appear in the data.
Regnerus' study interviewed more than 15,000 young adults. Of those, 1.7 percent said that one of their parents had a same-sex romance at some point during their childhood. Just 2 of the 15,000 young adults had been raised from birth by two moms.
The New Family Structure Survey study actually found out something very important about stable, lesbian mom families: They are vanishingly rare. The "Modern Family" of two gay dads did not appear even once.
Call it the Murphy Brown Effect: We are busily constructing a picture of how children raised by same-sex couples fare and making dogmatic assertions about the same based on images from the couples we know and the couples we see on TV. There's a big gap between these images and the reality of the average child who has lived with a same-sex couple.
It's quite likely that children raised by two college graduate moms who stay together do pretty darn well, especially compared to the average child in America. (We can't say for sure because we still don't have any nationally representative data on such families.)
Would gay marriage make such families more likely? Honestly, I do not think so. For reasons I'll lay out in another column, I think gay marriage is going to turn out to be largely irrelevant for the well-being of children with gay parents.
It's important to say what we do know: Many gay people are clearly loving, wonderful parents. All good parents working hard to raise their children are well-deserving of social respect. Furthermore, all people, including gay people, have a natural right to the care and custody of their own children that no government has any business interfering with.
I do not say these things because I think saying so will insulate me from criticism as a hate figure. I only say them because they are true.
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.