Are children raised by gay parents worse off than other children? As same sex couples line up for marriage licenses in Massachusetts, the question achieves greater urgency.
Two researchers answered when they reviewed the available scholarly literature in the American Sociological Review three years ago. What makes their essay intriguing is that both professors Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz are emphatically in favor of gay marriage and child-rearing. Being honest scholars, though, they could not accept the tendentious spin that others in their field have put on the available research. They deny that the studies show "no difference" between children raised in gay and lesbian homes and those raised in heterosexual homes.
Biblarz and Stacey begin with the common sense observation that good data on children raised by gay and lesbian parents are difficult to come by. Many of the children studied were conceived in traditional families and lived through a divorce before being raised by one biological parent and his or her gay partner. When comparing these children to those from intact families, the trauma of the divorce would have to be considered.
Then there is the problem of selection. "Most research to date has been conducted on white lesbian mothers who are comparatively educated, mature and reside in relatively progressive urban centers, most often in California or the Northeastern states."
The authors also doubt the conventional wisdom that broader acceptance of homosexuality will increase the number of children being raised in same-sex households. They believe the opposite is more likely. Their reasoning goes as follows: Most children being raised by gays and lesbians were originally born into heterosexual families. The authors believe a significant number of these parents (who would later come out of the closet) would never have entered heterosexual marriages if same sex unions carried less of a stigma.
"As homosexuality becomes more legitimate," they write, "far fewer people with homoerotic desires should feel compelled to enter heterosexual marriages, and thus fewer should become parents in this way."