It’s difficult to unearth the truth with all the noise and fanfare surrounding the studies that purport to show “no difference” between children raised in the home of same-sex parents and those raised in the home of their married mother and father. It’s also discouraging that in our highly educated, scientifically minded society many have accepted this claim without really understanding the evidence.  So, if you are a fan of data and research, here is an itemized review of every single study done on the subject of same-sex parenting: A Review and Critique of Research on Same-Sex Parenting and Adoption. For those who don’t have the time to review this 120 page document, here’s the abstract:

Are the outcomes for children of gay, lesbian, or bisexual parents in general the same as those for heterosexual parents? That controversial question is discussed here in a detailed review of the social science literature in three parts:

  • (1) stability of same-sex parental relationships,
  • (2) child outcomes, and
  • (3) child outcomes in same-sex adoption.

Relationship instability appears to be higher among gay and lesbian parent couples and may be a key mediating factor influencing outcomes for children. With respect to part 2, while parental self-reports usually present few significant differences, social desirability or self-presentation bias may be a confounding factor. While some researchers have tended to conclude that there are no differences whatsoever in terms of child outcomes as a function of parental sexual orientation, such conclusions appear premature in the light of more recent data in which some different outcomes have been observed in a few studies. Studies conducted within the past 10 years that compared child outcomes for children of same-sex and heterosexual adoptive parents were reviewed. Numerous methodological limitations were identified that make it very difficult to make an accurate assessment of the effect of parental sexual orientation across adoptive families…There remains a need for high-quality research on same-sex families, especially families with gay fathers and with lower income.

In short: the studies that show “no difference” often used poor methodology (non-random samples, parental (self) reporting vs. actual child outcomes, short duration, etc.) to reach their conclusions.

Methods Make All The Difference

This may explain why those “no difference” outcomes were so prevalent in the early same-sex parenting studies:

First, the participants were aware that the purpose was to investigate same-sex parenting and may have biased their responses in order to produce the desired result.


Second, participants were recruited through networks of friends or through advocacy organizations, resulting in a sample of same-sex parents of higher socioeconomic status than is typical of parents in a same-sex relationship generally.


Third, on average, samples of fewer than 40 children of parents in a same-sex relationship virtually guaranteed findings of no statistically significant differences between groups.

In other words, researchers would sometimes recruit subjects via posts on an LGBT-friendly site, state that they were doing a study on gay parenting, and then hand select 20-40 participants.  (Not exactly the unbiased scientific method that you learned about in high school.) In any field of study, such factors have a major impact.  But when you take into account the cultural/political landscape leading up to redefining marriage, it’s clear that something other than scientific inquiry played a role in the outcomes.  One analysis revealed that:

…studies which recruited samples of children in same-sex unions showed that 79.3 percent (range: 75–83) of comparisons were favorable to children with same-sex parents. In comparison, there were no favorable comparisons (0%, range 0–0) in studies that used random sampling. The evidence suggested strong bias resulting in false positive outcomes for parent-reported measures in recruited samples of same-sex parents.

Finding Random Participants is Difficult and Time-Consuming- That’s Why Most Didn’t Do it

According to the 2010 census data, there were 594,000 same-sex couple households in the United States- about 1% of all households.  Of those couples, 115,000 reported having children. That’s only 0.02% of households in the US where same-sex couples are raising children. Finding a population that small at random is not only cumbersome but also takes considerable time which was in short supply in the run-up to redefine marriage.

Simply finding 20 children with same-sex parents using random methods would mean beginning with a huge pool of participants.  Here’s a look at one study that did it- the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.  It analyzed data based on one of the most exhaustive, and expensive, ongoing government survey research efforts to date. In the “fourth wave” of evaluating the same students over a period of two decades, 20 children with same-sex parents were identified- out of over 12,000. Here’s what they found.

The outcomes shown in the graph above reveals that “no difference” actually meant “huge difference”. Here are the official results which include one of the most surprising findings- that children who have married same-sex parents fare worse than those with unmarried same-sex parents.

The adolescents with same-sex parents experience significantly lower autonomy and higher anxiety, but also better school performance, than do adolescents with opposite-sex parents. Comparing unmarried to (self-described) married same-sex parents, above-average child depressive symptoms rises from 50% to 88%; daily fearfulness or crying rises from 5% to 32%; grade point average declines from 3.6 to 3.4; and child sex abuse by parent rises from zero to 38%. The longer a child has been with same-sex parents, the greater the harm.

The largest study to date – the National Health Interview Study which began with 1.6 million cases and yielded 512 same-sex parent families – destroys any fantasy that children with same-sex parents fare “no different” than children raised in the home of their married mother and father. This chart outlines some of the major findings of the NHIS.

Dr. Sullins, who analyzed the data of both studies above concludes:

The higher risk of emotional problems for children in same-sex parent families has little or nothing to do with the quality of parenting, care, or other relational characteristics of those families.


If the greatest benefits for child well-being are conferred only on the biological offspring of both parents; •and since same-sex relationships cannot, at least at present, conceive a child that is the biological offspring of both partners, in the way that every child conceived by opposite-sex partners is such; • then same-sex partners, no matter how loving and committed, can never replicate the level of benefit for child well-being that is possible for opposite-sex partners.


This defect, moreover, is an essential and permanent feature of same-sex relationships; it is part of their definition, an irreducible difference that cannot be amended or abrogated by improving the circumstances, stability, legal status or social acceptance of same-sex couples.


The primary benefit of marriage for children may not be that it tends to present them with improved parents (more stable, financially affluent, etc., although it does do this), but that it presents them with their own parents. This is the case for 98% of children in nuclear families—which most successfully fulfill the formal civil premise of marriage, that is, lifelong and exclusive partner commitment—compared to less than half of children in any other family category, and no children in same-sex families. Whether or not same-sex families attain the legal right, as opposite-sex couples now have, to solemnize their relationship in civil marriage, the two family forms will continue to have fundamentally different, even contrasting, effects on the biological component of child well-being, to the relative detriment of children in same-sex families. Functionally, opposite-sex marriage is a social practice that, as much as possible, ensures to children the joint care of both biological parents, with the attendant benefits that brings; same-sex marriage ensures the opposite.

An overview of the other robust studies conducted on same-sex parenting can be found here.  Cliff notes: kids actually do need moms and dads.

“There is a difference” Doesn’t Surprise Serious Students of Family Structure

The consensus among sociologists is nearly unanimous- children raised in the low-conflict household of their married mother and father fare best.  Experts know this, because after decades of research on marriage and family, we have a mountain of data to support it.  Indeed, whenever social scientist are not studying same-sex parenting, they agree on three things:

  • Gender matters. Men and women parent in complementary ways, bringing distinct benefits to their children. When one gender is missing, particularly fathers, we see almost predictable patterns arising in children, specifically early sexual behavior among girls and problems with the law for boys.
  • Biology matters. We know from decades of research on the impact of divorce and co-habitation, that biological parents tend to be the safest, most invested and most permanent in a child’s life.  In contrast, non-biological caregivers tend to be more transitory, invest less time/resources, and be more dangerous to children living under their care.
  • It is widely acknowledged within the psychological community that children suffer trauma, and thus negative effects, when they lose one or both parents to divorce, abandonment (even if subsequently adopted), death, or third-party reproduction.

Given that every same-sex parented home will (by definition) be missing one gender’s influence, missing at least one biological parent, and thus the trauma that accompanies that loss, the claim of “no difference” merits serious skepticism.

What Do We Do With The Data?

For one thing, we don’t disparage members of the LGBT community or the kids they are raising. This is not a commentary on whether or not gay and lesbians are capable parents. One’s sexual attractions do not determine their capacity for child-rearing. A lesbian can be an exceptional mother, she just cannot be a father. A gay man can be a fantastic father; however he cannot, no matter how nurturing, be a mother. Children require and desire both.

Next, we acknowledge the obvious: children who grow up outside of a married mother-father home are not doomed. Conversely, a child raised by their married mother and father isn’t guaranteed a trouble-free life. But the research tells us that when children are raised by their married biological mother and father, the deck is stacked in their favor when it comes to their physical, emotional and psychological health. For those raised outside of the married mother-father home, whatever the household make-up may be, the kids are at a disadvantage statistically.

Finally, being honest and clear-minded about the data is critical as we collectively shape policy in this great republic of ours.  At the same time,this knowledge should motivate each of us to give our time, council, love, and treasure to children who need us.  We should invest in the lives of kids with single parents; be the loving woman to your niece who has two gay dads; be the protective man for the boy whose father bailed when his mother refused to abort; be the friend who allows the child of divorce to be honest about how much they hurt and don’t be afraid to tell them their pain is legitimate and real.

Family structure is serious business and children are depending on us to advocate on their behalf.

Let us use the truth as a precision tool, not a blunt force weapon.


Related: Stories of Donor-Conceived Kids with Gay Parents- Why “family break-up” doesn’t explain their struggles


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