The Mother of All Same-Sex Parenting Studies

I have had several conversation recently on the studies that supposedly 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 interesting that many who pride themselves on valuing science and data would swallow this claim without really understanding the evidence. If you truly want to understand the research on this subject, 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. Because of sampling limitations, we still know very little about family functioning among same-sex adoptive families with low or moderate incomes, those with several children, or those with older children, including adolescents or how family functioning may change over time. 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 reporting vs. actual child outcomes, short duration, etc.) to reach their conclusions.

This should come as no surprise to those who are serious students of family structure. After all, whenever social scientist are NOT studying same-sex parenting, they agree on three things:

  • 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.
  • It is widely acknowledged within the psychological community that children suffer trauma when they lose one or both parents to divorce, abandonment (even if subsequently adopted), death, or third-party reproduction.
  • We know from decades of research on the impact of divorce and co-habitation, that non-biological caregivers tend to be more transitory, invest less time/resources, and be more dangerous to children living under their care.

Given that every same-sex parented home will by design be missing one gender’s influence and will require the loss of at least one biological parent, an event from which no child escapes unscathed, the claim of “no difference” merits some skepticism.

So, if you want a peek at a serious study on same-sex parenting- not one with a mere 20-400 (volunteer or recruited) participants- here’s the study for you. The National Health Interview Study, 1.6 million cases yielding 512 Same Sex parent families:

Since 1957 the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics has annually interviewed between 35,000 and 40,000 households, collecting data on 75,000 to 100,000 individuals comprising a nationally representative sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States. The present study examines combined 1997-2013 NHIS data, consisting of information on 1,598,006 persons, including 207,007 sample children. This sample included 2,751 same sex couples—2,304 cohabiting and 447 spousal—consisting of 1,387 male couples and 1,384 female couples; 582 couples—406 female and 176 male—had children under age 18 in the home. A more extensive battery of health questions, including the measures of emotional health used in this study, was completed for 512 children sampled, one per family, from the same-sex parenting families.

This chart outlines the major findings.*


That’s a little  different than “no difference.”




Dr. Sullins, who analyzed the NHIS data, 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.

Let me be clear.  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 and I know several men who fit this description. However, a gay man cannot, no matter how nurturing, be a mother. Children require and desire both.

Children who grow up outside of a married mother-father home are not doomed. Conversely, if a child is raised by their married mother and father, it’s no guarantee that all will be rosy. But the research tells us that when children are raised by both biological parents within the stability of marriage, the deck is stacked in their favor in the areas of physical, emotional, psychological health. For those raised outside of the married mother-father home, whatever the household make-up may be, kids start out at a disadvantage.

Lastly, being honest and clear-minded about the data is critical in our role as policy-maker, which is every one of us in this great republic of ours. But, as repeated elsewhere on this blog, none of this should have an impact on whether or not we support, love and encourage those who are growing up outside of an in-tact home. Christians especially are charged with reaching out and initiating relationship with those who might be on the “other side” of this issue, or any issue.

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

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


*When I originally posted this article, it included two chart from a separate study that I mistakenly attributed to the NHIS.  That study, also analyzing national health data, the can be found here:



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