[Paleopsych] NYT: Experts Dispute Bush on Gay-Adoption Issue

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Experts Dispute Bush on Gay-Adoption Issue
January 29, 2005


    Are children worse off being raised by gay or lesbian couples than by
    heterosexual parents?

    Responding on Thursday to a question about gay adoption, President
    Bush suggested that they were.

    "Studies have shown," Mr. Bush said in an interview with The New York
    Times, "that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family
    with a man and a woman."

    But experts say there is no scientific evidence that children raised
    by gay couples do any worse - socially, academically or emotionally -
    than their peers raised in more traditional households.

    The experts, who cross the political spectrum, say studies have shown
    that on average, children raised by two married heterosexual parents
    fare better on a number of measures, including school performance,
    than those raised by single parents or by parents who are living
    together but are unmarried.

    But, said Dr. Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York
    University, "there is not a single legitimate scholar out there who
    argues that growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for children."

    Dr. Stacey, who published a critical review of studies on the subject
    in 2001 and has argued in favor of allowing adoption by gays, added,
    "The debate among scientists is all about how good the studies we have
    really are."

    Since 1980, researchers have published about 25 studies comparing
    children from same-sex households with peers in traditional families,
    using measures of social adjustment, school performance, mental health
    and emotional resilience. Some of the studies have focused on
    elementary-school children, others on those not quite teenagers, a few
    on adolescents; a handful have followed children for years. Uniformly,
    the authors have reported that there are no significant developmental
    differences between the two groups of children.

    Yet the field is still highly controversial, in part because the
    research on gay households with children has so far tended to be
    small; usually no more than a couple of dozen families have been

    "You can't force families to participate, and there aren't that many
    of them out there to start with," said Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a
    professor of psychology at Northwestern University who has studied gay
    men raising boys.

    "There is also a strong volunteer bias: the families who want to
    participate might be much more open about sexual orientation" and
    eager to report positive outcomes, Dr. Bailey said.

    Critics of the studies have more often charged that it is the
    researchers who are biased, failing to probe aggressively enough to
    find differences.

    "In many of these studies, they simply aren't asking hard questions,"
    said Lynn Wardle, a law professor at Brigham Young University who has
    agued against adoption by gay couples.

    The researchers, Professor Wardle said, ask the families about the
    children's self-esteem, "about whether they have friends - soft and
    fuzzy questions - but not about sexual behavior, sexually transmitted
    disease and drug use."

    Dr. Stacey said one small survey of people raised in lesbian
    households, published in the late 1990's, did pointedly address sexual
    development and identity. In it, she said, two English researchers
    reported that of 30 young adults raised by lesbian parents, 6 had had
    a gay sexual relationship by the time they reached their 20's.

    She added that other small studies had also suggested that children
    raised in same-sex families might be more open in their attitudes
    toward gay relationships, if not gay themselves.

    "To me, it is plausible that their attitudes toward homosexuality
    would be more open, but here again the studies are not large enough to
    say anything for certain," she said, adding that a vast majority of
    these children grow up to be heterosexual.

    A more reliable finding, Dr. Stacey said, is that children in same-sex
    families tend to be more communicative with their parents.

    One undisputed reality for children raised by gay parents is that they
    tend to face teasing, discrimination and bullying in the schoolyard
    because of who their parents are. That many of these children can
    navigate such nastiness, on top of the usual social and emotional
    squalls of growing up, and still be found as well adjusted as their
    peers on standard psychological tests is remarkable in itself, some
    researchers say.

    As the political debate over same-sex parents becomes more
    contentious, the quality of the research appears to be getting better,
    some social scientists say. Last month psychologists at the University
    of Virginia and the University of Arizona published a study of 44
    adolescents from all over the country being raised in female same-sex

    The families, with a variety of income levels, were drawn from a huge,
    continuing national family survey. The survey was random, and
    therefore unaffected by the sort of volunteer bias created when, say,
    families with good stories to tell respond to advertisements placed by
    investigators. In addition, the interviews were conducted by a team of
    government researchers who were interested in a wide array of social
    and demographic factors, all but eliminating the researcher bias that
    some critics point to. The survey's results, published in the journal
    Child Development, confirmed some previous findings: the 44 girls and
    boys were typical American teenagers, the researchers found, no more
    confused or moody than a comparison group of 44 peers from similar but
    traditional families.

    "They even reported being more involved at school, in clubs,
    after-school activities, things like that," said the report's senior
    author, Dr. Charlotte Patterson, a professor of psychology at the
    University of Virginia. "I have no idea what that means, but we sure
    didn't expect it."

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