Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Red Herring of "Abandonment"

A common ploy of anti-marriage equality folks is to say something along the lines of "But same-sex parenting requires some sort of sperm or egg abandonment or relinquishment by a biological parent, thus the child suffers psychological harm at being abandoned by a biological parent."

And that is their basis for wanting to deny same-sex couples the right to get married and/or the right to have children.

Over at Opine Editorials, I have engaged in a dialogue on this very topic:.

I asked Renee the following questions:

"SO what do you suggest, Renee? What is YOUR solution to this problem of "abandonment?"

Do you propose that only married, heterosexual couples be allowed to have children?

And what should happen to them if they divorce post-procreation? Should they then be arrested? Should the children be taken away from them? Should they be forced to stay married?

Do you propose that gays and lesbians not be legally allowed to have children? How do you reconcile that with people's freedom to live their lives in ways that make them happy?

And how do you reconcile the fact that a child *may* feel a sense of abandonment because they came from a sperm donor, but may also at the same time live a completely happy fulfilled life with its two same-gender parents who raised him or her? There are worse ways to grow up than having two loving parents who happen to be of the same gender.

All of this is asked in all seriousness.

Because, like or not (and I know you don't) the world and its people will never obey your strict demands. Gays and lesbians will always exist, and they will keep having children. Heterosexual couples will still get divorced. And single mothers will still raise children by themselves.

Instead of complaining about all the problems gay people cause and how awful it is to be raised by a single or divorced mother, why don't you talk solutions, for once?"

Fitz, thus far, has been the only one to answer:

"Yes people are very selfish.

I think we can do alot[sic] to reduce divorce.

Single mothers usually dont get pregnant attentionally[sic].

But these selfish gay people who intentionally bring children into the world only to deny them their mother or father.

Well - No need to actively encourage & subsidize this selfish behavior.

I think we will start by defending marriages [sic] very definition."

Sweet Baby Jessica, I forgot about the "gay-people-as-selfish" argument.

Perhaps he hasn't ready the studies that the rest of the civilized and professional world has read (showing that gay parents cause no harm to children, and that children of gay parents do not suffer from any more harmful pyschological effects than children of straight parents). Or perhaps he has read them, and he is in blatant denial of them, because he is already too deep in his own bigotry to turn back now.

I'll end with this one quote, because I think a lot of the anti-SSM crowd by now is just stubbornly clinging to the supposed superiority of their own flawed moral system despite all evidence that they are wrong:

Pride attaches undue importance to the superiority of one's status in the eyes of others; And shame is fear of humiliation at one's inferior status in the estimation of others. When one sets his heart on being highly esteemed, and achieves such rating, then he is automatically involved in fear of losing his status.”--Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Real world benefits of civil marriage and the research that proves it #2: It's Better for The Children

Welcome to Round Two of my series, showing scientific evidence of the real world benefits to marriage and losses that acrue from lack of marriage as an option to gay couples. Let the fun begin!

Again, as with my first article, I challenge any anti-gay or anti-marriage equality opponents to rebuke the article.

Random, irrelevant cites to other websites and personal attacks will not be tolerated, please and thank you.

The next article in this series is titled "The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-Being of Children." It is an analysis examining the effects of marriage laws on the legal, financial, and psychosocial health of children.

In 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics (official professional organization for pediatricians, "Dedicated to the health of all children") commissioned the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, the Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care; the Committee on Adolescence, the Committee on State Government Affairs, the Committee on Federal Government Affairs, and the Section on Adoption and Foster Care to develop an analysis examining the effects of marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership statutes and amendments on the legal, financial, and psychosocial health and well-being of children whose parents are gay or lesbian.

As the article states:

"In developing this analysis, the involved committees and section held before them the AAP's core philosophy—that the family is the principal caregiver and the center of strength and support for children. Together with this philosophy, contributors recognized the reality that our gay and lesbian patients grow up to be gay and lesbian adults. Because many pediatricians are fortunate to care for 2 or more generations of a family, we are likely to encounter and remain involved with our patients, regardless of sexual orientation, as they mature and mark the milestones of establishing a committed partnership with another adult, deciding to raise a family, and entrusting the health and well-being of their own children to us."
[emphasis added]

This analysis explores the admittedly unique and complex challenges that same-gender couples and their children face as a result of public policy that excludes them from civil marriage.

For clarity, the report first defines all of its important terms.

For example, it makes the distinction between civil and religious marriage.

Civil marriage being "a legal status established through a license issued by a state government. Such status grants legal rights to, and imposes legal obligations on, the 2 married partners."

Religious marriage being "a liturgical rite, a sacrament, or a solemnization of the uniting of 2 persons and is recognized by the hierarchy and adherents of that religious group. The hierarchy, clergy, and in some cases members of religious organizations, establish their own criteria and rules for who may marry within their assemblies. They are not bound by statutory definitions of marriage."

Religious marriages, of course, vary by religion. Further, state and federal regulations have no authority over a religious organization's autonomy.

This effectively clears the path of any room for debate and opposition to civil marriage between same-gender partners on the basis of religion.

The article also notes the mistake that many who oppose marriage equality make: "Because clergy in the United States are vested with the authority of the government for purposes of civil marriage, many people are not aware of the distinction between civil and religious marriage and assume that the 2 are inextricably linked." (when, in fact, civil marriages take place all the time without the involvment of any religious head or authority figure). This article ONLY discusses civil marriages, leaving religious marriage issues to those religions and religious individuals.

Background Demographics

Specific Census 2000 findings include:

Same-gender couples live in 99.3% of all US counties.

Same-gender couples are raising children in at least 96% of all US counties.

Nearly one quarter of all same-gender couples are raising children.

Nationwide, 34.3% of lesbian couples are raising children, and 22.3% of gay male couples are raising children (compared with 45.6% of married heterosexual and 43.1% of unmarried heterosexual couples raising children).

Six percent of same-gender couples are raising children who have been adopted compared with 5.1% of heterosexual married couples and 2.6% of unmarried heterosexual couples.

Eight percent of same-gender parents are raising children with special health care needs, compared with 8.3% of heterosexual unmarried parents and 5.8% of heterosexual married parents.

Of same-gender partners raising children, 41.1% have been together for 5 years or longer, whereas 19.9% of heterosexual unmarried couples have stayed together for that duration. [emphasis added]

As one can see, gay people are everywhere in this country. Many people who oppose marriage equality think they don't know gay people. Or they think the laws do not affect real people. They do. Every day and everywhere.

For a chart listing the comparison of Civil Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws, go here.

As the article notes:

"With the exception of the states and jurisdiction mentioned in Table 1 and a small number of counties and municipalities, same-gender couples and their children are not afforded legal recognition or protection under the law. In fact, public-policy makers at all levels of government have moved to enact legislation to prohibit any type of legal recognition of same-gender partnerships and parenting. In addition, state constitutional amendments prohibiting same-gender civil marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership have established de facto blanket prohibitions on prospective legislation favorable to same-gender couples and their children, thereby restricting their access to the political process itself."

Instead of discussing the legal and financial effects such laws have on same-gender couples, as the article does, I will focus instead on health and psychosocial effects. For legal info please read the article.

So, let's talk psychosocial effects of being gay in the first place.

The AAP states "As children, many gay and lesbian persons experience considerable isolation, peer rejection, ridicule, harassment, and/or depression at some time. At least 47% of gay and lesbian teens have seriously considered suicide, and 36% have actually attempted suicide. They may experience rejection by their families, homelessness, maltreatment in school, and violence. As adults, gay and lesbian people continue to experience social marginalization, discrimination, and hate-crime violence.

...The lack of societal tolerance, acceptance, and support that gay and lesbian individuals, couples, and their children experience can and does affect their psychosocial and physical health and safety."

So, there you have it. Gays and lesbians suffer from psychosocial and physical health effects, not because they are inherently wrong/immoral, but because they live in a society that largely and historically has been very intolerant towards them. It's a vicious cycle. Fannie wrote an excellent article last week about apologies due to the African-American community for slavery by all of us. She discussed why and how black people are still suffering from those effects, and how white people don't want to admit it, "because I never owned any slaves." Perhaps an official apology to the GLBT community is also in store from the men and women who created the myth of gay people as wrong/abberant/immoral/etc.

Not only do gay and lesbians suffer from such hatred, their children are often victims. For example, children whose parents are the same gender may face marginalization at school or friends' houses by children and adults who do not approve of same-sex relationships or gay parenting. Children who experience this type of harrassment may not know the appropriate avenues (or have any avenues available in the first place) for seeking support when they face such obstacles from their peers or peers' parents.

Psychosocial Characteristics of Gay and Lesbian Parents and Their Children

Most discriminatory practices are based on the assumption that lesbian mothers and gay fathers are different from heterosexual parents in ways that are detrimental to the health and well-being of their children. In reality, few differences have been found in the past 3 decades in the research area of gay parenting. In fact, lesbian mothers have been found to be more concerned with finding male role models for their children than are divorced heterosexual mothers. Lesbian and heterosexual mothers describe themselves similarly in marital and maternal interests, current lifestyles, and child-rearing practices. And lesbian mothers fall within the same ranges of psychological functioning on interviews AND psychological assessments as heterosexual mothers.

Empirical evidence reveals that gay fathers have substantial evidence of nurturance and investment in their parental roles as heterosexual fathers. And, "Gay fathers have been described to adhere to strict disciplinary guidelines, to place an emphasis on guidance and the development of cognitive skills, and to be involved in their children's activities. Overall, there are more similarities than differences in the parenting styles and attitudes of gay and nongay fathers."

As far as the children are concerned, most children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers have experienced the divorce and subsequent relationships of one or both of the biological parents. Therefore, their psychological development must be understood in that context. What is also important is whether they are then raised by 1 or 2 biological parents and whether one or both parents has introduced a step-parent into the picture.

What is interesting in this article, is the only negative difference children of lesbian mothers had growing up is more reported teasing from childhood peers than that of divorced heterosexual mothers. In other words, the negative effect is not intrinsic within the lesbian mothers' roles as mothers. It is an extrinsic difference stemming from society's own intolerance of gays and lesbians.

In general, however, children of gay and lesbian parents have been found to have normal relationships with childhood peers and to maintain appropriate relationships for their developmental levels. Actually, children growing up with gay and lesbian parents have been found to be more tolerant of diversity and more nurturing towards younger children; while children of heterosexual parents have been found (by parents and teachers) to be more bossy, domineering, and negative.

Children of lesbian parents in particular saw themselves as "more lovable," and were seen by parents and teachers as more affectionate, responsive, and protective of younger children, when compared to children of heterosexual parents.

Recent publications from 2 population-based studies lends further evidence that children's well-being is not threatened as a result of growing up with lesbian parents. As the AAP notes, "The importance of these studies is that the research was planned and conducted by people who had no particular interest or investment in research regarding same-gender parents." [see original article for these studies, which were published in the journals Developmental Psychology and Child Development] Both of the studies mentioned used sample sizes of 14,000 and 12,000, respectively.

While the enactment of civil marriage in MA has just now opened the door to researching how exactly this affects gay and lesbian relationships and their children, current research is already showing that civil marriage as an option for gay and lesbian couples "may strengthen ties between partners, their children, and their extended families."

Not bad for people who are supposedly "anti-family," huh?

The AAP closes the article with the following statement, which represents the ideal with which they conduct their research and professional practices:

"In all its work, the AAP is committed to calling attention to the inextricable link between the health and well-being of all children, the support and encouragement of all parents, and the protection of strong family relationships."

Further, it states:

"Civil marriage is a legal status that promotes healthy families by conferring a powerful set of rights, benefits, and protections that cannot be obtained by other means. Civil marriage can help foster financial and legal security, psychosocial stability, and an augmented sense of societal acceptance and support. Legal recognition of a spouse can increase the ability of adult couples to provide and care for one another and fosters a nurturing and secure environment for their children. Children who are raised by civilly married parents benefit from the legal status granted to their parents.

Gay and lesbian people have been raising children for many years and will continue to do so in the future; the issue is whether these children will be raised by parents who have the rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage. Same-gender couples are denied the right to civil marriage in every state except Massachusetts and the right to civil union except in Connecticut and Vermont. The federal government and other state governments do not recognize those civil marriages and civil unions.

There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families."

I am positive that if any anti-gay person tries to refute this article, it will be on their usual grounds:

"Well, there is a known liberal bias in academia/medicine/research"

I really urge them to try a different route. I fail to see where the American Academy of Pediatrics, has any concern or "hidden agenda" other than the health of children.

I do, however, have serious doubts about where anti-gay people/blogs/organizations have (mis)placed their concerns and agendas.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

May you all enjoy your day, whether single or taken.

More real articles to come soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Freedom to Marry Day!

For an excellent article on Freedom to Marry Day, and marriage equality, in general, go here.

As Evan Wolfson puts it best:

"As Americans across the country celebrate Freedom to Marry Day today, seizing the opportunity to have conversations with family members, friends, and coworkers about the importance of ending same-sex couples' exclusion from marriage, hopefully they'll talk a lot about gay couples and why marriage matters -- without saying "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage." Same-sex couples, their kids and loved ones, and those of us who favor equal justice in America are not working to win "gay marriage." We are working to win the freedom to marry, ending the current unfair denial of marriage to those who are already doing the work of marriage in their own lives."

Let's take this day to tell someone why freedom to marry is important for everyone!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Real world benefits of legal marriage and the research that proves it #1

This will be the first in a series of articles, similar to Fannie's Room's "Benefits of Marriage" series, where I discuss the real-world benefits of a legal marital relationship in the context of scientific research.

In this series, I will pick studies from a number of professional and/or scholarly journals, and discuss their findings. They will all deal with same-sex relationships as compared to heterosexual relationships in some way. This is important because most of the research that anti-gay websites and groups (mis)use to promote their anti-gay agendas usually don't even have same-sex relationships or gay people as the test subjects.

When anti-gay websites and groups discuss gay parenting and its evils, I have yet to see them use any reputable studies that involve gay parents.

When anti-gay websites and groups discuss the pitfalls of gay marriage, they have yet to display any evidence that anyone or any society will be hurt when gays are allowed to marry. They expect their pessimistic predictions to stand on their own (broken) feet.

Here, I will discuss current research that explicitly includes gay people, gay parents, or gay relationships as compared to heterosexual relationships. Further, I will discuss why and how these findings prove that same-sex couples are missing out on the pursuit of happiness that opposite-sex couples have and (often) take for granted.

Let's begin, shall we?

The first study in this series is from a 2005 issue of The Journal of Family Communication. It was conducted by Stephen M. Haas (University of Cincinnati) and Laura Stafford (The Ohio State University), and is titled, "Maintenance Behaviors in Same-Sex and Marital Relationships: A Matched Sample Comparison."

The purpose of the study was an "attempt to explore relationship maintenance behaviors of on-going same-sex relationships through direct comparison with those used in heterosexual marriages" (p. 43).

For some background, the concept of "relationship maintenance" in romantic relationships has been gaining increased attention for about the past 15 years. The existing research has delved into the strategies and behaviors that romantic partners use in sustaining intimate relationships. For purposes of this article, I will use the same defintion of "relationship maintenance" that the co-authors in the study use: using communicative strategies and behaviors to prevent relationship dissolution through "parties' efforts to sustain a dynamic equilibrium in their relationship defintion and satisfaction levels as they cope with the ebb and flow of everyday relating" (Baxter & Dindia, 1990, p. 188).

What is also important is that the researchers specifically make note of the unique place in everyone's lives that romantic relationships play. While distractors and anti-gay opponents often denouce gay couples as mere "friendships" (not to take away from any friendships per se out there) or the lack of procreative abilities of gay couples, most researchers in every discipline recognize the truly unique functions and roles of romantic relationships.

For example, several studies in the field of communication alone have shown that romantic relationships fulfill several needs that other "confiding" relationships--such as with a parent, sibling, or friend--do not. In other words, these other "confiding relationships," though important in their own rights, can not and do not compensate for the "confiding intimacy" of a romantic relationship (for all the studies cited, and there are many, please see original article). Among other needs that romantic relationships fulfill are are love, affection, intimacy, sexual activity, and social support.

The authors acknowledge that the existing research has focused almost exclusively on white, heterosexual, middle-class couples. Therefore, research involving racial minorities, different income levels/socio-economic status, and sexual orientation is lacking. Haas and Stafford, as a result of this, are exploring the relationship maintenance behaviors in same-sex couples as compared to opposite-sex couples in an attempt to begin to make up for the lack of diverse research.

Or, as they explain:

This study seeks to extend our understanding of relationship maintenance behaviors by explicitly comparing the strategies and behaviors reported in ongoing, same-sex relationships to those reported in ongoing heterosexual married relationships. Directly compared similarities or differences between these two groups have the potential (a) to increase our understanding of maintenance strategies and behaviors used in the understudied population of gay and lesbian relationships and (b) to move beyond using marital couples as a standard, in favor of studies that directly compare relational maintenance behaviors across couple types (p. 44). [emphasis added]

I'll discuss why the emphasis was added to the above paragraph when I discuss the findings, which relate to the real-world benefits of marriage, and how not being able to get married affects real people in real ways.

While gay couples are understudied when compared to heterosexual married and dating couples, studies dating back to 1983 and beyond have found that people enter into same-sex relationships for the same reasons they enter into opposite-sex relationships: to establish long-term, committed, and satisfying relationships for love, affection, and companionship. [again, see original study for sources cited]


Open-ended questionnaire responses were solicited from a convenience sample of 30 individuals involved in ongoing, committed gay or lesbian relationships (15 men and 15 women). Participants were chosen through a community-based network sampling technique, and they all described themselves as being "committed" when given the options of "dating," "seriously dating," or "committed." In order to directly compare same-sex with opposite-sex maintenance behaviors, 30 married individuals were then chosen from participants in a larger study regarding maintenance behaviors. The heterosexual individuals were matched the gay and lesbian individuals as closely as possible based on the following characteristics: biological sex, age, education level, and length of relationship.

The average age of the gay and lesbians was 34 years 3 months, and the average age of the heterosexuals was 34 years 5 months. The average length of relationships for both groups was 5 years 4 months (range 1 year to 10 years 3 months). The gay and lesbian group's education level was relatively highly educated (50% obtaining graduate level degree), and the heterosexual cohort matched this education level.

The first portion of the questionnaire asked for demographic information. The second portion consisted of an open-ended question concerning maintenance behavior use ("Please offer examples of behaviors (positive and/or negative) that you have used to maintain your relationship. This was followed by a question to probe "routine" behaviors. Participants were then asked to answer these same two questions regarding their partner's maintenance behaviors.


After all the responses were examined for goodness of fit, duplicate answers (by the same participant) thrown out, remaining answers coded into the chosen behavior categories (Stafford and Canary's typology from 1991), content analysis was performed and the responses were ranked for each of the two groups (gay/lesbian commited couples and heterosexual married couples) based on prevalence.

Hypothesis 1 proposed that individuals in same-sex and heteresexual relationships would report similar behaviors in maintaining their ongoing relationships. Overall, the findings supported this hypothesis. The typological behaviors reported in the original typography from Dainton and Stafford's heterosexual studies were reported by the gay and lesbian couples in this study.

But is anyone really surprised?

Our opponents like to compare the gay or lesbian romantic relationship to a "friendship," when in reality they must know that the relationships are much more analogous to the heterosexual romantic relationship. But they will do anything to make gay people and their relationships appear "less real" or "less than."

Now, on to the discussion and interpretation of the results.

The following is a list of most prevalent relationship maintenance behaviors of opposite-sex couples compared to same-sex couples:

Top 5 relationship maintenance behaviors in opposite-sex couples:
1. Shared tasks (83.3%) [eg-making dinner/paying bills together]
2. Proactive prosocial behaviors (66.7%) [eg-"I use humor"]
3. Favors/gifts (60%) tied with comfort/support measures (60%)
4. Self-disclosure (53.5%) [eg-"she is always completely honest with me."]
5. Affection (50%) [eg-displays of fondness or sexual intimacy]

Top 5 relationship maintenance behaviors in same-sex couples:
1. Shared tasks (73.3%)
2. Meta-relational communication (53.3%) [discuss the relationship]
3. Joint activities (50.0%) [spending time with each other]
4. Reactive prosocial behaviors (46.6%) [eg-"I'm willing to change things that bother her."]
5. Overt expressions (43.3%) [eg-"I tell her I love her."] tied with Empathic behaviors (43.3%) [eg-"We respect each other's differences."]


So, what are some implications of this study? First, the authors fully admit that there are limitations to the study, the small sample size being the most obvious one. It is difficult, as in most research involving gay people, to find willing participants from any marginalized or stigmatized group of society. It is even more difficult to recruit a subgroup of said marginalized group of society. That being said, the open-ended nature of the methodology provided a broader means for participants to provide insight into their maintenance behaviors.

I would like to focus on the differences this study found between the maintenance behaviors of the two groups. While both groups overall used similar behaviors, the frequency of of some versus others is evidence of some important differences.

For example the second-most common relationship maintenance behaviors in the heterosexual couples was "proactive prosocial behaviors" (like gift-giving), while the second-most common in the gay and lesbian couples was "meta-relational communication" (eg- discussing the actual relationship). This finding may indicate an important focus in same-sex relationships.

Whereas heterosexual couples have legal status and documentation to reflect their commmited, long-term relationships, gay and lesbian couples only have the emotional commitment. As Haas and Stafford note, "the focus on meta-relational communication...may be a reflection of lacking a legal bond to hold the relationship together...It appears to some degree that heterosexual married couples may take for granted that they are bound together through legal marriage, whereas gays and lesbians must frequently 'take the pulse' of the relationship to assess its status."

In many ways, it seems that committed gay and lesbian couples, no matter how long they have been together, often do not get past a "dating" mentality. Without a legally recognized step up on the relationship hierarchy, it opens the door for many gays and lesbians to walk out on a relationship much easier than heterosexual people. If people are against gay marriage on the grounds that "gays are promiscuous and don't want to get married anyway," then why not at least give them a chance to prove it? Without a legal option for marriage, yes, I imagine more gays and lesbians will be more "promiscuous" than heterosexual people.

That's not to mention the emotional security and stability that legal marriage provides to people.

But wait, I forgot. Conservatives don't care about emotions. It's all about procreation and coitus and "natural families." Oh. And The Children.

Another interesting finding, speaking of qualitative differences, is the fact that heterosexual couples are able to focus on positive things (proactive prosocial) like giving gifts and using humor more frequently, while the gay and lesbian couples were assessing the relationship status at nearly the same frequencies.

I suppose it is easier to focus on the little pleasantries in your relationship when you have a legal commitment to your committed partner.

In all, this study suggests that there are, in fact, qualitative differences in relationship maintenance behaviors between same-sex and opposite-sex couples that married heterosexual couples take for granted.

Cite for Article:

Haas, S.M. & Stafford, L. (2005). Maintenance behaviors in same-sex and marital relationships: A matched sample comparison. The Journal of Family Communication,5(1), 43-60.