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.


rem said...

Well done.

rem said...

One more thing. It just so happens that I am currently writing on the same topic and one thing I keep coming across in my research is the finding that "these children are no more likely to be homosexual." This then becomes a part of the advocate’s arsenal. But I have to ask what? How do things like that finding land next to things like, "these children are emotionally, cognitively, socially, and behaviorally on par and do not suffer from greater instances of depression, anxiety, or self-esteem issues." I mean, really? Poor self-esteem and cognitive impairment = bad. Being gay or a lesbian = good (as in just as "good" as being heterosexual). My point being, this may be a "point of interest" but nothing more. I don't even want this mentioned when I advocate for same-sex parenting. NOT turning out gay isn't a selling point for me and it shouldn't be for anyone else either.

Jane Know said...

I agree completely. I left that part out of my synopsis of the article for the same reason. The AAP devotes an entire section telling us how the children of gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to be gay than those of heterosexual parents. But it is irrelevant, I believe, to the discussion. Being gay isn't inherently wrong or unhealthy. It has been societal intolerance that has told people that... and if gay people have more psychosocial problems than heterosexual people, I would argue that it ONLY stems from societal intolerance, not from the gay people's biologies, nor from their psyches. It is because certain parts of society tells them they are wrong, many of their families tell them they are wrong, and many of their churches tell them they are wrong.

Not because they have actually done anything wrong but be themselves.

I actually can't imagine that NOT causing psychosocial issues for most gay people.

As a disclaimer, I don't actually know the rates of psychosocial problems that gays and lesbians have in comparison to heterosexuals. But it my field, we are learning that previous held notions of lesbians and gay men using drugs/drinking/smoking at higher rates than heterosexuals have actually been exaggerated, and the rates are comparable to heterosexuals.

rem said...

Studies have found that children of gay and lesbian couples are less likely to present with psychosocial problems than children of heterosexual couples.* Keep in mind that many children of same-sex couples are children of divorce (their biological parents having divorced) and STILL they present less often. The only instances in which children of same-sex couples present with negative developments related to their parents being gay or lesbian is the occasional occurrence of anxiety that their community will tease them. Again, a social construct that needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt. It's not a result of bad parenting. It's a result of a society that fosters bigotry.

rem said...

*i can link someone to these studies by request.

John said...

"...But it my field, we are learning that previous held notions of lesbians and gay men using drugs/drinking/smoking at higher rates..."

I think it is wise to distinguish between drug use and abuse.

Maybe it's the old hippie in me, but everyone I know used drugs; none abused.

And rem, I would be interested in reading the studies you mentioned.

rem said...

It won't let me link you for some reason but I'm sure if you search you can start with Mezzan, W. & Rauch, J. (2005). Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and American's Children. it's in The Future of Children, 15.2, 97-113. And then within that study there are links to four other studies.

John said...

Thanks, rem. I found the information you recommended.

Interesting, but really, the results are, or ought to be, self-evident.

rem said...

I agree John. As it goes, "The kids are alright." How are the rest of us doing?

John said...

"The kids are alright."

Big Smile !

"The Kids are Alright" is a constant theme for me in my debates. I absolutely love kids and I think today's teenagers are simply the best ever.

They are, by and large, decent, moral and fair minded.

Fannie said...

Good job, Jane!

You wrote,

"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."

I'm really glad you brought this up. I often hear the argument that gays and lesbians should not be parents because their kids will be teased. It's like, really? Then don't tease them.

John said...

"Then don't tease them."

Goddamn right. Let's stop blaming the victims.

I was teased and bullied to the point where I resorted to violence, and I came from the most traditional of families.

Jane Know said...

that's as bad as the "why do gays want to get married anyway? do they really wanna deal with the headache of a divorce like I'm doing?" argument. don't patronize us. give us the chance to decide what we want.

I agree about kids. As we've discussed before, America's kids don't need anyone to "save" them. Whether it's from the right or the left. Kids are resilient. Whether marriage equality ever passes or not, the children of gay and lesbian parents will continue to grow up normally and feeling loved by their two same-gender parents.

hammerpants said...

Great article, Jane. I really appreciate this series.

Jane Know said...

Thanks, Hammerpants. :-)

I've noticed that none of our opponents, as yet, has tried to engage us in dialogue regarding these specific articles I've summarized. Hmmm...

Just sayin...