Menus Subscribe Search
marriage-rally

Rally for same-sex marriage in San Francisco, California. (PHOTO: STAFFORDVAUGHAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Once and for All: Gay Marriage Is Not Bad for Kids

• June 26, 2013 • 12:29 PM

Rally for same-sex marriage in San Francisco, California. (PHOTO: STAFFORDVAUGHAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

This morning’s landmark Supreme Court decisions put an end to a flawed argument DOMA supporters have been making for 16 years.

When the Supreme Court struck down the 16-year-old Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday morning as part of a pair of decisions that amount to a major victory for the gay rights movement, they also killed the argument that gay marriage is bad for children.

DOMA supporters have long claimed that kids are far better off when they have both a mother and a father at home. (They even go so far as to quote from a 2008 speech by President Obama, who supports same-sex marriage, in which he emphasized the role of fathers; “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation,” he said.) Just last week, Representative Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), the leading Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Georgia, told House colleagues on the floor that children would be better off is they were required to take classes on traditional gender roles.

“The children of same-sex parents are as emotionally healthy, and as educationally and socially successful, as children raised by heterosexual parents.”

“You know, maybe part of the problem is we need to go back into the schools at a very early age, maybe at the grade school level, and have a class for the young girls and have a class for the young boys and say, you know, this is what’s important,” he said. Speaking in defense of DOMA ahead of the Supreme Court decisions, Gingrey noted that, while he understands that the “father knows best” adage is dated, he still believes in it.

But Gingrey is not alone in subscribing to ideas from “back in the old days of television,” as he puts it. The argument that the children of same-sex couples are negatively influenced by the family structures in which they are raised came up multiple times during the oral arguments for this case. This, from an amicus brief of “social science professors” submitted to the Supreme Court: “With so many significant outstanding questions about whether children develop as well in same-sex households as in opposite-sex households, it remains prudent for government to continue to recognize marriage as a union of a man and a woman, thereby promoting what is known to be an ideal environment for raising children.”

As noted in a piece for The Atlantic by Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland-College Park (and sometimes contributor to Pacific Standard partner site Sociological Images), Justice Antonin Scalia returned to the 40-plus-page brief later: “[T]here’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not,” he said. Scalia would go on, along with Justice Samuel Alito, to write a dissent to today’s court ruling, and even read it from the bench, “a step justices take in a small share of cases, typically to show that they have especially strong views,” the New York Times reported.

Scalia might have especially strong views, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Or even that they have support.

The problem? That brief was found to be based on severely flawed studies. Over at his Family Inequality blog, Cohen runs through all of the evidence. It’s a fascinating story, as Cohen puts it, “of how Christian conservatives used big private money to produce knowledge in service of their political goals.”

In fact, there isn’t considerable disagreement among sociologists. As we note in the Five Studies column from our current July/August issue, this one on how we have thought about homosexuality over the past 150 years, “by now virtually all of the major psychiatric, psychological, sociological, and pediatric professional organizations have officially declared that ‘being gay is just as healthy as being straight,’ as the American Psychological Association puts it. That goes for the children of same-sex parents too.”

Also cited in amicus briefs put before the Supreme Court earlier this year was a meta-analysis by Cambridge University psychologist Michael Lamb of more than 100 studies over the last three decades. Lamb’s research concluded that “the children and adolescents of same-sex parents are as emotionally healthy, and as educationally and socially successful, as children and adolescents raised by heterosexual parents.” It was likely this research to which Kennedy was referring when he wrote, in today’s majority opinion (5-4), that DOMA “places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the state has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

If it wasn’t those briefs, then perhaps Kennedy is familiar with the latest sociological research on the subject. While not as comprehensive as Lamb’s meta-analysis, a look at 500 children between the ages of one and 17 as part of the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Familiar found that children with same-sex parents are actually healthier than those with opposite-sex parents. “Because of the situation that same-sex familiar find themselves in, they are generally more willing to communicate and approach the issues that any child may face at school, like teasing or bullying,” lead researcher Dr. Simon Crouch, a public health doctor and researcher at the University of Melbourne’s McCaughey VicHealth Centre, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “This fosters openness and means children tend to be more resilient. That would be our hypothesis.”

Father knows some things, certainly. But he’s not the only one who knows how to raise happy, healthy children.

Nicholas Jackson
Nicholas Jackson is the digital director of Pacific Standard. The former digital editorial director at Outside, he has also worked for The Atlantic, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Texas Monthly, Slate, and other publications, both online and in print. Reach him at njackson@psmag.com. Follow him on Twitter @nbj914.

More From Nicholas Jackson

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



September 15 • 2:04 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Do Places Make People?

We know that people make places, but does it also work the other way?


September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


September 12 • 12:00 PM

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you’d be if the government didn’t interfere with your life, but that’s not what the research shows.


September 12 • 10:00 AM

Whispering in the Town Square: Can Twitter Provide an Escape From All Its Noise?

Twitter has created its own buzzing, digital agora, but when users want to speak amongst themselves, they tend to leave for another platform. It’s a social network that helps you find people to talk to—but barely lets you do any talking.


September 12 • 9:03 AM

How Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human History

We thought we knew how we’d been shaped by evolution. We were wrong.


September 12 • 8:02 AM

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.


September 12 • 8:00 AM

I Walked Through the Financial Crisis

Why are former Wall Street employees guiding tourists around the Financial District? Paul Hiebert signed himself up and tried to find out.


September 12 • 7:05 AM

Scams, Scams, Everywhere


September 12 • 6:17 AM

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.


September 12 • 4:00 AM

Comfort Food Is a Myth

New research finds that, contrary to our beliefs, such foods don’t have any special ability to improve our moods.



September 11 • 4:00 PM

Reading the Camouflage Uniforms in Ferguson: ‘You Are Now Enemy Combatants’

Why are police officers wearing green or desert camouflage in a suburban environment?


September 11 • 2:00 PM

Wage Theft: How Two States Are Fighting Against Companies That Categorize Employees as Independent Contractors

New York and Illinois have passed hard-nosed laws and taken an aggressive tack toward misclassification.


September 11 • 11:03 AM

Yes, I’m a Good Person. But Did You Hear About Her?

A new study tracks how people experience moral issues in everyday life.


Follow us


To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

Searching for Everyday Morality

Experimenters use text messages to study morality beyond the lab.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.