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Same-sex marriage (SSM):

Children in families led by same-sex parents

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Status of sudies on same-sex marriage (SSM) as of 2004:

Nobody knew, with accuracy, how children raised in families headed by same-sex parents fare in comparison with children who live in families led by opposite-sex couples.

  • Those opposed to same-sex marriage (SSM) often point to studies which show that children raised in families headed by a father and mother fare much better, both in childhood and later as adults. But further examination shows that most of these studies are not applicable here, because they  compare families with opposite-sex parents to single-parent families, not with those headed by same-sex parents. Of course, many -- perhaps most -- children in single-parent families will be disadvantaged because of poverty, and the lack of a second parent to give the children more care and attention than one parent can provide.

  • Those who advocate same-sex marriage often point to studies which show that children raised in two-parent families do well, regardless of whether the parents are of the same sex or opposite sex. But most of these studies are deeply flawed because:
    • They involve self-selected subjects, and/or
    • They do not study families over a sufficiently long interval, and/or
    • They demonstrate bias on the part of the researchers.

In 2003, according to Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert, of The Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, Canada: "...there are no large-scale studies of the life of..." same-sex couples with children. 1 Although there are many such couples who have lived in a committed relationship for many decades, it is only recently that researchers have begun to study them. She commented that her paper: "...utilizes research material from 1990 on because the social conditions affecting lesbigay families evolved considerably after 1990; thus, studies from the 1970s and 1980s may not be quite as relevant as more recent ones."

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1996: Evaluation of same-sex parenting by a Hawaiian court:

SSM was evaluated by the Circuit Court of Hawaii. The court had been asked by the Hawaii Supreme Court to determine if the state had a compelling interest in banning same-sex marriages. All of the expert witnesses, both for the plaintiffs and the defense said that gay and lesbian couples are as fit as parents and as loving as opposite sex couples.

In 1997, Judge Kevin Chang of the Circuit Court ruled that the state had no such compelling interest. He determined that:

There certainly is a benefit to children which comes from being raised by their mother and father in an intact and relatively stress-free home. However, there is a diversity in the structure and configuration of families" today, including single parents, divorced parents, stepparents, adoptive parents and gay and lesbian parents. "The evidence presented by [the] plaintiffs and defendant establishes that the single most important factor in the development of a happy, healthy and well-adjusted child is the nurturing relationship between parent and child."

He ruled that:

  1. The State did not prove its major contention that, all things being equal, a child is best raised by his/her biological parents or a married man and woman.
  2. The state did not prove that same-sex marriages would adversely affect the development of their children.
  3. The most important factor for child development is the nurturing relationship between a parent and a child.
  4. Sexual orientation of parents is not an indication of parental fitness.
  5. Gays and lesbians, as well as opposite sex couples, can be fit and loving parents. 2
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Year 2003: Evaluation of same-sex parenting by a Massachusetts court:

About a decade later, not much had changed. No longitudinal, reliable study of same-sex parents had yet been published. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its ruling Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health. This is the decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Both the plaintiffs and defendants cited studies of same-sex parenting. However, there were still no reliable definitive, studies to determine whether children in families led by same-sex couples fare any better or worse than children in families led by opposite-sex couples.

Justice Sosman disagreed with the legalization of SSM. She wrote, in part:

"Based on our own philosophy of child rearing, and on our observations of the children being raised by same-sex couples to whom we are personally close, we may be of the view that what matters to children is not the gender, or sexual orientation, or even the number of the adults who raise them, but rather whether those adults provide the children with a nurturing, stable, safe, consistent, and supportive environment in which to mature. Same-sex couples can provide their children with the requisite nurturing, stable, safe, consistent, and supportive environment in which to mature, just as opposite-sex couples do."

"Conspicuously absent from the court's opinion today is any acknowledgment that the attempts at scientific study of the ramifications of raising children in same-sex couple households are themselves in their infancy and have so far produced inconclusive and conflicting results. Notwithstanding our belief that gender and sexual orientation of parents should not matter to the success of the child rearing venture, studies to date reveal that there are still some observable differences between children raised by opposite-sex couples and children raised by same-sex couples...Interpretation of the data gathered by those studies then becomes clouded by the personal and political beliefs of the investigators, both as to whether the differences identified are positive or negative, and as to the untested explanations of what might account for those differences. (This is hardly the first time in history that the ostensible steel of the scientific method has melted and buckled under the intense heat of political and religious passions.) Even in the absence of bias or political agenda behind the various studies of children raised by same-sex couples, the most neutral and strict application of scientific principles to this field would be constrained by the limited period of observation that has been available. Gay and lesbian couples living together openly, and official recognition of them as their children's sole parents, comprise a very recent phenomenon, and the recency of that phenomenon has not yet permitted any study of how those children fare as adults and at best minimal study of how they fare during their adolescent years. The Legislature can rationally view the state of the scientific evidence as unsettled on the critical question it now faces: Are families headed by same- sex parents equally successful in rearing children from infancy to adulthood as families headed by parents of opposite sexes? Our belief that children raised by same-sex couples should fare the same as children raised in traditional families is just that: a passionately held but utterly untested belief. The Legislature is not required to share that belief but may, as the creator of the institution of civil marriage, wish to see the proof before making a fundamental alteration to that institution....." 3

Justice C.J. Marshall agreed with the majority who were in favor of legalizing SSM, and wrote, in part:

"No one disputes that the plaintiff couples are families, that many are parents, and that the children they are raising, like all children, need and should have the fullest opportunity to grow up in a secure, protected family unit. Similarly, no one disputes that, under the rubric of marriage, the State provides a cornucopia of substantial benefits to married parents and their children. The preferential treatment of civil marriage reflects the Legislature's conclusion that marriage 'is the foremost setting for the education and socialization of children' precisely because it 'encourages parents to remain committed to each other and to their children as they grow'...."

"In this case, we are confronted with an entire, sizeable class of parents raising children who have absolutely no access to civil marriage and its protections because they are forbidden from procuring a marriage license. It cannot be rational under our laws, and indeed it is not permitted, to penalize children by depriving them of State benefits because the State disapproves of their parents' sexual orientation." 3

Justice J. Cordy also disagreed with the legalization of SSM, and wrote, in part:

"We must assume that the Legislature:

  1. might conclude that the institution of civil marriage has successfully and continually provided this structure over several centuries;
  2. might consider and credit studies that document negative consequences that too often follow children either born outside of marriage or raised in households lacking either a father or a mother figure,...and scholarly commentary contending that children and families develop best when mothers and fathers are partners in their parenting; and
  3. would be familiar with many recent studies that variously:
    • support the proposition that children raised in intact families headed by same-sex couples fare as well on many measures as children raised in similar families headed by opposite-sex couples...
    • support the proposition that children of same-sex couples fare worse on some measures...
    • or reveal notable differences between the two groups of children that warrant further study."

"We must also assume that the Legislature would be aware of the critiques of the methodologies used in virtually all of the comparative studies of children raised in these different environments, cautioning that:

  • the sampling populations are not representative,
  • that the observation periods are too limited in time,...
  • that the empirical data are unreliable, and
  • that the hypotheses are too infused with political or agenda driven bias."  3

Justice C.J. Marshall, who wrote for the majority of the court in support of SSM, criticized Justice Cordy's conclusion, writing:

"Justice Cordy's dissenting opinion...makes much of the current 'battle of the experts' concerning the possible long-term effects on children of being raised in households headed by same-sex parents. We presume that the Legislature is aware of these studies...and has drawn the conclusion that a child's best interest is not harmed by being raised and nurtured by same-sex parents....110 Code Mass. Regs. 1.09(3) (2000) [states] 'The Department [of Social Services] shall not deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or foster parent, on the basis of the ... sexual orientation ... of the person, or of the child, involved.' Either the Legislature's openness to same-sex parenting is rational in light of its paramount interests in promoting children's well- being, or irrational in light of its so-called conclusion that a household headed by opposite-sex married parents is the "optimal" setting for raising children....We give full credit to the Legislature for enacting a statutory scheme of child-related laws that is coherent, consistent, and harmonious." 4

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Possible positive effects of SSM on the children:

The question that is being debated is not whether children should be raised by same-sex parents. It is whether same-sex parents should be allowed to marry, or whether they must simply live together -- perhaps with children -- under a status less than marriage, with reduced recognition and support by the state.

SSM would benefit children in a same-sex led family. Justice C.J. Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, composing the majority decision, wrote:

"Without question, civil marriage enhances the 'welfare of the community.' It is a 'social institution of the highest importance.' French v. McAnarney, supra. Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important epidemiological and demographic data.....Where a married couple has children, their children are also directly or indirectly, but no less auspiciously, the recipients of the special legal and economic protections obtained by civil marriage.....marital children reap a measure of family stability and economic security based on their parents' legally privileged status that is largely inaccessible, or not as readily accessible, to non-marital children. Some of these benefits are social, such as the enhanced approval that still attends the status of being a marital child. Others are material, such as the greater ease of access to family-based State and Federal benefits that attend the presumptions of one's parentage." 3

The ruling in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health noted hundreds of benefits given to married couples by the state of Massachusetts which were not available to same-sex couples before 2004-MAY when they became able to marry. Many of the benefits from marriage have a positive effect on their children, either directly or indirectly.

Some would argue that when a state allows SSM, the public will gradually become more accepting of homosexual orientation and behavior. They will agree with professional mental health associations and recognize it as a normal, natural, unchosen and unchangeable sexual orientation for a minority of adults. This will reduce levels of discrimination, hatred, and oppression against gays and lesbians, and reduce the levels of ridicule that their children receive from fellow students.

Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert comments that:

"Lesbigays who have children often create a network of fictive kin or 'chosen' family (friends, former partners, and willing relatives) for social and emotional support as well as to offer their children suitable adult role models of the other sex. This support network may be entirely gay but generally represents a mixture."

This arrangement gives children many additional role models in their life, that children in families led by opposite-sex couples may not have.

Some of the plaintiffs in the case experienced harm to themselves or their children because they lacked the protection of a civil marriage.

"For example, Hillary and Julie Goodridge alleged that, when Julie gave birth to their daughter (whom Hillary subsequently coadopted) during a delivery that required the infant's transfer to neonatal intensive care, Hillary 'had difficulty gaining access to Julie and their newborn daughter at the hospital'; Gary Chalmers and Richard Linnell alleged that 'Gary pays for a family health insurance policy at work which covers only him and their daughter because Massachusetts law does not consider Rich to be a 'dependent.' This means that their household must purchase a separate individual policy of health insurance for Rich at considerable expense.... Gary has a pension plan at work, but under state law, because he is a municipal employee, that plan does not allow him the same range of options in providing for his beneficiary that a married spouse has and thus he cannot provide the same security to his family that a married person could if he should predecease Rich." These and similar problems will not recur, as the plaintiffs are now married. 5

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Possible negative effects of SSM on the children:

Many religious and social conservatives disagree completely with essentially all professional mental health organizations and believe that homosexuality is abnormal, unnatural, chosen and changeable. Most disapprove of equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry the individual that they love. Many believe that homosexual behavior is hated by God. If these beliefs are true, then one might argue:

  • Children raised in families led by same-sex parents would be continually exposed to homosexuality. They may choose to become gay or lesbian at a higher rate than those raised by a father and mother.

  • Men and women have very different personalities, brain structure, talents, etc. They are designed to fit into very different roles within the family. In order for children to be properly socialized, they need to be brought up by both a father and a mother. The long range effects on children who are brought up by two women or two men are unknown and can only be speculated upon.

  • God may punish same-sex parents by sending illness or other misfortune into their lives. This might adversely affect the children in their family.

  • God may also punish the nation as a whole if SSM is legalized. That would harm all children in the nation.

  • Children of same-sex couples will be exposed to a great deal of ridicule and hatred by their fellow students. This could negatively affect their development.

  • Past changes in the family law have had unexpected adverse effects on society. "Legislative actions taken in the 1950's and 1960's in areas as widely arrayed as domestic relations law and welfare legislation have had significant unintended adverse consequences in subsequent decades including the dramatic increase in children born out of wedlock, and the destabilization of the institution of marriage." 6 No-fault divorce has been credited by some as causing a drastic increase in marital breakdown and subsequent divorce. In a similar manner, legislative change which legalilzes SSM might have drastic, long-term, negative results to society that are not currently anticipated.

  • The desire to marry and settle down with a companion for life is very strong in some adults. So is the desire to have children. If we do not allow SSM, then at least some homosexuals may well be motivated to marry a person of the opposite sex, to leave the homosexual lifestyle, and to become an ex-gay or ex-lesbian.

  • Same-sex marriage would weaken the institution of marriage by creating a counterfeit version of marriage. This will harm the entire population, including children.

  • Some studies show that the incidence of violence between same-sex couples is higher than that between opposite-sex couples. This may also be true of same-sex couples in loving, committed relationships. If so, then children are bound to be harmed by the presence of violence in the home.

  • The availability of SSM may encourage more adults to divorce their opposite-sex spouse and marry a person of the same sex. Divorce is known to have at least a temporary negative effect on children. So they would be harmed by their parents' divorce.
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Some studies on SSM:

The following studies were cited in the Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health decision by Justice J. Cordy who disagreed with the legalization of SSM:

  • H.B. Biller & J.L. Kimpton, "The Father and the School-Aged Child, in The Role of The Father in Child Development," 143 (3d ed.1997); H.B. Biller, "Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development," 1-3 (1993); Lynne Marie Kohm, "The Homosexual "Union": Should Gay and Lesbian Partnerships be Granted the Same Status as Marriage?, 22 J. Contemp. L. 51, 61 & nn.53, 54 (1996) These studies show that the most stable family for children to grow up in is that led by a father and a mother.

  • Patterson, "Family Relationships of Lesbians and Gay Men," 62 J. Marriage & Family. 1052, 1060, 1064-1065 (2000). This study concludes that there are no significant differences in personal development between children of same-sex parents and children of heterosexual parents.

  • Cameron, "Homosexual Parents," 31 Adolescence 757, 770-774 (1996). This paper concluded that the results of a limited study are consonant with notion that children raised by homosexuals experience higher levels of emotional disturbance and sexual victimization.

  • Stacey, "Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?," 66 Amer. Soc. Rev. 159, 172, 176-179 (2001). This study finds significant statistical differences in parenting practices, gender roles, sexual behavior but notes that heterosexism and political implications have distorted research.

  • Coleman, "Reinvestigating Remarriage: Another Decade of Progress," 62 J. Marriage & Fam. 1288 (2000). It concludes that future studies of the impact of divorce and remarriage on children should focus on "nontraditional" stepfamilies, particularly same-sex couples with children, because the impact of such arrangements have been overlooked in other studies. 3  

The following studies were cited in Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert's paper. She concluded that children of lesbian mothers " few differences from other children...whatever differences exist stem largely from the social stigma attached to homosexuality and consequent social rejection outside the home."

  • F. Tasker and S. Golombok, "Adults raised as children in lesbian families." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 65, 2-3-215, (1995). This study compared young adults raised in a single-parent lesbian family with others who were raised by their heterosexual mother and a step father. Children raised by a lesbian mother had a better relationship with both their mother and father.

  • J. Laird, "Lesbian and gay families," in F. Walsh, Ed., "Normal family processes" (2nd ed, Pages 282-328), Guilford Press, (1993).

  • C.J. Patterson, "Family relationships of lesbians and gay men" Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, Pages 1052-1069. This and the previous study found that children of same-sex parent families "do not seem to grow up disadvantaged emotionally and may even possess certain strengths of character such as tolerance, empathy, and contentment."

  • DeAngelis, "A new generation of issues for LGBT clients," Monitor on Psychology, 33, 2002-FEB. This study found that some adolescents: "...feel embarrassed by their parents' homosexuality."

  • R.W. Chan et al., "Psychosocial adjustment among children conceived via donor insemination by lesbian and heterosexual mothers," Child Development, 69, Pages 443-457, (1998). This study reported that, among the largely upper-middle-class mothers studied,  there was no difference in children's adaptation and development when they were about seven years old. The study compared homosexual and heterosexual mothers, some of whom were in couples and some who were singles.
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No definite conclusions can be drawn as of 2004-OCT because of the lack of reliable, longitudinal data based on well designed studies. However, it appears as if the advantages or disadvantages, for those children who live in families led by same-sex couples, are relatively minor. Otherwise one would expect that major and consistent results would emerge from the existing published studies, in spite of their deficiencies.

Hopefully, properly designed, long-term studies will eventually be made, and an accurate measure of effects on children of being raised by same-sex couples will be found -- whether those effects are positive or negative. However, that will still leave unanswered questions, such as whether the effects are intrinsic to the sexual orientation of the child's parent(s), or whether they are induced by the atmosphere of hatred, discrimination, and oppression that these families must live with.

The question remains open whether denial of marriage to same-sex couples and their children is warranted in order to prevent any disadvantage to their children which may be uncovered in the future. Maintaining the status quo is guaranteed to harm some children by depriving them of government support, health care, various protections, etc.

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References used:

  1. Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert, "Same-sex couples and same-sex-parent families: Relationships, parenting, and issues of marriage," The Vanier Institute of the Family, 2003, at:
  2. Deb Taylor, "More on the Hawaii Same-Sex Civil Marriage Case," at:
  3. "Unofficial Synopsis Prepared by the Reporter of Decisions: Hillary GOODRIDGE & others [FN1] vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH & another. [FN2] SJC-08860," The Massachusetts Court System, at: and
  4. Ibid, footnote 30
  5. Ibid, footnote 6
  6. Ibid, footnote 37

Copyright 2004 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-OCT-26
Latest update: 2008-NOV-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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