The marriage equality debate is on us again. It never really goes away. Even in countries that have legalized marriage equality, there are those who feel that two people of the same sex marrying somehow has implications for their own relationship.
Obviously, it doesn’t. If your marriage was affected by LGBT people’s love, it probably wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
If homosexuality can affect your marriage, one of you is probably gay
By now, the anti-equality side will be spluttering in anger. “It’s not about my marriage” they’ll say, their voices raised high in righteous indignation “It’s about the children. If the gays can marry, what will happen to the children?”
Because despite the fact that marriage law has nothing whatsoever to do with children — it has been legal for quite some time for same-sex couples to have kids — the anti-equality campaign has to focus on something. If they admitted this was about, say, denying people basic rights because of centuries of religious bigotry, no one would listen.
And the thing that they focus on is children. Because children are vulnerable, they are important, and using them heartlessly to advance a poisonous argument detracts nicely from the hatred and bigotry side of the debate.
The worst part of all?
They use bad science to do it.
The major claim made by anti-equality campaigners is that the best outcomes for a child are when they are in a traditional family, usually classified as a mother and father who are married and together.
Leaving aside all the other types of family that this excludes — single parents, divorcees, grandparents raising kids, etc — the argument then comes that, since same-sex parents don’t represent a mommy and a daddy, their children suffer.
Now if that sounds to you like a scientifically-testable claim, you’d be right. So what does the data say?
The message of most published research is clear: same-sex parents are just as good as “traditional” ones. If you take all of the studies that have been done on the subject, put all the data together in what’s known as a meta-analysis, you find that the gender of your parents makes no significant difference to your life.
Which begs the question of what the anti-equality people are referring to when they talk about the “evidence” that same-sex parents are bad.
In short, it is a single study, published in 2012.
And it’s terrible.
And yet, every anti-equality campaign has cited it in every one of their releases. If you hear someone mention that children are at risk from marriage equality, it’s almost certain that they are citing this piece of work.
In short, the study surveyed 3,000 people through an online survey portal. Of these, about 250 reported that one or both of their parents had had a same-sex relationship. The researchers found that these children — now adults — performed worse on a number of indicators, including things like employment, suicidal thoughts, and drug use, than people who had been raised in a “traditional” family.
So, a pretty big sample, which sounds compelling.
But the devil is in the detail.
Children of Same-Sex Parents
What do you think same-sex parents are? If you answered “same-sex couples who have a child together”, you’re pretty close.
At least, much closer than the researchers in this study.
If you look at the paper, you’ll notice that this study had a very broad definition of what “same-sex” parents were. In fact, what the survey asked was whether either of these people’s parents had ever had a same-sex relationship. Not that their parents were in a same-sex relationship, but that they had at some point in their lives had a relationship with a member of the same sex.
Let’s think about that for a second. I’m a cis guy in a heterosexual relationship with a woman. If we have kids, they will be the children of a so-called “traditional family”. By these criteria, if I briefly dated a guy in university, my kids would be classified as the children of a gay couple.
I’m sure you can see the issue here.
Having noticed this problem with the study, a group of researchers in 2015 re-analysed the data, including only children who had lived with their same-sex parents for at least 1 year*. They excluded people who had never lived with their same-sex parents — which was about half the sample — as well as people who had clearly lied on the survey (one 25-year-old claimed to have 8 children from 8 different marriages). And guess what?
There was no difference between children of same-sex parents and anyone else.
So what does this all mean? Well, firstly, same-sex parents do just as well as anyone else when raising children. They are great parents.The most robust evidence around confirms that the only real issue with same-sex parenting is stigma. Stigma like telling people that they were raised by unfit parents or that their parents’ sexual orientation is evil and wrong.
In other words, the real threat to children is the anti-equality campaign.
Which brings us back to the first thing I said. It bears repeating. Children have literally nothing to do with marriage equality. Allowing LGBT people to marry the person that they love changes absolutely nothing about adoption or surrogacy laws.
Gay parents can already have kids.
The argument about children is simply the most egregious of homophobia. It is people desperately clinging to terrible science to support their outdated, bigoted views.
The evidence is clear: same-sex couples are just as good as anyone else.
Anyone who says different is simply wrong.
If you support marriage equality, and you are an Australian citizen, make sure to vote for it in the upcoming postal survey. You can also make your voice heard by donating to the Marriage Equality Campaign, or by clapping/sharing this article.
*Note that this still isn’t “children of same-sex parents”, because we do not know how old they were when they lived with their parents. If a 25-year-old goes and stays with his mum and her new female partner, does that count as being raised by same-sex parents?