The largest ever study into same-sex parenting has shown largely what we already knew: gay parents are just as good as straight parents and may, with their different perspective, offer kids certain benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about the study and the reasons why studies like this are still important.
The ACHESS Study’s Preliminary Findings on Same-Sex Parents
Researchers at the University of Melbourne, as part of a wider child health program, have set up the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) to gather data on child-rearing outcomes in same-sex parent households.
Using a questionnaire and in-depth interview methods, the ACHESS has so far collected data on 500 children aged 0-17 years from all Australian states except the Northern Territory. The number of participating parents in the study at this stage is 315, the vast majority of whom (93%) are currently in a same-sex relationship.
To give you an idea of the gender divide in that parent sample, which does matter for reasons we’ll explore later on, for 80% of the children a female parent completed the initial survey. The initial survey was completed by a male parent for 18% of the kids. Around 2% of children had an “other gendered parent.”
What the researchers found in this interim report is that when measuring same-sex parent households against heterosexual households on a number of key health indicators, such as self-esteem, emotional well-being and the amount of time spent with parents, gay and straight-parent families match up well.
However, the researchers found that on measures of general health and family cohesion something cropped up in the data that was quite interesting. Children aged 5-17 in a same-sex parent household scored significantly higher on these wellness measures than kids from straight parent families.
A similar detail has cropped up before in an American study, which you can read about here. The benefit in that case was associated with lesbian parents, so when the ACHESS study is unpacked, it will be interesting to see if there is a significant comparative difference and how much that is affected by the gender discrepancy among the study’s participants.
To be absolutely clear though, no one is suggesting same-sex parents are better for children by virtue of them being homosexual.
A reasonable guess as to what is going on here is that it is a simple fact that discrimination in both social contexts and in what government and legal support is available in partnership rights and reproductive services means same-sex couples must rigorously plan for having a child.
As a result of this, they may wait to have children until they are more financially stable and until they are sure that their relationship can last the distance. This, of course, would benefit family cohesion and, it is not too much of a stretch to suppose, general health and wellbeing.
Lead researcher Dr Simon Crouch is quoted on these findings as saying that same-sex parents, knowing the stigma that their children could face, may put a particular emphasis on monitoring for problems at school, which in turn could benefit their kids’ health.
“Because of the situation that same-sex families 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.”
The study will now enter a new phase where researchers will analyze in more detail their findings and attempt to sift out key demographic traits and details.
Why Same-Sex Parenting Studies are Worth the Effort
While it could be said that this study has shown only what we already know — that same-sex couples are as good at child rearing has heterosexuals — it would be a mistake to say that studies like these are not valuable. Fundamentally, and confining ourselves to Australia for a moment, there is still an issue of same-sex marriage partnership recognition rights playing out at the national level.
Many opposed to marriage equality, especially religious conservatives, tend to argue that heterosexual unions are the so-called optimal environment for child rearing and that same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting and adoption rights would undermine this.
Of course, this is nonsense. There has never been any reputable study that has shown heterosexuality itself is the quality that determines a good child-rearing environment. It seems this optimum environment has more to do with stable, often two parent, families. Yet still this myth persists.
As such, the ACHESS study is important. It shines a light on the actual facts surrounding same-sex parent families and, in the case of this study, which will also dig into the discrimination faced by these families, the barriers they face in their family lives.
We have mentioned above the notion of reputable studies, and this is where the ACHESS study is doubly useful.
The only supposedly reputable study to appear to show heterosexual married couples made for better parents than homosexual parents is the now infamous and discredited “Regnerus study,” the name given by the media after its lead researcher Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas.
We have detailed the so-called study’s shocking issues before, but the upshot is that the Regnerus study actually said nothing about same-sex parenting, something Regnerus himself was told to say in the media brief handed him by the study’s suspect financial backers.
Yet this study continues to be used by anti-gay organizations as proof of their claims, and was used by lawyers acting on behalf of U.S. House Republicans in Defense of Marriage Act case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States. It was even alluded to by Justice Scalia.
The ACHESS study is cast in a new light then as another important tool for fighting this kind of misinformation, and it is for this reason the ACHESS final and more thorough report will also be of particular interest for LGBT rights supporters.
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