Same-Sex Parenting: What Studies Say
The Supreme Court's recent decision that gay couples have a right to marry has reinvigorated a nationwide conversation about the effects same-sex parents have on children. Shortly before the decision was handed down, Jimi Adams, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, released a paper that rounded up the research on this question.
We took a few minutes to discuss his findings. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the consensus today about the effect of same-sex parents on children?
Well, I'd like to back up and say our work is actually two-fold. One is asking, is there consensus, and our primary finding is that there is consensus. What that consensus is, is broadly that there really are no disadvantages to kids with same-sex parents compared to kids who come from other parental configuration.
Can you tell me a little bit about any studies that reach different results?
I wouldn't so much say that there are studies that do, but I would say there are scholars who do, which is a fine distinction I'm making. The main reason I would say this is that most of the studies that have tried to report any differences have been based on methodological flaws or samples that really don't sustain the claims that they're making. The kinds of claims that have been popping up in the last handful of years have been relatively easily resolved.
What role does scientific consensus play in the broader political debate?
This is a question I leave to others to evaluate to some degree, but I would point out that for our study in particular, we were motivated by a claim that was made in the 2013 cases, where Justice Scalia stated that there was considerable disagreement among sociologists about the outcomes of same-sex parents, and I just frankly didn't believe that statement — I didn't believe there was disagreement. I knew there was a method out there that would allow us to ask that empirical question, so we went to ask it.
This ties in to my next question. How does your research influence the courts?
Well, for this particular case, I don't think we had much influence, to be frank. I think it's possible that if we're going to make policy, if we are going to make decisions based on empirical evidence, this approach has the means to do so. The consensus can be used to inform the development of policies. But with this paper we weren't going to have much influence over this particular case, because we came out too late for that.
I do think that the fact we found consensus is reflective of the way research was used in the development of the court decision. Not our particular piece, but the research that we were basing the paper on.
What else remains to be studied, despite the consensus?
This is one of the things that I think is opened. One thing we know about same-sex parenting — outcomes of same-sex parenting in particular — is that most of the kids who have been studied are kids who have same-sex parents who are not married. So as policies have changed over the last handful of years, and more explicitly over the last couple of weeks, in some places, we are going to see a shift in the background in which these kids are studied.
More kids who will be studied will be coming from families where their parents are potentially married. By all the evidence we have on outcomes for kids, this should lead to beneficial outcomes. This would lead toward the increased robustness of the findings we already have; it's not something that would subsequently change it.
Could further information change the consensus?
That is always possible. You never say never in science. However, I would say that the evidence right now is pretty strong. There is pretty strong consensus. It would take some pretty dramatic changes in the existing evidence before it would really change what that consensus looks like. I don't suspect it would change anytime soon, but it could.
Courtney Such is a RealClearPolitics intern.