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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The American Psychological Association Charade


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


When it issued an official report on “lesbian and gay parenting” in 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) made the bold claim, based on fifty-nine published studies on homosexual parenting, that “not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.” The only way the APA could claim such is by assuming that thousands of other studies that quantify handicaps accruing to children whose married mothers and fathers separate (or do not marry at all) do not apply in situations when parents are homosexual.

But another reason the trade association got it wrong, according to Loren Marks of Louisiana State University, is that the studies lacked scientific validity; they failed to meet the methodological and statistical standards that the discipline is supposed to uphold. According to his exhaustive review of the studies the APA cited, not a single study “compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of random married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalization claim either way.”

The Louisiana researcher lists a number of reasons for questioning the integrity of the APA in subordinating objective research to the advocacy of homosexual parenting:

  • Seventy-seven percent of the fifty-nine studies were based on small samples of fewer than a hundred participants; moreover, the samples were composed almost exclusively of upper-income, white lesbian mothers.
  • Nearly half of the studies (44 percent) did not include a comparison group of married mothers and fathers.
  • When the studies did include a comparison group, the group represented an imprecise category of “heterosexual parents” that frequently represented single parents, not a two-parent intact family.
  • Contrary to the APA’s assertion, one study did indeed quantify better outcomes for children of married parents compared to children of homosexual parents.
  • The child outcomes measured by the studies rarely included objective, commonly-used social measures such as poverty, educational achievement, labor-force participation, criminality, incarceration, substance abuse, psychological well-being, and unwed childbearing.
  • None of the cited studies were longitudinal, tracking child outcomes into adulthood.
  • Only a few of the comparison studies specified the statistical power of their claims; none had samples large enough to detect an effect size.

Based upon his analysis, Marks claims that the APA assertion, along with its related generalization that “environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth,” are “not empirically warranted.”

Given the extent to which judges and legislators have cited these policy pronouncements to advance same-sex marriage laws, Marks deserves praise for exposing the APA charade. As the researcher implies, it’s unlikely that any new parenting arrangement has emerged that offers all the promise of a married mother and father. If APA officials were honest in their analysis of the literature, they would see “gay parenting” for what it is: merely a subset—with all the related baggage that children are forced to carry—of single, step, divorce, or adoptive parenting.

(Loren Marks, “Same-Sex Parenting and Children’s Outcomes: A Closer Examination of the American Psychological Association’s Brief on Lesbian and Gay Parenting,” Social Science Research 41 [July 2012]: 735–51.)

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