The debate over marriage equality currently being staged before the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately hinge on questions of legal standing, constitutional interpretation or even states’ rights.
But according to Ralph Reed, conservative activist and founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the issue before the country is whether there’s a “compelling interest” in strengthening and supporting the union between man and woman.
In a round table discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press, Reed followed his family preservation analysis with a bold claim.
Reed told host David Gregory that two biological parents are empirically better for raising a child than any other arrangement, and science supports his contention.
“The verdict of social science is overwhelming and irrefutable,” said Reed, “that the enduring, loving, in-tact, biological mother and father is best for children, and it’s not even a close call.”
Many social scientists who have conducted research on the subject or reviewed its vast literature, however, take issue with the claim.
“The overwhelming evidence seems to indicate the exact opposite,” said Dr. Nick Ladany, Dean of Santa Clara University’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology, “which is to say, there’s no difference between same-sex parents or opposite-sex parents [in child outcome].”
Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the foremost group of pediatricians in the country, came out supporting marriage equality on the basis it would be beneficial to children, after reviewing decades of research and at least 55 studies.
One of the report’s authors, Dr. Benjamin Siegel, told NBC Bay Area that when it comes to child outcomes, the sexual orientation of the parents is irrelevant.
“With regard to children and their development it’s more important that they have people who love them, and it’s better to have two people or a large village, than it is a single person,” Siegel said.
To take that a step further, Siegel continued, “children need to be nurtured by people who are relatively stable socially, emotionally and economically.”
During the discussion on Meet the Press, Gregory pointed out the American Academy of Pediatrics disagrees with Reed’s stance, to which Reed responded, “and the American College of Pediatricians came out the other way.”
So why is there a discrepancy amongst pediatricians?
“The American College of Pediatricians looks like a professional organization,” Ladany said, “and to be fair, they are a professional organization of a subgroup of pediatricians who have certain statements or have certain positions that they are grounded in.”
Ladany said those positions, however, include “same-sex marriage is unhealthy, spanking your children is something they advocate and boy scouts should exclude homosexual members.”
Ladany added that these positions force a social scientist to question the group’s credibility in matters of scientific research.
Nevertheless, to get more to Reed’s point, the most recent work cited by conservatives and the American College of Pediatricians as proving biological superiority in parenting is a study conducted by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus.
The Regnerus study, published in 2012, studied nearly 3,000 people and concluded that the children of same-sex parents experienced “numerous and consistent differences” when it comes to factors related to social, emotional and relational outcomes.
Critics of the report, however, are plentiful, and include Regnerus’ own colleagues at the University of Texas, who point out that the methodology employed in the study lacks the rigor and fairness expected of an academic.
“The way he investigated this wouldn’t pass for a dissertation or a master’s thesis in most universities,” Ladany said.
Siegel also offered a significant critique of the oft-cited study.
“He interviews people who say they had ‘some’ relationship with a homosexual adult in their life,” Siegel said.
“That relationship varied from a few months to perhaps many years, and it’s not clear whether these people were parents, whether they’re biological parents divorced…we don’t know anything about the nature of the relationship, whether it’s loving or not, or really from any perspective,” he added.
In summary, Ralph Reed’s assertion that “overwhelming” and “irrefutable” evidence stands behind the claim that biological parenting leads to better child outcomes is clearly not true.
It should be noted, however, that no research exists comparing a large, random sample of biological, heterosexual parents compared with same-sex parents.
Therefore, it seems making any broad, sweeping statements about the quality of biological parenting versus same-sex parenting would be difficult to substantiate.
“That’s a fair interpretation,” Ladany said. “I think the studies that have come out have looked at the pieces of this [available] data….and have indicated there is no difference. But there are fair criticisms of any research that should be considered.”