Same-sex parenting: Does a mom & dad make a difference?
EDITORS' NOTE: This is the seventh story in a series examining the national debate over same-sex "marriage." The series appears in Baptist Press each Friday
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Some say Bernie Cummings and Ernie Johnston of Oregon are just like any other couple.
One of the men works, the other stays at home to care for their three children, all born through surrogacy.
"[I]f I were working, I'd miss that moment when Caelan [their daughter] was just getting up from her nap, grabbing and holding on to me," Cummings told The New York Times.
Cummings sounds like any stay-at-home mom, but he isn't. He and his partner are among the approximately 156,000 homosexual households in America with children. According to U.S. Census data gathered by The Times, there are some 60,000 male couples, 96,000 female couples.
The issue of same-sex parenting is controversial enough. Mix in the issue of same-sex "marriage" and the debate intensifies.
In fact, the Massachusetts high court based part of its recent pro-same-sex "marriage" decision on the well-being of children, arguing that children of married parents are better off both financially and socially.
Such rulings raise a host of questions: Is there a difference between a traditional family and a same-sex household? Does it make a difference if a child has a mom and a dad? Or, is the child just as well off with two dads, or two moms?
The New York Times profiled "stay-at-home" dads within same-sex partnerships in its Jan. 12 edition -- with the implication that such couples are just as traditional as a family with a stay-at-home mom.
The picture on the front page showcased one of the families: A man in his 40s, Tom Howard, is seen holding a tissue, wiping the nose of one his daughters. Just to his left, his other daughter is sitting on the couch, playing with a doll. The headline reads: "Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home."
"People look at that and they kind of intuitively know that what's wrong with that picture is that little boy or that little girl doesn't have a mamma," Focus on the Family's Glenn Stanton, a sociologist, told Baptist Press. "... We know that kids need [mothers]."
Although laws vary nationally, only three states -- Florida, Mississippi and Utah -- explicitly ban same-sex couples from adopting, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual activist group. HRC lists 22 states that are open to same-sex adoption and says the other 25 states are somewhere in the middle.
But traditionalists point to a body of research showing that children with biological parents are better off than children in other circumstances. For instance, children with biological parents are less likely to drop out of school, more likely to have good grades, less likely to commit crime and less likely to be sexually active, research shows.
Traditionalists say that same-sex parenting, meanwhile, and thus the legalization of same-sex "marriage," will harm society in ways that statistics cannot necessarily measure. One example: They say that traditional marriage gives children a model for how men and women are to interact.
Ray Hammond, pastor of Boston's Bethel AME Church, told a Senate subcommittee last year that marriage is the way in which the "great divide in the human race -- the gender divide -- is reconciled."
"[M]others and fathers build their own healthy relationships and model those relationships before the next generation," he said.
Additionally, Hammond said, marriage makes fatherhood "more than a biological event" by "connecting men to the children they bring into the world."
Speaking at that same Senate hearing, columnist Maggie Gallagher, coauthor of the book, "The Case for Marriage," said that by legalizing same-sex "marriage" America would be "making a powerful statement" that "children do not need mothers and fathers."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., argued recently in a debate that the presence of a mother and father are critical for a child's growth.
"Both boys and girls define themselves and establish their own identity and expectations based upon their observation of both father and mother, husband and wife -- male and female," he said.
Studies of same-sex parenting seem to support traditionalists, showing that children of same-sex parents are more prone to consider homosexual behavior.
Two University of Southern California professors, Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey, published a study in 2001 on same-sex parenting in American Sociological Review. Although favorable to same-sex parenting, they concluded that children of same-sex couples are more likely to experiment with homosexuality.
Biblarz and Stacey quoted a study that found that 64 percent of young adults raised by homosexual women had considered same-sex relationships. By contrast, only 17 percent of young adults raised by heterosexual mothers had considered such a relationship.
"The evidence, while scanty and under-analyzed, hints that parental sexual orientation is positively associated with the possibility that children will be more likely to attain a similar orientation -- and theory and common sense support such a view," they wrote.
The American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar conclusion in a 2002 report.
"[M]en and women who had lesbian mothers were slightly more likely to consider the possibility of having a same-sex partner, and more of them had been involved in at least a brief relationship with someone of the same sex," the AAP paper read.
Such research leaves conservatives asking: If homosexuality is genetic -- as homosexuals argue -- then why is there a difference between the children of traditional and homosexual parents?
Focus on the Family's Stanton said mainstream anthropology research shows that all cultures support the need of a mother and father.
"A little girl who grows up seeing her daddy love and care for and deal peaceably and respectively with his wife is going to be a little girl who is going to grow up and not tolerate abuse or being used by another man," he said.
Likewise, Stanton said, a boy who sees his mother treated respectfully "is a little boy who is going to grow up and treat women that way as well. It's what they know."
The aforementioned report by the American Academy of Pediatrics made headlines two years ago when it concluded that no difference exists "between gay and non-gay parents in emotional health, parenting skills and attitudes toward parenting."
But the report acknowledged that it was based on a "small and non-representative" sample and noted that most children of same-sex parents come from broken homes -- such as from a family where a man divorces his wife in order to live with his male partner.
"These families closely resemble stepfamilies formed after heterosexual couples divorce, and many of their parenting concerns and adjustments are similar," it said.
Stanton, author of a book titled, "Why Marriage Matters," said the parallel between same-sex parenting and divorce is important.
Interestingly, the same year that the AAP published its paper on same-sex parenting it published a paper on divorce, saying that "for many children" divorce is a "long, searing experience" and "is often characterized by painful losses."
That is significant, Stanton said, because the benefits of children being raised by biological parents, compared to being raised by one parent or by step-parents, are enormous.
"We find that when children grow up any time without their biological mother or father, that they face serious declines in a whole host of important well-being measures," he said. "Kids who grow up with both biological parents tend to do better in every important measure of well-being."
Stanton has collected data on the Focus on the Family website showing that when comparing children raised by their biological parents to children raised by step-parents, on average:
-- "[S]tepparents provide less warmth and communicate less with their children than do biological parents."
-- Children in stepfamilies are more likely to have greater "emotional, behavioral and academic problems."
-- Preschool children living with one biological parent and one step-parent are "40 times more likely to become a victim of abuse."
Same-sex parents are aware of the criticisms. When asked by The New York Times if he desired to return to work, Peter Vitale of Minnesota said, "If I were honest, I'd say that I want to do an excellent job at this because I know the world has me under a microscope."
Stanton said he occasionally engages in debates over the issue of same-sex parenting and is asked a trick question: Would a child be better off raised by a loving homosexual couple than raised by abusive heterosexual parents?
The answer, Stanton said, is not yes or no, but neither.
"The point is that there is no gay activist who is saying, 'Just give us the kids who are in abusive homes, or just give us the kids that nobody else wants,'" he said.
Gallagher told the Senate subcommittee that society must stand firm on the belief that children need mothers and fathers.
"If two mothers are just the same as a mother and a father, then a woman and her mother are just the same as a mother and father," she said.
Data from this story can be found on Focus on the Family's websites:
-- http://www.family.org/cforum/fosi/marriage/facts/a0028317.cfm and