The Gay Science
What do we know about the effects of same-sex parenting?
From the perspective of sympathizers with the gay marriage cause, the bottom line of this turn-of-the-millennium revisionism is very upbeat: Kids of gays and lesbians are now judged to fare as well as or better than children of heterosexuals—especially, advocates note, when you factor in the prejudice and other pressures that such kids may face. The fact that they hold their own with children from more conventional families is read as an augury of unusual resilience (and some studies even report finding them more emotionally expressive). But you can bet that Focus on the Family and other conservatives are likely to take a rather dimmer view of this latest twist on the data. What pro-gay scholars hail as signs of empathetic flexibility are the kind of gender-bending proclivities that provide grist for more antigay alarm. The idea of "androgynous" parenting, together with tolerance of fluid notions of sexual identity, comes awfully close to the specter of queer parents spawning queer kids that haunts right-wing child-rearing expert/political advocate James Dobson and his followers, among others.
But wait: All the evidence—as both sides acknowledge—is seriously flawed and doesn't begin to supply anything like solid support for either the hopes of gay family harmony or the fears about scarred children and skewed parenting. And until gay couples are allowed to marry, there can't possibly be decent studies of whether the honorable estate confers the same benefits on kids whose parents are the same sex as it does on those who have a mom and a dad. In the meantime, it's quite clear that the absence of good science won't—and shouldn't—settle a fraught debate. What will help clarify it are experiences like mine, watching my sister and her partner sharing the hard work and the happiness of raising their daughter. I can't think of a better argument for gay marriage than that.
Correction, March 22, 2004: The original version of this piece stated that the same percentage of young adult children of homosexual and heterosexual mothers identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In fact, the researchers discovered no statistical difference in the number of young adult children from both groups who identified as gay or lesbian. (Return to corrected sentence.)
Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Photograph of the two brides on Slate's home page by Lou Dematteis/Reuters. Photograph of two mothers and a baby on Slate's home page by Jim Erickson/CORBIS.