Last month, a new study conducted by the University of Melbourne in Australia confirmed what experts have been saying for years: The children of gay parents are just as healthy and happy as the children of straight parents. Actually, the study found that children in gay families are a bit healthier and happier than their counterparts in straight families, since gay parents often “take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into … gender stereotypes,” creating a “more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and well being.”
The new research is unlikely to persuade hard-core conservatives that gay couples really can make good parents. These reactionaries don’t care how much your silly peer-reviewed “studies” contradict their anti-gay views, since “the factors that really matter” are their own breathtakingly antiquated (and totally unscientific) views of gender stereotypes. It’s easy to laugh at this deliberately ignorant, Putin-esque nonsense. But in the long run, it’s really a shame that anti-gay conservatives are so unwilling to reconsider their bigoted views—since it’s them, not gay parents, who are inflicting the most harm on the children of same-sex couples.
How can homophobes reach into a family unit and actively denigrate children’s lives? Easy: by constantly demeaning the dignity and worth of gay families, thereby perpetuating the anti-gay stigma and teaching children that their families are wrong, immoral, disadvantaged, even diseased. That stigma isn’t some liberal myth sprouting from concerns over political correctness. It’s a real, observable phenomenon that risks seriously impairing children’s health and well-being.
The University of Melbourne study touches on the stigma question, noting that “perceived stigma” against gay people and their families is the one factor of same-sex parenting “negatively associated with mental health.” But a study last year by researchers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Pretoria in South Africa took a deeper dive into the effect of stigma on gay families, finding that:
The children were not upset that their parents are gay. In fact, most of them embraced it. The negativity that children with gay parents experience is rarely the result of having gay parents. Instead, it's the cultural stigma that causes all the problems. Any concerns they had were the result of how they would be treated in the public sphere. Research constantly shows that children with gay parents are normal, healthy, well-adjusted people. It's the social scrutiny and stigmatization that children have to negotiate and contend with.
As that quote suggests, the study only confirmed what previous research had borne out: Gay parents don’t disadvantage their children—but conservatives’ smear campaigns against gay parents do. This insidious harming of children at the hands of conservatives is pretty easy to understand. Anti-gay activists debase gay families as a whole by opposing equal rights for same-sex couples, singling them out for disfavored treatment and thus marking them as inferior or defective. Children begin to wonder why their parents are subject to such opprobrium and legal impediments, and translate legal inequality into moral deficiency. Their status as children of gay parents hangs like an albatross around their necks, impairing healthy development and fostering grief, anger, and depression.
All this could end if conservatives simply stopped demeaning gay people and their families. But because the shrinking core of anti-gay conservatism refuses to surrender its rather pitiful animus toward gay people, the vicious cycle will continue unabated. Gay couples make perfectly good parents. That drives the Christian right crazy—so they continue to inflict their phobias on otherwise happy children. There’s a perverse irony to all this. Conservatives have been claiming for years, in one form or another, that gay people are hurting children, and that kids need to be protected from gays. But in reality, it isn’t gays from whom kids must be protected. It’s conservatives themselves.