Do children living with same-sex adults do just as well as kids raised by their mother and father in all the important measures of healthy child well-being? Because it involves children, it’s a terribly important question. The answer is an unquestioned “Absolutely! No difference whatsoever” if you listen to the LGBT movement’s media partisans. But it is not that simple.
You will not find any articles by mainstream journalists taking the slightest critical look at the research they say establishes the “just as good as” fact. Your chances of finding a breezy sit-down interview with a Sasquatch are greater. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that “Researchers find no difference between kids raised by two moms and kids raised by mom and dad.” The story cited a new article published in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.
But the real story, if actually examined by any journalist doing reporting beyond press releases, is that no such reliable conclusion can be reached based on this research itself. An honest inquisitor will easily find that 99.8 percent of the research the press fawns over on this topic is embarrassingly poor in its basic methodology.
These problems would be obvious to sophomore research methodology students, which makes one wonder what’s up with these journalists. Let’s examine the damning problems under the hood in this study that the LA Times reported on.
This inquiry is the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), which began in 1986 following 84 children of lesbian families (77 children currently) that were created via donor insemination. The study seeks to determine how these children fare in a number of developmental measures. Let’s examine the most blatant problems with this long-term project that are obvious under the slightest bit of due diligence.
This Is Clearly an Activist Study
This study is not a dispassionate, purely academic investigation, but an orchestrated persuasion tool conducted and funded by gay-rights activists. The front page of the study’s website even features a photograph of a cute infant lounging in a crib, sporting a onesie that proclaims, “I was hatched by a couple of chicks.”
The NLLFS primary investigators are not scholars in the general, larger field of child development and family formation. Their professional research has been solely in the field of lesbian research. Throughout the project’s many published articles, they offer their readers no survey of the vast literature on how various family forms, such as fatherlessness, affect child development and well-being. They nearly exclusively consult published studies that examine gay or lesbian issues. Such a limited view is profoundly limited and problematic.
The NLLFS is also funded primarily by well-known and powerful pro-gay organizations such as The Gill Foundation, the world’s largest and most influential funder of LGBT political and social causes; the Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay Lesbian Medical Association; and the Williams Institute, where its main investigator, Nanette Gartrell, is a visiting scholar. Gartrell has a long and award-winning history in lesbian-research activism. In 2001, she published “Everyday Mutinies: Funding Lesbian Activism,” a handbook showing how to grow and finance lesbian causes.
Gartrell is also a self-proclaimed polyamorist, coming out decades ago in an article published in the Journal of Lesbian Studies provocatively entitled, “If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Dee… Confessions of a Closet Polyamorist.” Dee is her partner of 40 years. She admits, “[A]s surprising as it may seem, I do not consider honesty, integrity, and commitment the guiding principle of my intimate life.” Rather, her commitment is to “making each block of time I spend with each lover as glorious as it can be.”
She assures her reader that loving multiple adults should raise no concern. After all, she “would never think to challenge a parent’s capacity to love … multiple children at the same time.” Interesting reasoning to be sure. She concludes her article by hoping that through polys “outing” themselves, “polyamorism will become just as passé’ … as lesbianism is today.” Gartrell is clearly beyond the LGBT mainstream.
But the facts that NLLFS is initiated, conducted, and funded by staunch gay activists and that the principal investigator is beyond the mainstream of the lesbian community do not necessarily mean the study is not a reputable academic investigation. It only lets us know who’s behind it and their possible motivations.
It does raise concerns that a good journalist would inform her reader of as an important part of the story. Suppose this were a study reporting the strong effectiveness of a new drug, conducted and financed by folks with a deep interest and personal stake in the outcome. Would not mentioning that be journalistic malpractice? However, the real problem is found in the structure and execution of the study, which has its own devastating problems.
This Study Has Serious Sample Problems
The serious problems with the study’s sample are clear to even the casual reader. First, the data for the NLLFS was collected on a relatively small group of children being raised in lesbian homes: initially 84 children, now 77. The retention rate in this study is impressively high, which raises a question we will address in a moment.
The authors explain the scatter-shot manner in which they gathered their subjects. Lesbian couples, all in process of getting or already pregnant through donor insemination, were collected in 1986 through “informal networking and word of mouth referrals” and “solicited via announcements at lesbian events, in women’s bookstores, and at lesbian newspapers.” (The study was closed to new participants in January 1992.) The couples were recruited exclusively from three cities: Boston, Washington DC, and San Francisco.
These women were nearly all white (94 percent), middle- and upper-class (82 percent), and mostly college-educated (67 percent). Eighty-two percent were employed in professional or managerial positions. The majority were in their mid-thirties, and thus more mature and well-established in life, at the beginning of the study. They were also reported to be in extraordinarily good health.
These are not typical lesbians, much less average-population couples, but highly privileged and socially unique. Of course outcome findings would be elevated given this kind of a non-representative sample. Given challenge from some quarters, the authors of this study now admit in this latest article that, given the weaknesses of their sample, the study’s effect sizes and statistical power are both low and thus, “[t]he results should be interpreted with caution.” The Los Angeles Times story and all others in the mainstream press failed to employ such caution nor include this not-so-insignificant warning, however.
Highly Motivated Participants
Perhaps even more problematic, the study’s participants were no doubt highly motivated to participate in this study and likely very desirous of positive findings. As the authors confess, “Participants were strongly lesbian-identified, 89% had come out to families of origin, 55% were open about their lesbian identity at work, 38% were active in a lesbian/gay organization at work, and 80% said they would choose to be a lesbian, if it were a matter of a choice” (emphasis in original).
So these participants are actively participating in ideological lesbian thought and political culture and deeply committed to being lesbian. The study further explains, “Prospective participants [solicited through known lesbian networks as explained above] were asked to contact the researchers by telephone. The study was discussed with each caller, and all interested callers became participants” (emphasis added).
So these are highly motivated lesbian mothers, gathered through what researchers call snowball or convenience samples via the political lesbian culture. Each were told the nature of the study, allowing each respondent to easily ascertain the social, political, academic, and historical significance of the effort, and all callers joined the study. No caller chose not to participate. It begs considering whether these realities have any impact on the fact that the study has maintained a remarkable 93 percent retention rate over its history.
Given these facts, and even more concerning, the mothers were asked to self-report their children’s well-being and development. This can lead to a “social desirability bias” where respondents are inclined to give answers that align with their convictions, rather than their actual objective experiences or outcomes.
Who can suggest this is not happening here? This most likely explains how the study arrived at some very curious findings at odds with the larger body of data about family formation and child well-being.
These Curious Findings Contradict Most Studies
It is the extremely rare study in the larger body of general research (those not looking exclusively at kids from same-sex homes) that finds kids raised apart from their own biological mother or father do as well as children who grow up in their natural families. Nearly all of this mountain of research shows the opposite, and powerfully so.
This includes children raised in heterosexual fatherless, divorced, cohabiting, widowed, adoptive, and step-family homes. None of the kids raised in any of these homes mirror kids living with their married, biological parents. But NLLFS finds that lesbian-headed families are the first divergent family form that produces all the same benefits that natural mother/father families do.
If true, this is major news. In fact, to make all this even more stunning, the NLLFS has reported that kids in lesbian-headed homes actually do better than kids in heterosexual-parented homes. The NLLFS explains their “adolescents demonstrated higher levels of social, school/academic, and total competence than gender-matched normative samples of American teenagers.”
This could very well be true, but not because of lesbian families themselves. It’s due to the extremely favorable characteristics of the lesbian homes participating in this study, and the fact these moms are self-reporting how well their kids are doing for a study they know is laying the foundation for cultural, policy, and legal acceptance of their families. Yes, it really is that embarrassingly problematic.
On top of this, the NLLFS’s data tells us nothing about what the average lesbian-headed home raising children from birth are likely to produce. Nothing. No mainstream news source, including the Los Angeles Times last week, has ever noted this critical fact.
Given this “just-as-good-as” and the “better-than” conclusion, one would have to conclude fathers are simply superfluous as players in healthy child development. In fact, we are handicapping children by giving them a father, if this research is to be believed.
Of course, this is ridiculous, as it flies in the face of more than five decades and hundreds of published studies indicating that fathers play an irreplaceable role in fostering healthy child-development in ways that mothers do not. It has been demonstrated consistently that children who grow up apart from their fathers face serious difficulties and short-comings compared to children who do not. This data has been persuasive enough to compel the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidential administrations all to institute federal programs to encourage strong fatherhood involvement in the lives of children.
The Study Reports No Harm When Lesbians Break Up
Additionally, the NLLFS found that the “rate of parental relationship dissolution was significantly higher in lesbian families than the average mom/dad family,” a distinction of 56 percent versus 36 percent. Amazingly, the study did not find this was a negative in terms of child well-being, contrary to all other research on broken families. The investigators explain,
Although the offspring of divorced heterosexual parents have been shown to score lower on measures of emotional, academic, social, and behavioral adjustment, no differences in psychological adjustment were found when the 17-year-old NLLFS adolescents whose mothers had separated were compared with those whose mothers were still together. (emphasis added)
The NLLFS reports the same thing in another article published in Pediatrics: “adolescents whose mothers had separated since [the study’s beginning] fared as well in psychological adjustment as those whose mothers were still together.” If the NLLFS findings are to be believed, they indicate that lesbian-headed families are the new super-families. They show better results than mother/father-headed homes. The second mom is more positively consequential than a father, and when these couples do break up, there is no harm to the children.
Again, this huge news, absolutely turning everything we know about family formation and child well-being totally upside down. It’s an absolute Copernican-like revolution.
Or might reason call us to question the NLLFS study altogether? To summarize, the particular lesbian mothers participating in the NLLFS study were a small sample drafted very selectively through their deep commitment to lesbian culture and political causes; very privileged socio-economically; knowing they are participating in a very politically important study, and deeply eager to do so; and allowed to self-report their child’s well-being.
What reasonable person cannot conclude these facts are not deadly to the integrity of this study and the public conclusions reported about it? This study has received unquestioned praise from the mainstream press, pro-LGBT politicians, and judges, and become a foundation for changing policy and law. It’s time these people be forced to answer for their deceptive work.
Infamous studies like this are opening up a future for more children to be raised in experimental homes, and for no other reason that certain adults desire them. No ethical standard allows for children to be guinea pigs in any experiment, however, regardless of the positive and emotional rhetoric used to justify it.
When you continue to read the bold and uncritical fawning over studies by the mainstream press offering “the kids are alright” claims—and you will—the honest reader with any level of discernment will have to take such reporting with great skepticism. It’s unfortunate our major newspapers and magazine journalists do not, given what’s at stake.