Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mike Butler: Unpacking same-sex slogans

How many times have you heard or debated the slogan that same-sex parents are just as good at parenting as heterosexuals? Sociologist Walter Schumm of Kansas State University has applied his expertise in surveying attitudes and opinions to the deceptive simplicity of this question. He starts by looking at what the elements of this slogan could mean.

What is meant by “same-sex”?
Does it mean two sisters living together raising children from former husbands who died at a young age, two bisexual women with children from previous marriages to men, two lesbians who have each conceived a child by sperm donation, or two gay men who have adopted a child jointly? Each situation is unique.

What is meant by “good”?
Does it mean the children are provided adequate food, clothing and shelter, have no plans on having sex until they marry, believe that they can marry a man or a woman, practice delayed gratification, are academically prepared to succeed at university?

What is meant by “just as”?
Were appropriate statistics used to make the comparisons?

What is meant by “parenting”?
Is the parent biologically related to the child? Does the parent spend only one day every two weeks with the child because of custody disputes? Is the parent “around” but for all practical purposes the child is being raised by a nanny? Are the parents wealthy enough to pay employees to raise their child?

What is meant by “heterosexuals”?
Are they legally married, cohabiting, or in a civil union? Is the parent heterosexual but parenting alone because of the death or separation from the other person? Are the parents a heterosexual couple raising six children on $30,000 a year?

What does the research say? First, it appears that children of gay-lesbian-bisexual parents are more likely to grow up to engage in same-sex sexual behavior, at least on an experimental basis, or to identify as gay-lesbian-bisexual, than children of heterosexual parents.

Second, if same-sex parents have long-term stable relationships, their children may do as well in some areas (such as psychological adjustment, school success), However, same-sex parents appear to have far less stable relationships than heterosexual married, even cohabiting couples. Instability is a problem for children, for both same-sex and heterosexual families, but the risk is greater for the former and their children on average may be disadvantaged.

Third, there is growing evidence that the gender roles of the children of same-sex couples, including adoptive same-sex couples, are more “flexible”.

Fourth, there is growing evidence that the children of same-sex couples may be more likely to use or abuse illegal drugs. Evidence is mounting that same-sex persons are more likely to have a background of childhood sexual abuse, which might or might not play into how they parent, if they become parents.

Schumm raises the issue that it is in society’s interest to reward those doing the hard work by asking "who is doing the heavy lifting"?

"We want to reward those in society who do the most difficult “emotional work”. Anyone who has ever tried living with a member of the opposite sex knows that it is emotional work and that it is not always easy.

Research is clear that homosexual men usually feel OK about sex outside a civil union or marriage, often by mutual consent. Some recent research has found that some homosexual women look forward to marriage precisely because marriage would make having sex outside the marriage easier on the relationship.

This is the exact opposite of what occurs for most heterosexual couples. That is, how many heterosexual women look forward to marriage so their husband can start having sex with other women or so they can start having sex with other men?

"Thus, heterosexual men and women are doing what society calls for -- but we will be punishing them for it. It’s like telling a soldier: we need you to go and fight the enemy face-to-face 24 hours a day and to risk maiming and death. But we, in order to be “fair”, are going to grant the same respect, rank, promotions, or veterans benefits and privileges to soldiers who stayed home and worked only eight hours a day out of air conditioned buildings."

Dr Walter Schumm is Professor of Family Studies in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University.

Unpacking the slogans