How many children are being raised by same-sex parents in the United States at the moment?

(a) 200,000  
(b) 1.5 to 5 million  
(c) 8 to 10 million  
(d) 14 million  
(e) 28 million

The correct figure is believed to be 200,000. It is the one mentioned by the US Supreme Court in the majority decision in Obergefell v Hodges which legalised same-sex marriage last year.

However, figures in the millions have been cited by serious legal and social science journals in the recent past. In 2007 journal called Pediatric Nursing estimated that the number of children in same-sex households could be as many as 28 million. This was nearly 40 percent of all American children.

Some scholars have accepted an estimate of 14 million children and have even attributed it to the US Census Bureau.

In an article in the latest issue of the BYU Journal of Public Law*, Professor Walter Schumm, of Kansas State University, examines the incredible range of estimates in 90 law journal articles and 71 social science or medical articles. Only four of the law journal articles and 13 of the social science or medical journal articles carried estimates below 1 million – when the real number was probably one-fifth of that.

The pattern of citation is interesting. Initially academics were citing very high estimates but as time went on the figures began to fall as some of them realised that the estimates were probably inflated.

The key point made by Professor Schumm and his colleagues is that when the legal groundwork for same-sex marriage was laid in the 1990s, courts and scholars were working on the assumption that there were millions of children living in same-sex households. They write:

“[It was] almost as if the scholars were stacking the deck with evidence that would support a perceived need for same-sex marriage to help the many millions of children estimated to be involved with same-sex couples who might potentially marry, if it were legal.”

The implication of this research are dismaying. One of the most powerful motives for legalising same-sex marriage was to provide a safe and stable environment for the children. The smaller the number of children, obviously, the less pressing the argument. In 1999 in the landmark case of Baker v Vermont, the Vermont Supreme Court created civil unions for same-sex couples, on the assumption that the number of children in such arrangements ranged between 1.5 and 5 million.

A survey of dry-as-dust statistics in journal articles gives little insight into the motives of the authors for such sloppy, negligent scholarship. But Schumm observes that legal sources appeared more reluctant to report lower estimates than social science journals, “especially in more recent years”. He concludes:

“the apparent widespread acceptance of impossibly high estimates of the numbers of children potentially affected by changes in the legal status of same-sex marriage may have helped change public opinion in a major direction in favor of same-sex marriage.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.


* Walter R. Schumm et al. “Assessing the History of Exaggerated Estimates of the Number of Children Being Raised by Same-Sex Parents as Reported in Both Legal and Social Science Sources.” BYU Journal of Public Law. Vol 30, No. 2.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.