Moves by legislators and homosexual activists to endorse same sex adoption are misguided. Their intentions may be good, but they are ignoring the rights of children and important social and psychological research into the homosexual lifestyle.
The recent decision of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois to separate from the Church and place children in same sex unions occurred after Illinois followed the lead set by other states and enacted legislation to protect so-called rights for homosexual unions. This legislation, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, denied funding to social service agencies that refuse to permit same sex adoption.
Experimenting on children by permitting adoption by same sex couples poses serious problems. Children have a right to and a need for parenting by both a father and a mother. This need should be recognized by the state and by professional groups as far more important than an adult’s supposed right to adopt.
The views presented here are based on extensive social science research and scholarship, on my clinical experience as a psychiatrist that includes consulting with adoptive and foster children for several years, treating adoptive children for almost 35 years, writing about their treatment in a textbook for the American Psychological Association (1) and as the father of three adopted daughters.
The risks in same sex unions
Same sex relationships do not provide an ideal environment in which to raise children for several reasons.
First, same sex couples tend to be promiscuous. One of the largest studies of same sex couples revealed that only seven of 156 couples had a sexual relationship which was totally monogamous. Most of these relationships lasted less than five years. Couples whose relationship lasted longer incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity: “The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the 10-year mark is the lack of possessiveness,” observed two scholars who were also partners, David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison. “Many couples learn very early in their relationship that ownership of each other sexually can be the greatest internal threat to their staying together.” (2)
Second, the unions are very fragile. The probability of breakup is high for lesbian couples. In a 2010 report, the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, 40 percent of the couples who had conceived a child by artificial insemination had broken up.(3) Lisa Diamond reported in her book, Sexual Fluidity, that “more than two-thirds of the women in my sample had changed their identity labels at least once after the first interview. The women who kept the same identity for the whole ten years proved to be the smallest and most atypical group.” If a woman in a same-sex relationship changes her identity label, the relationship breaks up.
And third, the couple may not necessarily be physically healthy. Dutch research has found that most new HIV infections in Amsterdam occurred among homosexual men who were in steady relationships. The researcher concluded that: “Prevention measures should address risky behavior, especially with steady partners, and the promotion of HIV testing.” (4) Research shows that same sex unions suffer a significantly higher prevalence of domestic abuse, depression, substance-abuse disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases.(5) Should adopted children be placed with a couple at risk of a serious and emotionally draining illness?
Children need a mother and a father
The most important issue is the welfare of the child. Social science research has repeatedly demonstrated the vital importance of both a father and a mother for the healthy development of children and the serious risks that they face if they are raised without a mother or a father. Mothers and fathers bring unique gifts that are essential to the health of a child.
Among the many distinctive talents that mothers bring to the parenting enterprise, three stand out: their capacity to breastfeed, their ability to understand infants and children, and their ability to offer nurture and comfort.
Social science studies confirm this. Numerous reports indicate that infants and toddlers prefer mothers to fathers when they are hungry, afraid or sick. Mothers tend to be more soothing. Mothers are more responsive to the distinctive cries of infants; they are better able than fathers, for instance, to distinguish between a cry of hunger and a cry of pain. They are also better than fathers at detecting the emotions of their children by looking at their faces, postures, and gestures.
Children who were deprived of maternal care during extended periods in their early lives “lacked feeling, had superficial relationships, and exhibited hostile or antisocial tendencies” as they developed into adulthood.(6) Clinical experience suggests that deliberately depriving a child of its mother, motherlessness, causes severe damage because mothers are crucial in establishing a child’s ability to trust and to feel safe in relationships. All cultures recognize the essential role of the mother.
Fathers also have distinctive talents.(7) Fathers excel when it comes to providing discipline, play, and challenging children to embrace life’s challenges. They also provide essential role models for boys. Their presence in the home protects a child from fear and strengthens a child’s ability to feel safe. The extensive research on the serious psychological, academic and social problems among youth raised in fatherless families demonstrates the importance of the presence of the father in the home for healthy child development.
The rights and needs of children to a mother and a father should be protected by the state. Adults do not have a right to deprive children of a father or a mother.
The children do suffer
There are strong indications that children raised by same sex couples fare less well than children raised in stable homes with a mother and a father.
In 1996 a well-designed study of 174 primary school children in Australia — 58 children in married families, 58 in families headed by cohabitating heterosexuals and 58 in home with homosexual unions – suggested that married couples offered the best environment for a child’s social and education environment. Cohabiting couples were second best and homosexual couples came last.(8)
The results of a 2009 study of women in New York, Boston, and San Francisco are similar. Researchers interviewed 68 women with gay or bisexual fathers and 68 women with heterosexual fathers. The women (average age 29 in both groups) with gay or bisexual fathers had difficulty with adult attachment issues in three areas: they were less comfortable with closeness and intimacy; they were less able to trust and depend on others; and they experienced more anxiety in relationships compared to the women raised by heterosexual fathers.(9)
Flawed studies with positive results
Not surprisingly, there are scholars who oppose this weighty evidence. Two major studies published in 2010 are often cited by homosexual activists and the media. Nanette Gartrell and Henry Bos (10) and Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey (11) claim that children who were deliberately deprived of the benefits of gender complementarity in a home with a father and a mother suffer no psychological damage.
However, all data in the Gartell and Bos article are self-reports by the mother and the child. The mothers were aware of the political agenda of the research and this must have skewed the results. This defect in methodology severely weakens the report.
In the meta-study by Biblarz and Stacey, in 31 of the 33 studies of two parent families, it was the parents who provided the data, which consisted of subjective judgments. Once again, this created a social desirability bias because the homosexual parents knew the political agenda behind the study. Furthermore, of the 33 studies in two-person families, only two studies included men, although the title, “How does the gender of parents matter?” suggests that both men and women were fully represented.
Much of the research on same-sex couples tends to have serious methodological flaws. It is often argued that there is no evidence that children are harmed if they are raised by homosexual men. This is true, but the absence of evidence does not prove the case. It means that there is no evidence. Studies of children raised by homosexual men are rare. No studies have examined the long-term effects on adult males raised by homosexual men.
A grave injustice for adopted children
An adopted child has been separated from his or her biological parents. The child feels this loss. For this reason adoption agencies historically have sought the best possible placement — a sensitive and stable father and mother. A same-sex couple is by definition a second-class placement, since a parent of the opposite sex is missing.
A grave injustice to adoptive children is occurring as growing numbers of Catholic social service adoption agencies that have provided outstanding help to children, parents and families for decades are being denied the right to continue. Legislatures are placing the rights of homosexual unions to adopt above the needs and rights of children to a mother and a father.
Deliberately depriving a child of a father or a mother harms the child.(12) Social science research supports this view. Adoptive children have experienced early-life abandonment trauma and should be protected from the additional trauma of being exposed to a cruel social experiment. Will no one step forward to protect these children?
Rick Fitzgibbons is the director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken PA. He has practiced psychiatry for 35 years with a specialty in the treatment of excessive anger.
(1) Enright, R. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2000). Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books ,p. 187-89.
(2) McWhirter, D. and Mattison, A. 1985. The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. Prentice Hall.
(3) Gartrell, N. & Bos, H. (2010) US national Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents, Pediatrics, Volume 126, Number 1, July 2010, 28-36.
(4) Xiridou, M. et al. (2003). The contribution of steady and casual partnerships to the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam. AIDS 17: 1029-38.
(5) D. O’Leary. (2007) One Man, One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 149-68.
(6) Kobak, R. (1999). “The emotional dynamics of disruptions in attachment relationships: Implications for theory, research, and clinical intervention”. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver. (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment (pp. 21-43). New York: The Guilford Press.
(8) Sarantakos, S. (1996) Children in three contexts. Children Australia, 21(3), 23-31.
(9) Sirota, T, (2009) Adult Attachment Style Dimensions in Women with Gay or Bisexual Fathers. Arch. Psych Nursing, 23, 289-297.
(10) Gartrell, N. & Bos, H. (2010) US national Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents, Pediatrics, Volume 126, Number 1, July 2010 p. 28-36.
(11) Biblarz, T. J. & Stacey, J. (2010). How does the gender of parents matter? Journal of Marriage and Family. 72, 3-22.
(12) Kobak, R. (1999). “The emotional dynamics of disruptions in attachment relationships: Implications for theory, research, and clinical intervention”. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver. (Eds.), Handbook of Attachment (pp. 21-43). New York: The Guilford Press.; Popenoe,D. (1996) Life Without Father, New York: Free Press, P. 176; Golombok, S. et al (1997) Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: Family relationships and the socioeconomic development of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers. J. Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38: 783-791; Gallagher M. & Baker, J.K. (2004) Do Mom and Dads Matter: Evidence from the social sciences on family structure and at the best interests of the child. Margins 161(4):161-180.