One of conservatives’ primary objections to marriage equality is their belief that children receive some sort of unique benefit from having both a mother and a father. Both Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio justified their opposition to same-sex marriage this week with just that point. Groups like the Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage fraudulently conflate research on single-mom households with two-mom households, implying that both are equally problematic for children because both are “fatherless.” Plenty of evidence has shown that the children of lesbian couples are perfectly well-adjusted, and a new study suggests that there is, in fact, no unique benefit to having a male role model.
The Williams Institute worked with the adolescents from the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLFFS) to compare those who had a male role model (such as the biological father, an uncle, or a grandfather) with those who did not. (Note: Conservatives attack the NLFFS for being a convenience sample, but when it started in 1980, identifying openly as a lesbian couple raising children was hardly convenient.) The study found that neither boys nor girls differed in their psychological well-being or stereotypical gender roles regardless of whether or not they had a male role model. Researchers suggest this compromises the myth that fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have some sort of unique gender-specific connection:
The results of the current study raise several broader questions about the role of parents in the gender development of their children. Given that the adolescent boys with and without male role models did not differ in their masculine gender role traits, this finding challenges the notion that there are gender-specific behaviors that can be imparted only by mothers to daughters and by fathers to sons. The finding that the adolescent offspring of planned lesbian families do not vary in their gender role traits based on the presence of a meaningful male role model also suggests that parenting role behaviors may have shifted.
In many cultures, parental role behavior is now less constricted by gender than ever before. Many of today’s fathers braid their children’s hair, prepare family meals, and supervise homework, while contemporary mothers coach their children in sports and help them with their science projects and career choices. Parents of both genders foster integrity, inquisitiveness, compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, morality, and motivation in their children. Likewise, the ability to love, nurture, groom, teach, inspire, and guide children from infancy to adulthood is shared by mothers and fathers alike. Most of the NLLFS mothers consider good role modeling more a matter of character than gender.
In other words, parents’ commitment is what matters, not their gender. There is nothing “ideal” about having both a mother and a father, because the roles that mothers and fathers play is interchangeable. What all studies have shown — even those that conservatives manipulate to oppose same-sex marriage and adoption — is that having a stable home with committed parents is what makes the difference for children. Any conclusion drawn to attack same-sex couples is supported only by anti-gay bias, not any of the actual data available.