A Quick Guide To The Research On Same-Sex Parenting (As Presented To The Federal Courts)

Zach Wahls, who was raised by two moms, speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Zach Wahls, who was raised by two moms, speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Two marriage equality cases are advancing to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals from the states of Nevada (Sevcik v. Sandoval) and Hawaii (Jackson v. Abercrombie). In both cases, marriage equality lost at the district court level, distinguishing them from the case challenging California’s Proposition 8 and essentially freeing them of the jurisdictional issues that complicated the Prop 8 case. This means that the two cases provide an opportunity for the court to directly consider the constitutionality of states banning same-sex marriage.

Numerous professional organizations submitted amicus briefs last week advising the court about why it should support marriage equality and in particular, addressing the question of same-sex parenting. Opponents assert that same-sex marriage should be banned because children fare better with different-sex parents than with same-sex parents. Not only does this ignore the fact that joint adoption is already legal for same-sex couples in both Nevada and Hawaii, but as the scholarly community points out, it disregards the consensus of scientific research endorsing same-sex parenting.

In a brief filed by the American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Psychoanalytic Association, and Hawaii Psychological Association, the scholars outline three factors that research has determined leads to good parenting:

  • The quality of the relationships between parent and child.
  • The quality of the relationships among adults in the child’s life (such as between the parents).
  • Available economic resources to support the child’s development (e.g., safer neighborhoods, more nutritious food, etc.).

The groups point out that these factors are not impacted by sexual orientation, and thus there is no reason to conclude same-sex parents would be inferior in any way.


In a complementary brief, the American Sociological Association (ASA) expanded upon what research says specifically about the outcomes for children of same-sex parents:

Like it did in its brief to the Supreme Court earlier this year, the ASA also points out that much of the research opponents cite to challenge marriage equality doesn’t actually address same-sex parenting. This includes rehashing of its debunk of Mark Regenerus’s flawed study, highlighting that David Popenoe’s work doesn’t discuss same-sex families, reminding that several cited researchers have objected to conservatives’ attempts to incorrectly use their research against same-sex parenting, and calling out various other “fatherless” studies that do not apply.

The voices of the young people who have been raised by same-sex parents is championed in an additional brief, filed by the Family Equality Council, Equality Hawaii Foundation, We Are Family, and COLAGE. Census estimates suggest there are about 250,000 children being raised in same-sex families. The brief includes testimony from several of them, who have also been highlighted by the Family Equality Council’s “The Outspoken Generation” project:

Given how same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage are separate issues under the law, it remains unclear why opponents of marriage equality use parenting arguments to justify maintaining their bans. Nevertheless, their parenting arguments do not hold any legitimate scientific merit and only provide advocates with opportunities to highlight the same-sex families already raising children in Hawaii, Nevada, and across the country.

(HT: Kathleen Perrin.)