Gay Dads Develop Brain Patterns Of Both Mothers And Fathers, Study Finds

Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, and their twins, Harper Grace and Gideon Scott. CREDIT: JOHN SHEARER/INVISION/AP
Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, and their twins, Harper Grace and Gideon Scott. CREDIT: JOHN SHEARER/INVISION/AP

Opponents of marriage equality claim that same-sex couples should be banned from marrying because children deserve both a mother and a father, but a new study suggests otherwise. Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel compared the brain scans of new moms, new straight dads, and new gay dads, and found that the gay dads developed brain patterns that resemble both mothers and fathers.

In the study, the mothers, who played a primary caregiver role for their children, demonstrated heightened activity in their brain’s emotion-processing regions when watching their children. The straight fathers, playing a traditional secondary parenting role, exhibited increased cognitive activity in the brain, demonstrating awareness of what their children’s cries and cues were trying to communicate. But the gay fathers demonstrated both the mothers’ emotional and fathers’ cognitive brain activity, suggesting that they were, at least according to their brains, operating like both mothers and fathers. This was further evident given that the gay fathers exhibited extra communication between the two brain structures, suggesting that playing both parenting roles integrated both parenting roles into one.


Lead researcher Ruth Feldman explained that “fathers’ brains are very plastic,” and when two fathers are co-parenting, “their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting.”

Plenty of previous studies have demonstrated that the children of same-sex parents fare just as well as their peers raised by different-sex parents, but this may be one of the first studies to provide an explanation as to why. It also directly challenges the primary rhetoric used by marriage equality opponents.

This summer, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is planning a March for Marriage in Washington, DC, featuring speakers like Mike Huckabee and representatives from the Catholic Church, the Heritage Foundation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom. According to the anti-gay march’s official talking points, “marriage matters because kids deserve both a mom and a dad!” NOM explains that “kids deserve better” than the “radical social experiment of redefining marriage and family into genderless institutions.”

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, who will also be speaking at the march, has argued that marriage equality would “deny the significance of both mothering and fathering to children.” The Ruth Institute, a former affiliate of NOM, has demanded that if sex is irrelevant to parenting, “the burden of proof should be on those who make this strong, non-intuitive claim.”

The claim now does have evidence to support it, and the burden is on opponents to consider it.