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Study of adoptive families finds no differences for same-sex families

The consensus on same-sex parenting just got another notch on its belt.

Gregg Pitts and Brooks Brunson of Washington, DC play with their son, Thomas Brunson-Pitts. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Gregg Pitts and Brooks Brunson of Washington, DC play with their son, Thomas Brunson-Pitts. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

There is still a select group of researchers like Mark Regnerus who believe same-sex parents are inferior and that all the science showing otherwise is shoddy. Their case just got even weaker.

A new study from the University of Kentucky is the latest to find that children of same-sex couples experience no differences from different-sex couples, and it did so without fitting the mold of the studies Regnerus and others like to cast aside.

Rachel H. Farr, assistant professor of psychology, recruited nearly 100 families, a mix of two-men, two-women, and man-woman couples who were all recruited through five adoption agencies. All of them were thus similarly situated in that none of the parents had biological connections to their children, all of whom were adopted at birth or very early in infancy. This study, unlike others, also involved teachers to collect data about the children’s behavior issues, so the study wasn’t entirely reliant on parents’ self-reporting.

Farr than evaluated them in two waves, first when the kids were preschool-age and then again about five years later in middle childhood. And when she looked at all of the data, the results were fairly conclusive. “Based on mean comparisons,” the study states, “no child, parent, couple, or family outcome variable was distinguishable by parental sexual orientation.”

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“Few studies in this area have included data that represents outcomes in same-sex parent families over time and begin early on in children’s development,” Farr told ThinkProgress. This, combined with the fact that none of the parents had biological connections with their kids, means that the results stand out among similar studies. “We have been able to more clearly study the effects of parenting and family relationships,” she explained.

And because sexual orientation had no impact on any differences found in the study, it actually offers some interesting conclusions for all adoptive families to consider. “Our findings suggest that children had fewer behavior problems over time when their parents were less stressed (and had more satisfying couple relationships),” Farr said. She believes this suggests “families should focus on creating family environments characterized by minimal stress (easier said than done!) and warm, loving relationships with both their children and partners.” What matters isn’t what sex the parents are, but what happens in the family.

Regnerus’ latest screed dismissing the scientific consensus on same-sex parenting posits various theories for its persistence, none of which actually address Farr’s findings. Of the concern that same-sex parenting could still harm children, Farr was quick to dismiss this myth. “Over 30 years of research show no evidence of this claim,” she said. “To the contrary, the literature consistently demonstrates that across different ages, domains of development, and ways of joining their ways families, children with same-sex parents develop in ways that are typical and healthy — at least on par with those children with heterosexual parents.”

The issue of same-sex parenting was central to the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, but has also continued to be a legal question courts have wrestled with. In 2016, no fewer than three state supreme courts have all separately ruled in favor of recognizing that parents from same-sex couples have custody rights of their children, even if they do not have a biological relationship with them.