Title: Relative Problems: Same-sex parenting defended Credit: Craig Young Comment Tuesday 16th March 2004 - 12:00pm1079391600 Article: 173 Rights
The Care of Children Bill is quietly chugging through its committee stages, with conservative Christian organisation Maxim working to exclude gays and lesbians from its provisions. Their case is seriously flawed, says Craig Young. While our attention might be focused on the Civil Union Bill, we should not forget that the Maxim Institute is also gunning against our inclusion with the Care of Children Bill, which will legislate for same-sex guardianship rights and responsibilities. Fortunately, I obtained some recent new information that throws some more light on why the US Christian Right's 'case' against same-sex parenting is faulty. It will be remembered that the Maxim Institute imported the work of Robert Lerner and Anthea Nagai within their submission against our inclusion within the Care of Children Bill's new framework for guardianship rights and responsibilities. Lerner and Nagai argue that there are too many 'flaws' within affirmative same-sex parenting research to view it as reliable. It is argued to rely on small sample sizes, short duration studies and unrepresentative populations which overstate the case for lesbian and gay parental rights and responsibilities. However, is their own research an accurate reflection of prevailing professional standards within the field of developmental psychology? To what extent do same-sex parenting studies reflect those prevailing professional standards? Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz of the University of Southern California were asked to assess two affidavits against same-sex affirmative parenting research that were presented to the Ontario Superior Court Divisional Court, in the cases Halpern et al v Attorney General of Canada and Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto et al v Attorney General of Canada et al. Although these cases dealt with same-sex marriage, the respondents were concerned about effects that its recognition might have on same-sex parenting debates. Steven Nock was a demographer. Like Nagai and Lerner, he argued that same-sex parenting research was 'faulty' because it did not use large scale population samples, which are used to assess large-scale factors in population distribution and growth within his own discipline. Stacey and Biblarz replied that Nock might be a leading demographer, but he had no professional background within the field of developmental psychology. In developmental psychology, most studies are based on small but diverse samples and detailed interviews about adult-child interaction that deal with the experiences of children, parents, teachers, pediatricians, social workers and other responsible adults. Stacey and Biblarz noted that same-sex parenting research is usually published within peer-reviewed journals and must conform to professional standards within the discipline of developmental psychology as a result. In the case of that discipline, the relevant publications are Child Development [Society for Research in Child Development] and Developmental Psychology [American Psychological Association]. They pointed out that Nock's criteria would eliminate the entirety of research within the field of developmental psychology and contemporary medical research, as well. Nock's large-scale population studies were inappropriate for the discipline of developmental psychology. While Nock lacked experience within the field of developmental psychology within his affidavit, Professor Craig Hart was more evidently a Christian Right apparatchik. Like Nock, he lacked relevant professional expertise when it came to the discipline of developmental psychology, but his bias was more obvious. He referred to the selective 'fatherlessness' research of conservative Christian [heterosexual] 'marriage movement' activists, who have few qualifications within the field of developmental psychology and pediatric research either. More tellingly, Hart argued that research about heterosexual solo parents should be applied to dual parent same-sex families. According to same-sex parenting research itself however, dual parent same-sex led families display strong differences from solo parent led families. Moreover, he undercut Nock's critique of alleged 'faulty' research standards through unwary citation of discredited Christian Right 'social scientist' Paul Cameron, who has been expelled from the American Psychological Association and censured by the American Sociological Association. As Nock's argument parallels Lerner and Nagai's similar criticisms of 'faulty' research methods within same-sex parenting research, we can reach similar conclusions about the inapplicability of their own work in current New Zealand debates about same-sex guardianship, adoption and other parenting issues. Like Nock, Lerner and Nagai lack experience in the field of developmental psychology and pediatrics. The Tasmanian Law Reform Commission notes that Lerner and Nagai have no relevant publication record within the aforementioned peer-reviewed journals, and are not cited within relevant disciplinary databases like the Web of Science. Nor did they submit their hatchet job against affirmative same-sex parenting research for independent professional peer review, as had all of the affirmative same-sex parenting studies that they lambasted within their paper. Simply put, Lerner and Nagai are ignorant of standard research practice within developmental psychology and pediatrics, so are ill-fitted to comment on a subject beyond their expertise. Finally, what does affirmative same-sex parenting research tell us about same-sex parenting. The lesbian community will be gratified to learn that lesbian-led families are the chief focus of studies here, given greater general female investment in intensive parenting. For a change, it is gay men who are 'invisible' within this research literature. Lesbian parents have intensive engagement in parenting activities, whether they are the biological mother or coparent. Biological parent and coparent equally share parental responsibilities, and communicate regularly about child welfare and behaviour to one another. Same-sex parents are likelier to settle down with a coparent relatively quickly after a divorce, and remain on amenable terms with divorced fathers of their prior children. There is good parent-child communication measurable over reproductive and sexual health issues. As for offspring of same-sex parenting, girls were more assertive and independent, while boys had good interpersonal and communication skills. Children were not assessed as having problems with self-esteem, anxiety, depression, behavioural issues, hyperactivity, friendlessness, emotional problems or difficulties with personal conduct. Peers and teachers perceived them as resilient, popular and responsible, particularly toward younger children. Most significantly, same-sex parenting did not adversely affect their educational attainment or future employment opportunities. Predictably, the Maxim Institute has distorted ambivalent data about greater possible same-sex experimentation amongst adolescent children of same-sex parents, but this can and should be overshadowed by findings related to educational achievement and employability, which are not affected by same-sex parenting. If I wanted to sell this to undecided centre-right social liberal MPs, I would emphasise these findings. The Maxim Institute should acknowledge that it has now been outmanoveured over same-sex parenting issues, and retire from that field of debate. I can assure them that I have not exhausted the range of relevant affirmative same-sex parenting research and resources available, either. Recommended Reading: Robert Lerner and Anthea Nagai: No Turning Back: What Social Scientific Research Doesn't Say About Same-Sex Parenting: Washington: Marriage Law Project: 2001. Rebuttals: Ellen Perrin and Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health: "Technical Report: Coparent or Second Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents" Pediatrics: 109: 2: (February 2002): 341-344. Affidavits of Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz: Ontario Superior Court- Divisional Court: Court File No 684/00: Halpern et al v Attorney-General of Canada et al: Court File No 39/2001: Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto v Attorney-General of Canada et al. Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz: "How Does Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?" American Sociological Review 66: 2: (April 2001): 159-183. Tasmanian Law Reform Commission: Adoption by Same-Sex Couples? Hobart: TLRC: 2001. Craig Young - 16th March 2004    
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