Flawed evidence about gay marriage

The evidence shows that gay marriage is equal to or better than traditional marriage, according to a Federal Court judge. But what sort of evidence?
Walter R. Schumm | Aug 6 2010 | comment  

from Christian Science MonitorIn one sense, Judge Walker can’t be blamed for his decision since he was provided a great deal of inaccurate and incomplete information through the trial process. I hope that future amicus briefs will be able to correct those deficiencies.

It’s not that heterosexuals think their marriages are superior per se but that heterosexual marriage has vulnerabilities that are not found in same-sex relationships. Kurdek (2008) found that gay/lesbian couples reported greater levels of happiness over time than did heterosexual couples, especially the latter who had children. Kurdek admitted that gender conflicts would be expected to be more prevalent in heterosexual relationships. There are also more risks in heterosexual relationships in terms of unwanted pregnancies or struggles over fertility control.

At the same time that heterosexual relationships inherently entertain higher risks, they also provide society with a very important product – biological children who are genetically related to both of their parents, which tends to be correlated with taking better care of children (unrelated boyfriends, for example, often abuse their girlfriend’s biological children).

As an example of the bad information provided to the court, it is clear that lesbian parents have far less stable same-sex relationships than do heterosexual parents, even when the lesbian parents have advantages in terms of higher education or income (Schumm, 2009). The court was told that lesbian relationships are just as stable as heterosexual relationships, which may be true but only for persons who are not parents. The court may not have been told about the high rates, on the order of 50 percent within three years, of extramarital affairs engaged in by gay men in civil unions or marriages (Schumm, 2009).

The court was probably told that lesbian and gay parents are not more likely to have non-heterosexual children, which my research shows is false (Schumm, in press). The court was probably told that the children of lesbian and gay parents are doing just as well as the children of heterosexual parents. What is overlooked is that there is a great deal of cherry-picking going on, pitting highly educated, high income gay or lesbian parents against less educated, lower income heterosexual parents. I have yet to see any study control for education and for per capita household income before making comparisons between the two types of parents.

For example, Patterson and her colleagues (Farr, Forssell, & Patterson, 2010) recently published an article claiming that gay and lesbian parents of adopted children were parenting just as well as heterosexual adoptive parents. I tried to submit a rejoinder to that journal but the editor told me that his journal doesn’t accept any letters to the editor or criticisms of their published reports. Now there’s a great ploy – send your papers to outlets where you know in advance that your research, once published, will escape any criticism no matter how flawed your article might be!

However, in Patterson’s report, the gay father households had an average income of US$190,000 compared to $150,000 for heterosexual households and probably had fewer children. Neither level of household income represents anything close to what the average parent, heterosexual or non-heterosexual, must manage economically. For example, my base pay at the University after working here for over 30 years is less than $83,000, though I earn more by teaching overtime and getting occasional summer research money. With that, I have had to support my wife and seven children over years, including many years which involved much less income. And most people would consider me quite advantaged economically compared to the average household. And yet, our per capita household income would be almost trivial compared to that of the subjects who participated in Patterson’s research.

Patterson presented data from the “teachers” of the three-year-old children but the “teachers” were mostly daycare providers being paid by the parents. Now, why would anyone expect such an employee to run down the children in their care by describing them as psychologically troubled? Furthermore, there were no measures of social desirability used that could have been used to statistically control for any tendencies to overrate their children’s levels of psychological adjustment.

These types of flaws are widespread in research on gay and lesbian parenting but whether Judge Walker apprehended these issues, or even was provided clear evidence about them, is questionable.

Judge Walker was correct in that legal marriage does provide many benefits for legally married couples. Clearly, legally married gay or lesbian couples would be helped from such benefits. But, in my view, it’s just like universal healthcare. Sure, if free healthcare were provided to all residents of a nation, that would seem a great help. But someone has to pay the bill, surely some more than others. You end up with an equality of outcome but an inequality of input.

It’s easy enough to establish an apparent equality of outcomes for different types of couples, but if their inputs in terms of risks are unequal and their contributions to society in terms of jointly biological children are unequal, have you really established an equality or actually an inequality? That is why I have argued (Schumm, 2009) that making same-sex relationships socially and morally equivalent to heterosexual relationships creates an injustice rather than correcting one.

Dr Walter Schumm is a Professor of Family Studies in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. He has published over 250 scholarly articles and book chapters and is co-editor of the Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach (Plenum, 1993; Springer, 2009). He is a retired colonel in the US Army Reserve, a former brigade and battalion commander. His views may not reflect the positions of Kansas State University or the US Department of Defense.


Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010) Parenting and child development in adoptive  families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14(3), 164-178.

Kurdek, L. A. (2008). Change in relationship quality for partners from lesbian, gay male, and heterosexual couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 701-711.

Schumm, W. R. (in press). Children of homosexuals more apt to be homosexuals? A reply to   Morrison and to Cameron based on an examination of multiple sources of data. Journal of  Biosocial Science.

Schumm, W. R. (2009). Gay marriage and injustice. The Therapist, 21(3), 95-96.

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