Kids have to hear their gay parents vilified

July 02, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

THE RECENT ATTEMPT IN Congress to pass an amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriages went down to defeat, despite the support of President Bush.

The defeat came just as an ABC News poll showed that support for such an amendment had dropped again, in part, pollsters suggested, because socially inclusive suburbanites are uncomfortable about writing discrimination into the Constitution.

So the revival of the marriage amendment died, but not before delivering fresh harm to gay couples. And to their children.

One can only imagine what it is like for those children to overhear a negative national conversation that says their parents are undermining the moral fabric of this country.

Aside from the assault on Social Security benefits or employment benefits or parental rights and what that can mean to the children of gay parents, this debate is no good for the kids.

Scholars say that two decades of research has found no noticeable harm to children growing up with gay or lesbian parents, except when they are subjected to bias in the community or the unpleasant judgments of significant adults around them.

Seth Sanders, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, said that though the studies tend to be small, "most of the literature finds no difference in outcomes for the children, especially in areas like academic achievement."

In a recent survey of 20 years of the professional literature, Charlotte Patterson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, found that household and family issues are typical, whether the parents are gay or not.

"You cannot prove that one group of kids is identical to the other," she said. "But over 20-plus years of research, has anyone found any noticeable harm?

"The answer is, no," said Patterson, who is herself raising three children in a lesbian partnership.

Judith Stacey, a New York University professor of gender and sexuality issues and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, said a new generation of studies that focuses on white, middle-class lesbians who choose to have kids by artificial insemination shows very minor differences from heterosexual families.

"And a few of those differences actually favor the kids with lesbian moms," she said. "They are generally both very involved parents."

That doesn't mean that the children are without problems, Patterson said.

"What we are saying is that the overall distribution of problems is similar in the two groups," meaning the children of heterosexual parents and the children of same-sex parents.

What you don't find, Patterson explained, is any more or fewer diagnosable disorders or behavioral problems. Big things.

"What is clearer," said Patterson, "is that some of the big problems that people in this community face come from ... outside their families. Bias in the community or from school or from institutions. And these are really important."

It appears that the children of gay and lesbian couples are not the only children who are profoundly affected by the tenor of this discussion.

Stephen Russell, professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, finds that the negative tone of this national conversation is making children of all descriptions "feel less safe."

Russell, in research for the California Safe Schools Coalition, conducted an online survey of high school children last fall. He analyzed responses from 665 students, only 40 of whom said they had gay or lesbian parents.

"What is clear is that the media coverage and the discussion can undermine the health and well-being of all kids, although the results are magnified for gay and lesbian kids."

Russell said the survey revealed that when this topic is talked about in a way that is oppositional, "kids feel less safe in school.

"The more discussion and the more negative the discussion, the more difficult it is for the kids."

Russell said that although only 40 kids identified themselves as having gay and lesbian parents, most kids know someone who is gay or feel themselves allies in some way, and this negative discussion is hurtful to them all. And scary.

Russell referred to research that found that in every school shooting, from Columbine on down, there has been an element of homophobia.

"In every case, the boys were called gay," he said.

Certainly high school kids realize by now that kids who are backed into a corner by this kind of talk are likely to strike back in shocking ways.

The movement to change the founding document of this country to reflect the distaste and fear some feel toward gays and lesbians can only add to an undercurrent of unease.

Sen. Wayne Allard, the Colorado Republican who introduced the marriage amendment, said at a rally that we must "send a message to our children."

Whose children? What message?

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