January 12, 2009
After seven years of working on the issue of homosexuality at the Family Research Council, I think I have a pretty good sense of the arguments that pro-homosexual activists use in support of their agenda, such as affirmation of homosexual parents and same-sex “marriage.” Even when those arguments are made well, they are unconvincing-but when they are made poorly, it just leaves me shaking my head.
One example of this phenomenon-bad arguments made badly-got a lot of attention recently. That was the Newsweek cover story on “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage,” penned by the magazine’s religion editor Lisa Miller. It was so poorly researched and poorly reasoned that Miller should lose her job for it-not because she is in error, but because she is incompetent. Some political writer posting on a blog might get away with the kind of sloppiness Miller showed-but a “religion editor” writing a cover story should not be allowed to. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and I wrote in detail about the Newsweek story on December 9.
Another example of a bad pro-homosexual argument badly made drew less attention, in part because of timing. On November 25-just two days before Thanksgiving-a Miami-Dade County judge in Florida, Cindy S. Lederman, issued a ruling declaring that state’s law barring homosexuals from adopting children to be a violation of the Florida constitution. The ruling came despite the fact that in 2004, the federal courts rejected a similar challenge to the same law. Lederman’s 53-page decision can be found here.
I am no longer surprised when a judge merely regurgitates the arguments typically offered by pro-homosexual activists, instead of engaging in an open-minded and thoughtful analysis. Such regurgitation is exactly what was done by the judges who voted to legalize same-sex “marriage” in Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut. But when a judge does not just explain away the evidence against the pro-homosexual position, but essentially denies that it even exists, then you know that the fix was in from the start.
Let me explain how the debate over homosexual parenting usually plays out, and how Judge Lederman went even beyond the normal pro-homosexual talking points.
One of the key arguments in favor of allowing homosexual parenting usually goes something like this: “There’s no proof that children raised by homosexuals do any worse than children raised by heterosexuals.” That they are able to make this claim with any degree of plausibility is due to only one fact-virtually all of the studies that have been conducted specifically of homosexual parents have suffered from such grave methodological flaws that they cannot be said to provide definitive “proof” of much of anything, one way or the other.
It is extremely difficult to get a truly random sample of the homosexual population, simply because that population is so small. The best surveys show that only about two percent of the population identifies as homosexual or bisexual (and only about one percent of couples sharing households). Therefore, scholars doing research on homosexuality often have to rely on “convenience samples”-for example, by advertising for study participants in publications catering to homosexuals. In the case of homosexual parents, it seems likely that those whose children are suffering serious problems would be less likely to volunteer, while those who do volunteer may be motivated by a desire to prove a point, and put only their best foot forward. Such a sample is likely to yield a more positive picture of homosexual parents than a truly random sample would.
Going hand-in-hand with the “no proof” claim is the “no differences” claim-the assertion that the research shows “no differences” between children raised by homosexuals and those raised by heterosexuals. Yet this claim has been decisively refuted by a source whose credibility on the issue is enhanced by her clear lack of bias against homosexuals-namely, the militantly pro-homosexual researcher Judith Stacey. Her 2001 article in American Sociological Review (with co-author Timothy J. Biblarz) conclusively refutes the “no differences” claim, noting that the research actually shows that children of lesbians are more likely to engage in homosexual behavior, daughters of lesbians are “more sexually adventurous and less chaste,” and lesbian “co-parent relationships” are more likely to break up than heterosexual marriages. Stacey does not consider these differences to be problematic, but others will certainly disagree. In essence, Stacey’s article confirms that advocates and many researchers themselves have been simply lying when they make the “no differences” claim.
Lederman’s decision mentions the Stacey and Biblarz article in a footnote, and notes her pro-homosexual position, but it fails to even mention the significance of the article in refuting the “no differences” claim. Instead Lederman merely repeats the discredited claim, declaring, “These reports and studies find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children” (p. 37 of the decision). Yet she goes even further. After repeating the (discredited) claim that there are “no differences,” she goes well beyond the narrowly defensible claim that the research provides “no proof” of negative outcomes, and instead makes a sweeping assertion that “based on the robust nature of the evidence in the field, this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise.”
To call the evidence “robust” on this matter is an exaggeration that should be embarrassing even to the pro-homosexual activists themselves. A detailed literature review of 49 studies on homosexual parenting reported:
Some major problems uncovered in the studies include the following:
Unclear hypotheses and research designs
Missing or inadequate comparison groups
Self-constructed, unreliable and invalid measurements
Non-random samples, including participants who recruit other participants
Samples too small to yield meaningful results
Missing or inadequate statistical analysis
Lerner and Nagai found at least one fatal research flaw in all forty-nine studies. As a result, they conclude that no generalizations can reliably be made based on any of these studies. For these reasons the studies are no basis for good science or good public policy.
Lederman’s own account of the testimony of one witness for the petitioner, however, contradicts the “no differences” claim in at least one crucial area-namely, the sexuality of young people raised by homosexual parents. Lederman notes on p. 17 that “one study revealed that female children raised by lesbians were more sexually active” and also said that “children raised by lesbian mothers expressed openness to considering same sex attraction.” But the witness, English psychologist Michael Lamb, reportedly dismissed these findings as representing merely “a lesson in promoting tolerance” and showing that “children raised by lesbians are less strictly tied to sexual roles and rigid applications of sex roles.”
The principal case against homosexual parenting, however, is not based so much on the limited, methodologically deficient studies of homosexual parents as such. Instead, it is based on inferences to be drawn from two other bodies of research that are, indeed, “robust” in their findings. One is the evidence that homosexuality itself is associated with high levels of a number of pathologies-sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse. The second is the overwhelming body of evidence showing that in general, children do best when raised by their own biological mother and father who are committed to each other in a lifelong marriage. When these two bodies of evidence are juxtaposed upon each other, they provide more than sufficient reason for alarm about deliberately placing children with homosexual parents (for example, through foster care or adoption). Let’s look at these two factors individually.
Pro-homosexual activists usually do not deny that homosexuals have higher physical and mental health risks-the evidence is simply too overwhelming. In fact, one of the most succinct summaries of those risks can be found on the website of the pro-homosexual Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Here are some of the GLMA’s warnings about homosexual men:
“That men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of HIV infection is well known . . .”
“Gay men use substances at a higher rate than the general population, and not just in larger communities such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.”
“Depression and anxiety appear to affect gay men at a higher rate than in the general population.”
“Men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infection with the viruses that cause the serious condition of the liver known as hepatitis.”
“Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur in sexually active gay men at a high rate.”
“Although more recent studies have improved our understanding of alcohol use in the gay community, it is still thought that gay men have higher rates of alcohol dependence and abuse than straight men.”
“Recent studies seem to support the notion that gay men use tobacco at much higher rates than straight men . . .”
“Problems with body image are more common among gay men than their straight counterparts, and gay men are much more likely to experience an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa.”
“[H]uman papilloma virus [HPV] … infections may play a role in the increased rates of anal cancers in gay men.”
Although the health risks for lesbians are not as dramatic as those for homosexual men, they are still significant:
“Lesbians have the richest concentration of risk factors for breast cancer than any subset of women in the world.”
“Lesbians have higher risks for many of the gynecologic cancers.”
“Research confirms that lesbians have higher body mass than heterosexual women.”
“Research also indicates that lesbians may use tobacco and smoking products more often than heterosexual women use them.”
“Alcohol use and abuse may be higher among lesbians.”
“Research indicates that lesbians may use illicit drugs more often than heterosexual women.”
Since the evidence is so overwhelming, the usual explanation offered by pro-homosexual activists for the mental health problems (and sexual risk-taking, which leads to physical health problems) of homosexuals is to blame society’s negative attitudes toward homosexual conduct. For example, the GLMA list offers this explanation for higher rates of depression and anxiety among lesbians: “Lesbians have been shown to experience chronic stress from homophobic discrimination.”
However, instead of offering this stock answer (“Homophobia made me do it!”) to the mental health problems of homosexuals, Judge Lederman baldly denied that such problems exist at all, declaring that “expert witnesses” had shown that “homosexually behaving individuals are no more susceptible to mental health or psychological disorders that their heterosexual counterparts” (p. 10).
Yet a detailed footnote (footnote #8, p. 14) giving actual statistics shows a completely different story. For example it states that rates of “major depression” are more than twice as high among homosexual men than among heterosexual men (17% to 8%). Rates of smoking are 47% higher among bisexual men than among heterosexual men (28% to 19%; rates for homosexual men are not given), and 77% higher among lesbians than among heterosexual women (23% to 13%). Rates of alcohol dependency are 42% higher among homosexual and bisexual men than among heterosexual men (9.2% to 6.5%), and more than three times higher among lesbians than among heterosexual women (9% to 2.7%). Rates of drug dependency are two and a half times higher among homosexual and bisexual men than among heterosexual men (7.5% to 3%), and more than three times higher among lesbians than among heterosexual women (5% to 1.5%). “Suicide attempts” are twice as high among homosexual men as among heterosexual men (5.6% to 2.8%), and they are more than twice as high among lesbian or bisexual women as among heterosexual woman (11% to 4.5%). Meanwhile, the “lifetime history of suicide attempts” (presumably measured in a different study) is more than three times as high among homosexuals as among heterosexuals (14% to 4.5%).
It may be that we should not place too much weight upon the specific statistics cited in Footnote 8, because they include several illogical anomalies, perhaps resulting from the conflation of data from different studies. For example, the data on “major depression” report that the rate for “men” (5%) is significantly lower than the rate for both homosexual and heterosexual men (17% and 8%, respectively)! On the other hand, the data for “smoking” indicate that the rate for “men” (36.4%) is higher than the rate for both bisexual and heterosexual men (28% and 19%)-it hardly seems likely that the population of homosexual men (omitted from the list) would be large enough to raise the total figure so dramatically. On the female side in the smoking category, the rate listed for “women” (23%) is the same as that listed for lesbians, but significantly higher than that listed for heterosexual women (13%), even though the latter are the overwhelming majority of all women.
The mere fact that such manifest absurdities were included in the decision demonstrates the carelessness and incompetence of Judge Lederman. But even when taken with a substantial grain of salt, the data certainly provide no support whatsoever for her claim that “homosexually behaving individuals are no more susceptible to mental health or psychological disorders that their heterosexual counterparts.”
In fact, the internal contradictions of Judge Lederman’s opinion are illustrated by the fact that she later abandons the “no more susceptible” claim, citing another expert witness on page 14 as concluding that “the average rates of psychiatric conditions, substance abuse and smoking are [emphasis added] slightly higher for homosexuals than heterosexuals” (though rates that range from 42% to 233% higher, as indicated in Footnote 8 on the same page, would seem to be more than “slight” differences). Instead of denying the differerences altogether (as on p. 10), Lederman shifts to another argument, suggesting that there are other demographic groups that also have higher rates of “psychiatric conditions, substance abuse and smoking” than the general population, including “American-Indians,” “the unemployed,” and “non-high school graduates.”
This comparison, however, is flawed because homosexual conduct is not an innate characteristic like race, an involuntary characteristic like unemployment, nor a socioeconomic characteristic like educational attainment. It is a behavioral characteristic, defined by the voluntary choice to engage in specific behaviors, namely sexual acts with people of the same sex.
By way of comparison: if the research shows that women are more likely to get breast cancer than men, that cannot logically be taken as proof that women are inherently inferior to men, because one’s biological sex is an innate and involuntary condition. On the other hand, if research shows that cigarette smokers are more likely to get breast cancer than non-smokers, such a finding can logically be taken as evidence that not smoking is better than smoking, because smoking is a voluntary behavior with demonstrable negative consequences.
Much of the homosexual rights movement as a whole rests on deliberate obfuscation of this point. That is, it rests on the effort to portray homosexuality (falsely) as an innate characteristic like race or sex, instead of as what it is-a voluntary behavior, like smoking, that has clear negative consequences.
When it comes to the findings that children do best when raised by their own, biological mother and father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage, most pro-homosexual activists do not try to deny the overwhelming evidence. Instead, they generally will point out that most of the studies on which this conclusion is based involve comparisons with single-parent families or divorced families, rather than with homosexual couples as such.
Judge Lederman, however, was not content to dismiss this evidence as not being directly relevant, the way most pro-homosexual activists do. Instead, she dismissed it altogether. Citing Dr. Lamb for authority, she declares that “researchers once believed that traditional families provided the best environment for children. As the research developed, however, the notion was proven to be flawed …” (p. 15). She concludes her summary of Lamb’s testimony with two other statements, also false, stating that “the assumption that children need a mother and a father in order to be well adjusted is outdated and not supported by the research,” and making the absurd claim that “there is a well established and generally accepted consensus in the field that children do not need a parent of each gender to adjust healthily” (p. 18).
The truth is exactly the opposite. For instance, the non-partisan think tank Child Trends surveyed the literature and found, “An extensive body of research tells us that children do best when they grow up with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.” To the argument (often advanced by homosexual activists) that it is merely having the support of two parents that matters, Child Trends added, “Children growing up with stepparents also have lower levels of well-being than children growing up with biological parents. Thus, it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”
In similar fashion, Lederman denies that homosexual partnerships are more unstable than heterosexual marriage-then includes a footnote showing exactly the opposite. Footnote #4 on p. 11 cites one study (apparently from Europe) showing that “same sex couples in civil unions” had break-up rates 41 % higher than married heterosexuals (3.8% to 2.7%), while “same sex couples not in civil union” [sic] had rates more than three times higher (9.3%). It cites another study from Sweden in which the break-up rates for “gay male registered partnerships” were 75% higher than for married heterosexuals (14% to 8%), and the rates for “lesbian registered partnerships” were two and a half times higher (20%). She also cites an old (1970) study that showed that just in the first two years of a relationship, the break-up rates for “gay men” were four times higher than for married heterosexuals (16% to 4%), and the rates for lesbians were five and a half times higher (22%).
I won’t even go into the blatant religious bigotry expressed by Judge Lederman, who dismissed the testimony of two experts for the state on the basis of their having written for religious publications. James A. Smith, Sr. of the Florida Baptist Witness has already written on that aspect of Lederman’s decision here.
Lederman’s decision was not only poorly reasoned, but poorly written, being riddled with non sequitirs and punctuation errors. Take this passage on whether homosexuality is a mental disorder, for example: “Today, Dr. Berlin reports that leading professionals agree that homosexuality defines one’s same sex attraction only. [?] According to the witness, homosexuality was removed from the DSM because the evidence of [for?] it’s [sic] classification as a disorder did not justify the conclusion.”
While Judge Lederman’s decision was a comedy of errors, it is no laughing matter. One can only hope that this atrocious decision will be overturned on appeal.