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BACK TO STUDY HALL
The fact that the study is not based on a random sample will continue to give anti-gay activists ammunition. "For this study to overcome the problem of sample selection alone would be a high barrier," says Robert Knight, head of the Family Research Council, the organization set up by evangelical Christian broadcaster James Dobson and led for years by presidential wannabe Gary Bauer. The FRC and its branches in practically every state have fought hard against gay rights, most notably in Colorado, where controversial Amendment 2 outlawed gay-rights ordinances until it was overturned by the courts. "All the other studies have had glaring errorsthey have small sample sizes, they compare apples and oranges. There have been so many methodological errors that they can't be considered scientific."
Knight argues that the new study is also fatally flawed. "Most people who participate in gay parent studies already think gay parenting is great and would not submit information to any scholar who believes otherwise," he says.
O'Connor freely acknowledges her study's self-selected sample, conceding "it might be that people who have had negative experiences may not want to participate."
But Johnson dismisses the problem. "To say that parents who are homosexual will be concealing information is pretty absurd, considering the high instances of abuse, abandonment, neglect and divorce in heterosexual-headed families," she says. "Homosexual parents are no more likely to be truthful or untruthful than heterosexual parents."
And, other than some accounts of moms having ex-husbands try to use their lesbianism against them in custody battles and the recurring worry that children will be teased for having two moms or two dads, "we haven't had any real nightmare stories," says O'Connor.
Johnson adds that, while she is unwilling to paint a completely rosy picture of gay family life, she is inferring that instances of abandonment and neglect could actually be lower when lesbians or gays have children simply because gays have to jump through more hoops to become parents. "Most people who are gay have had to go to a far greater effort to be parents," while many straight people have children almost unconsciously, because it's the next step in life, she says. Plus, she would ask critics like Knight, "At what point do you say you have at least adequate information?"
As one of two adoptive dads of a 9-year-old son in New Jersey wrote in his survey: "Both of us chose parenting and overcame significant obstacles to have a child. It was not a casual act, and we take parenting very seriously." And the society at large may have less of a problem with the idea of gay parents than the anti-gay pressure groups would have people believe. The New Jersey man's partner added this tidbit: "We were able to get our son into any private school we wanted. It seems they were all interested in having gay dads for parents!"
AN OPEN-MINDED AND SHUT CASE
It's not that gay parents haven't been studied before. They have, and the results haven't backed up the warnings of anti-gay activists that gay parents will produce a nation of gay children. A 1992 survey of the results of 30 studies of the kids of gay parents, published in the journal Child Development, concluded that the studies were nearly unanimous in their findings that the children had developed normally.
The most oft-cited of these studies, conducted in 1995 by University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte Patterson, also showed normal development from children with same-sex parents. And this past summer, the American Psychological Association published a study showing that if a strong relationship exists between parent and child, it doesn't matter whether it is with the mother, the father, two moms, two dads, a grandmother or any other caregiver. Further, a series of lesbian-mom studies have shown that two moms often have the added support of a close network of friends regarded as an extended family and that there is often a more egalitarian division of labor between the parents than there is with most heterosexual couples.
The new study by O'Connor and Johnson indicates that gay parents are thriving in the Midwest and South, outside large, active gay communities. Most two-parent households had one stay-at-home caregiver if the children were young and seemed to evenly divide the responsibilities. Something Johnson and O'Connor say they learned from gay fatherswho so far make up only about 15 percent of the study's participantsis that they often face additional pressure.
"One couple had a hard time going out in public without women inserting themselves into the situation," Johnson says, and some also reported being misunderstood by gay male friends. "Reading that made me realize that men who are gay and who want to be parents really face additional boundaries," she says. "Within their community, by them desiring to be parents, it's not as valued [as in the lesbian community]."
But Jon Cooper's experience belies that. Cooper, a Huntington Democrat just elected to the Suffolk County Legislature and interviewed with his family for a PBS documentary on gay parents scheduled to air this summer, says he hasn't faced much pressure from anyone about his decision to become a father with his partner of 18 years, Rob. Together, they have adopted five children, ranging in age from 5 to 14.