Mark Regnerus’s June 2012 New Family Structures Study (NFSS) came under fire as soon as it was published. Even after a private consultant confirmed Regnerus’s methodology was acceptable, critics continue to hurl accusations.
One such accusation is aimed not so much at Regnerus as at the rest of us. Some critics argue the NFSS found negative outcomes among children raised by parents in same-sex relationships because social prejudice against these couples affects their children. If we allow gay couples to marry – so the argument runs – they will raise children with positive outcomes.
Here’s the problem: if a relationship is unstable, recognizing it with a civil or religious ceremony is not going to make it more stable.
The small, non-representative sample groups in previous same-sex parenting studies contained same-sex couples whose profile predicted child success: educated, relatively well-off, non-minority, and – most important – a long-term monogamous couple. By contrast, the NFSS’s random sample of a broad population found that many same-sex households are among minorities and poor families, who are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce.
In fact, most households where a child has lived for some period of time with a parent and the parent’s same-sex partner were created after the breakup of a heterosexual relationship. Like heterosexual cohabiting households created in the aftermath of a divorce, extramarital affair, or previous relationship, such households are inherently unstable, as Peter Sprigg of FRC notes:
The fact that only two of over two hundred children [in the NFSS] with a parent who had a same-sex relationship lived with that parent and his or her partner from birth to age 18 shows how extraordinarily rare "stable gay relationships" really are.
Regnerus’s study, as even his critics acknowledge, pinpoints a crucial factor in child success: household stability. Now, even a heterosexual household can’t guarantee stability. So why should we continue to define marriage using the man-woman model?
Here’s one reason (among many). Man-woman marriage is built on a peculiar other-centeredness; it demands that two people who are polar opposites learn to live together. Paradoxically, this tension helps create stability. By nature, a same-sex relationship lacks this tension, which may explain why researchers in Sweden found male same-sex couples 35% more likely to divorce than heterosexual couples – and lesbian couples up to 200% more likely!
Instability, not prejudice, is to blame for the negative outcomes experienced by NFSS respondents. Unfortunately, the average same-sex household is unlikely to provide the stability children need – even when all other factors are equal.