Time gave Dobson a platform to misrepresent -- again -- science on same-sex parenting

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In a Time magazine guest column, James Dobson baselessly claimed that "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father." In fact, studies have consistently found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents suffer no adverse effects in their psychosocial development.

While criticizing Mary Cheney's pregnancy in a December 10 Time magazine guest column titled "Two Mommies is One Too Many," Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson baselessly claimed that "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father." Dobson asserted that "love alone is not enough to guarantee healthy growth and development" of a child and that "[t]he two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy." Dobson also declared that "birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples" and "[t]hat's why public policy as it relates to families must be based not solely on the desires of adults but rather on the needs of children." In fact, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted (here, here, and here), studies have consistently found that children raised by gay or lesbian parents suffer no adverse effects in their psychosocial development.

Despite Dobson's claim that "the majority ... of social-science evidence indicates children do best" if they have married, heterosexual parents, "the majority" of social research has not found that children raised by homosexual parents are at any disadvantage. For instance, as Colorado Media Matters noted (here and here), the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded in a 2005 study of lesbian and gay parenting that "[n]ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents." The study also found that "the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth."

Also, in 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported on the psychosocial development of children raised by same-sex parents. The report noted:

A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children's optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.

The report concluded: "[P]arents' sexual orientation is not a variable that, in itself, predicts their ability to provide a home environment that supports children's development."

In June 2004, the APA announced its opposition to "legislation proposed at the federal and state levels that would amend the U.S. Constitution or state constitutions, respectively, to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples." In doing so, the APA noted:

Gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide healthy and supportive environments for their children. Lesbian and heterosexual women do not differ markedly either in their overall mental health or in their approaches to child rearing. Nor do lesbians' romantic and sexual relationships with other women detract from their ability to care for their children (the limited data on the children of gay fathers suggests similar findings). Recent evidence suggests that gay and lesbian couples with children tend to divide child care and household responsibilities evenly and to report satisfaction with their relationship.

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Studies of various aspects of child development reveal few differences among children of lesbian mothers and heterosexual parents in such areas as personality, self-concept, behavior, and sexual identity. Evidence also suggests that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with peers and adults. Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support.

Additionally, Dobson cited Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (Random House, 2001), by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School, to argue against same-sex child-rearing by asserting that children need a father because "[a] father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate." Pruett has reportedly criticized people for "distorting his work" to advance their political agenda. Specifically referring to the Defense of Marriage Coalition's use of Fatherneed to argue for "a measure to ban same-sex marriage in Oregon," according to an October 22, 2004, article in The Oregonian, Pruett stated: "I was quite surprised, even dumbfounded, to see my name listed as if it were a scientific support or consultant to this amendment. ... It couldn't be further than either my personal or professional position." Pruett stated that he does not conclude "either scientifically or psychologically" that children are best served if reared by two heterosexual parents, and added: "There is to date no credible research that says children raised by gay and lesbian couples are at risk." According to The Oregonian, Pruett concluded that "children generally fare better with two parents than one, even if the parents are of the same gender."

Dobson has previously made dubious assertions about gay and lesbian parenting, as he did in his book Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle (Multnomah, June 2004), in which he asserted that "[m]ore than ten thousand studies have concluded that kids do best when they are raised by loving and committed mothers and fathers" (Page 54). As Media Matters noted, the footnote in Marriage Under Fire for this particular claim states that "[m]any of these studies are either presented or represented in the following," subsequently listing a number of books and articles. Dobson did not provide any evidence documenting all 10,000 studies, but titles he did cite include: Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Harvard University Press, October 1994), Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma (University Press of America, March 1988), "Long-Term Effects of Parental Divorce and Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood," and "Children Who Don't Live with Both Parents Face Behavioral Problems." These examples suggest that many of Dobson's purported "ten thousand studies" did not examine parenting by gay and lesbian individuals or couples at all but, rather, addressed child development in a single-parent home versus a two-parent home.

From Dobson's December 10 Time column "Two Mommies is One Too Many":

With all due respect to Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father. That is not to say Cheney and Poe will not love their child. But love alone is not enough to guarantee healthy growth and development. The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy -- any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl.

The voices that argue otherwise tell us more about our politically correct culture than they do about what children really need. The fact remains that gender matters -- perhaps nowhere more than in regard to child rearing. The unique value of fathers has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because "fathers do not mother." Psychology Today explained in 1996 that "fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children." A father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate, and vice versa.

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In raising these issues, Focus on the Family does not desire to harm or insult women such as Cheney and Poe. Rather, our conviction is that birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples. Traditional marriage is God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth. When that divine plan is implemented, children have the best opportunity to thrive. That's why public policy as it relates to families must be based not solely on the desires of adults but rather on the needs of children and what is best for society at large.

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