Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Four Research Issues Relating to Same-Sex Marriage

This post gives an overview of what I have been able to learn about research studies about issues which affect the same-sex marriage debate.  I have a table below which summarizes claims and findings about four key empirical questions relevant to the same-sex marriage debate.

Research into issues affecting LGBTI communities is notoriously difficult:  sampling can be difficult due to the small size of the community.  Also there are issues of bias surrounding the political nature of the questions being investigated and researcher bias may distort the results, sometimes through poor research design.

In the US, there are opposing groups with quite opposite views on same-sex relationships (e.g. the American College of Pediatricians vs. The  American Academy of Pediatrics).  Each cites different research, and dismisses the other side's evidence and arguments.

As an example of the disputed nature of this research, a report soon to be released in Australia reports that children in same-sex couple households do better than in heterosexual couple households.  However this research has been criticized for being based solely upon parent questionnaires, not independent investigation of outcomes for children, and also for the method by which same-sex couples were recruited for the research.  See a preliminary critique published by FamilyVoice and another by the ACL.  The chief researcher is in a gay relationship, raising two children.

By way of comparison to this research, which reports – unsurprisingly – that according to same-sex parents their children are doing just fine, readers may like to look over this first person account by Robert Oscar Lopez, who objects to the silencing of 'problematic' testimony of adult children raised by gay and lesbian couples.  (He himself was raised by a mother in a lesbian relationship.)  Lopez comments on the research of Mark Regnerus, who interviewed 248 adult children of parents with same-sex romantic relationships:
"I thank Mark Regnerus. Far from being “bullshit,” his work is affirming to me, because it acknowledges what the gay activist movement has sought laboriously to erase, or at least ignore. Whether homosexuality is chosen or inbred, whether gay marriage gets legalized or not, being strange is hard; it takes a mental toll, makes it harder to find friends, interferes with professional growth, and sometimes leads one down a sodden path to self-medication in the form of alcoholism, drugs, gambling, antisocial behavior, and irresponsible sex. The children of same-sex couples have a tough road ahead of them—I know, because I have been there. The last thing we should do is make them feel guilty if the strain gets to them and they feel strange. We owe them, at the least, a dose of honesty. Thank you, Mark Regnerus, for taking the time to listen."

In considering research findings, it is important to realize that the media often will support one side uncritically in this debate.

Some important studies whose findings were at first accepted have later been challenged on the basis of their methodology.  

There can also be a tendency for researchers to mount ad hominem attacks on originators of work they do not accept for ideological reasons.

It is also worth noting that there are conflicted ideological motivations which can pull biased research into same-sex disadvantage in opposite directions.  For example some researchers have argued that gay and lesbian couples have higher disposable incomes – thus increasing their economic leverage.  However this finding conflicts with the tendency to emphasize Gay and Lesbian disadvantage, and some researchers have found that same-sex couples suffer from financial disadvantage.  Either way the findings end up being political.  

The table below been drawn from a wide range of published research. It does not pretend to be exhaustive or even authoritative: it merely alerts the reader to some of the issues around this subject and to the opinion which I have reached about the state of research.

Do same-sex attracted people suffer health or other disadvantages?
Studies have reported:
- higher homelessness rates
- higher risk for STD’s
- higher rates of psychiatric illness (depression, anxiety and mood disorders)
- higher suicide attempt rates
- higher substance use (alcohol, tobacco, intravenous drug use
- higher rates of diseases associated with substance abuse (e.g. Hep C)
- higher school drop out rates
- fear of harm is often reported
- victims of hate crime
- higher numbers of sexual partners
- same-sex monogamy is less frequent
- shorter life span (for men)
- bisexuals’ mental health tends to be poorer than either gays or lesbians.

- Lesbian women earn more and tend to be more represented in higher paid male-dominated workplaces.
-Gay men earn less and are more represented in lower-paid workplaces where women predominate.
-Gay or lesbian couples are more likely to be highly educated.
-Some studies have shown greater rates of poverty for same-sex couples with children, especially gay couples (see here)
Gay and Lesbian people do experience many kinds of disadvantage.  .
Is heterosexist discrimination the underlying cause for this disadvantage? Or are there other reasons?
Scientific studies have not proven that disadvantages are due to discrimination. 
Some poorer health outcomes can be linked to sexual history.  E.g. lesbian women are more likely than heterosexual women to have had larger numbers of male partners, as well as more male partners with compromised health (e.g. HIV).

The jury is still out.  Other factors apart from discrimination are also implicated.
Do children raised in same-sex couple households suffer disadvantage?
Many studies have found that children raised in same-sex households suffer no disadvantage.  These studies have been accepted by leading leading professional societies, such as the APA.  However two major recent studies (by Marks and Regnerus) have cast doubt on these findings.
Marks criticized earlier studies as 'advocacy research', with inadequate sampling, poor or no controls, and heavy reliance on self-reporting.
Regnerus' New Families Structures Studies found that children who have a same-sex attracted parent suffer multiple disadvantages.
This remains a hotly disputed and highly political issue.
Is people’s sexual prientation already pre-determined at birth: in other words are people born lesbian, gay (or bisexual)?
Many studies have found that somewhere between 1% and 3% of western nations' populations identify as having a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation.

There are no studies proving that sexual orientation is already determined at birth.
Research has shown that sexual orientation is fluid and changeable, especially in adolescence.  It is correlated with a complex mix of factors including psychological and environmental factors. Multiple studies of twins (see also references here) have shown that if one twin is same-sex attracted, on average the other twin is not.
Gays and Lesbians are not ‘born that way’: any genetic contribution to same-sex attraction is minimal.


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