Study by Anti-Gay Researcher Claims Gay Parents More Likely to Have Gay Kids

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 10, 2009

Despite decades of research that demonstrates that children of gay parents fare equally well as children raised in two-parent heterosexual households, new claims have been made that children with gay parents are up to seven times more likely than children of straight parents to be gay themselves.

Ever since the strategy of basing arguments against GLTB equality helped to convince voters in California to rescind existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, social and religious conservatives have returned to the theme of child welfare in opposing marriage equality.

But the claims have old roots, dating back to at least the 1970s, when anti-gay activist Anita Bryant popularized the claim that gays "recruit" children into homosexual "lifestyles" as a means of repopulating the gay community.

Research, however, indicates that homosexuality in the human population--as well as thousands of other animal species--is a natural occurrence that appears at a consistent and predictable rate.

The arguments often used against gay families tend to draw on research that examines how children fare in single-parent households. Not surprisingly, children with only one parent (often a working mother) tend to do worse in school and have other problems.

But that research has little to do with gay parenting. Reputable studies have shown that children reared by two gay parents do just as well as children reared by two parents of mixed gender.

Claims that gay and lesbian parents somehow "turn" heterosexual children gay offer little scientific support for how homosexuality can be transmitted, if not through genetics.

Such claims also proceed from the inherently biased conviction that gays and lesbians are somehow inferior to heterosexuals or in some other way are undesirable, so that any possible means to avoiding gays coming into existence--such as denying parents care of their own children, denying prospective gay adoptees the right to take in children who need stable, caring homes, or denying committed couples marriage equality--can be justified.

In general, anti-gay parenting arguments overlook the possible role of genetics in the stable and naturally occurring incidence of gays in the general population.

The claims being made that gay parents produce up to seven times more gay children than heterosexual households does not appear to control for factors of heredity. Also, one assumption made by the individual making the claim is that only 2% of the general population is gay or lesbian: a contested number, given that other estimates range to 6% or 10%, and estimates also rely on gay adults self-reporting their sexuality in surveys: a highly unreliable way of making such a determination, given the social shaming that is often directed at gays.

The new claims contradict thirty years' worth of credible research showing that children with gay parents are no more or less likely to be gay themselves, and to do as well socially and professionally as children from two-parent heterosexual households.

However, the researcher makes another bombshell claim, suggesting that the conclusions of earlier studies were tampered with by their authors in order to cover up evidence pointing to any other conclusion than that desired by the authors.

The study was embraced by anti-gay religious Web site WorldNetDaily, which reported the study's conclusions in a June 8 posting.

The WND item quoted Dr. Trayce L. Hansen's report as reading that, "Research... although not definitive, suggests that children reared by openly homosexual parents are far more likely to engage in homosexual behavior than children raised by others."

There is a difference between sexual orientation and sexual conduct, however, especially among adolescents, who often experiment with same-sex encounters even when they are heterosexual.

Such reports also tend to rely on individuals' self-reporting of their behavior; those who have received a social message that homosexuality is "wrong" may be unwilling to admit to same-sex experimentation or even homosexuality.

Anti-gay reports purporting to have been carried out scientifically, and yet which have been shown to be methodologically gravely flawed, have been published before, and continue to be cited by anti-gay activists, including claims by Paul and Kirk Cameron, widely derided by a majority of responsible scientists, that gay men enjoy a life expectancy more than 20 years shorter than that of the average heterosexual.

Indeed, data from the same Danish sources subsequent to the Camerons' report has indicated that marriage equality has added years to the lives of gay men.

Both interpretations are subject to doubt, given the suspicion that the reason many men in the data set died early--and then, a few years later, mortality rates dropped--is that many of the men cited in the data were ill with AIDS.

But WND did not offer any critical analysis of Dr. Hansen's claims. That may be due to Hansen's professional pedigree; Dr. Hansen is listed as an academic adviser to The Ruth Institute, which is affiliated with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, a group that heavily promoted Proposition 8 last year and which this year has launched a $1.5 million ad campaign against marriage equality that relies, critics say, on distortion and misrepresentation.

Hansen's report, based on her review of nine previous studies, offers an extremely broad basis for interpretation, saying that the "studies thus far find that between 8 percent and 21 percent of homosexually parented children ultimately identify as non-heterosexual"--a 13 percentage point margin of error.

Indeed, it is impossible to say how many households there are in the United States with two gay parents. Noted a June 10, 2007 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, rough estimates of the prevalence of such families weigh in from 1 million households to 9 million households. The fact that the U.S. Census will not count gay and lesbian families in 2010 due to anti-gay federal law (DOMA, the "Defense of Marriage Act," expressly forbids federal recognition of gay and lesbian families) means that reliable data for just such scientific purposes will remain elusive.

Hansen's report, as cited by WND, went on to use the contested 2% statistic for the rate of gays in the general populace, neglecting in the process to account for biological children of gays and lesbians and the probability that genetics plays at least some role in determining an individual's sexuality.

Hansen claimed that researchers "nonetheless declared in their research summaries that no differences were found" in the rates of gay children being reared by gay vs. straight parents, a result that the report attributed to unethical tampering or misrepresentation.

Read Hansen's report, "Many believe they concealed their findings so as not to harm their own pro-homosexual, sociopolitical agendas."

For example, Hansen took issue with a report written in 1996 by a pair of researchers that found that children raised by lesbian parents turned out overwhelmingly heterosexual.

Hansen criticized the report, written by Susan Golombok and Fiona L. Tasker, saying that to be included as gay or lesbian, "the adult child had to currently identify as non-heterosexual and commit to a future identity as a non-heterosexual--a very unusual method for coding non-heterosexuality."

But not an unusual method for gays and lesbians to self-identify.

Hansen did not offer a similar level of criticism to the claim that "0 percent of the children of heterosexuals" "had homosexual or bisexual levels of same-sex attraction," a claim that does not appear to account for closeted individuals or heterosexual individuals unwilling to admit to any same-sex attraction.

At the same time, WND reported, Hansen claimed that there is a paucity of research on long-term "effects," if any, on individuals reared by same-sex parents--making her own claims just as dubious as anyone else's.

Nonetheless, Hansen went on to claim, in direct contradiction to the existing body of evidence, that children reared by gays and lesbians had a greater incidence of variation from the "norm" in terms of sexual identity and gender role conduct, as well as sexual orientation.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of Hansen's report was the means by which it sought to dismiss the overwhelming body of evidence showing that gay parenting has no ill effect on children: Hansen simply assumed that the authors of such studies were lying.

"Most of the researchers involved in the study of homosexually-parented children are self-proclaimed pro-homosexual parenting researchers," claimed Hansen, as quoted by WND.

"Many of these researchers, as well as others, admit that acknowledging differences between homosexually- and heterosexually-parented children would be detrimental to their goals of wide-spread social acceptance of same-sex marriage, homosexual adoption, homosexual foster parenting, etc."

Without offering any concrete evidence of the charges she was leveling, Hansen went on to address the social and political impact of such claims, saying, "Concealing and/or downplaying research findings that suggest differences between children reared by homosexuals and those reared by heterosexuals, changes the way some citizens vote and judges rule on issues related to same-sex marriage, homosexual adoption, etc.

"And many of those who conduct those studies know that."

Hansen then recited the usual claims relevant to broken heterosexual marriages, saying, "Earlier social experiments, such as no-fault divorce and the broad acceptance of single motherhood, resulted in disaster by increasing the number of fatherless children, many who now fill our prisons and welfare rolls.

"Policy makers, judges, and citizens need to know the truth: children need fathers and changing legal standards such as the definition of marriage will deliberately deprive even more children of them."

Hansen's report sought to link the detrimental effects of failed heterosexual parenting to households with gay parents, and made an outright claim that earlier data had been falsified for political purposes.

"Homosexuals, and others who support their cause, understandably desire social and legal acceptance of their lifestyles and partnerships.

"One of the methods for achieving that goal is to convince the public that homosexual parenting isn't detrimental to children," Hansen's report declared.

"Concealing and/or downplaying research findings which reveal that children raised by homosexuals are different in fundamental ways from other children, is part of that socio-political agenda intended to sway voters and judges," the report continued.

Hansen suggested that researchers looking into the issue "must set aside their biases and straightforwardly present their findings."

Assuming her thesis to be true, Hansen wrote, "No one should be surprised that homosexual parents are more likely to raise homosexual children."

Added Hansen, "No one knows for sure by what complex mechanisms homosexual parents disproportionately rear homosexual children. But regardless of how, it appears they do.

Furthering the assumption that even if such claims were true they would indicate that gay and lesbian children were somehow inferior or undesirable, Hansen added, "The public needs to be made aware of the findings of these studies so that when courts adjudicate and citizens vote on issues related to homosexuality, they're fully informed as to the possible consequences of those decisions on children."

According to WND, Hansen's report was based on a survey of nine reports that address the question of whether gay parents tend to rear more gay children than heterosexual parents. WND claimed that those nine reports represented "virtually" the sum total of research into the question, even though an online document from the American Psychological Association listed twelve reports--meaning that Hansen's research would have failed to take into account one quarter of the total of reports that are referenced at the APA site alone.

In addition to the 1996 Golombok & Tasker report cited by Hansen, the APA cited studies ranging from 1979-1997 that address the question of whether children reared by gay parents are more likely to be gay themselves.

Other reports cited by the APA site included research conducted as recently as 2005, and addressed an array of questions concerning whether the children of gay parents were more likely to self-identify as the opposite gender or adopt the gender roles of the opposite sex; the reports cited by the APA uniformly indicated that this was not the case.

Further, the reports cited by the APA found that divorced lesbian mothers are more likely that divorced heterosexual mothers to keep their children's fathers in the picture; that children of gay mothers do not suffer sexual abuse; and that sexual abuse of children by gays in general is not higher in incidence that by heterosexuals. (Other studies indicate that over 90% of child abusers are heterosexual.)

Gay and lesbian equality advocates are familiar with Dr. Hansen and her writings. An Oct. 18, 2007 article at Pam's House Blend posted the contents of a press release authored by Hansen and followed that with a rebuttal from a professional colleague.

Hansen's release claimed that children need parenting from parents of opposite genders because, among other things, Hansen claimed that "Human sexuality is pliant," the implication being that children might somehow model their natural sexual urges on those of their parents.

Hansen also claimed that children "need an opposite-sexed parent to help them moderate their own gender-linked inclinations," and reiterated the assumptions that sexuality is a matter of choice, as well as that gays and lesbians are undesirable; wrote Hansen, "[S]ame-sex marriage will increase sexual confusion and sexual experimentation by implying all choices are equally acceptable and desirable."

Hansen also recited the anti-gay line that marriage equality for same-sex couples would lead to other forms of marriage becoming socially acceptable, including polygamous marriage (which remains acceptable in some societies and is cited as the norm in the Old Testament) and "polyamorous" marriages.

Dr. Thomas Marra wrote a detailed rebuttal to Dr. Hansen's press release, calling into question whether Hansen was writing from a scientific perspective and concluding that Hansen's argument was not based in science, but in a "values" argument.

Wrote Dr. Marra, "Dr. Hansen's article was fortunately labeled 'opinion,' since none of her remarks are based upon psychological science. In fact, her entire article is based upon beliefs and values that have little been influenced by psychological research or theory."

Added Dr. Marra, "It appears that she engages in reverse reasoning: 'I believe that a child should have a mother and father as parents, so let me design some reasoning to support this thesis.'"

Dr. Marra went on to refute Hansen on "[four] fundamental points," including an assertion that Hansen's argument was essentially sexist; Hansen's view of parental gender roles could lead children to "split" their responses between a parent perceived as nurturing and loving no matter what, with the other perceived as withholding unless certain criteria were met; an assumption on Hansen's part that certain parental duties were gender specific, rather than what Marra called "skill specific" (either parent can calm a fussing child, for example); and Hansen's underlying assumption that sexual orientation is a matter of choice.

Marra added, "Nothing 'makes you' gay, other than genetic influences."

Noting that sexuality is a hard-wired biological response, rather than a cognitive and deliberative one, Marra added, "We like to think, as advanced humans with high-order cognitive powers, that most of our behavior is choice-based. This gives us a sense of freedom.

"However, research clearly indicates that much of our behavior is biologically driven. We are not as free as we would like to presume."

Marra went on to argue, "The real debate here should focus on what the issue really is about: values.

"Dr. Hansen values having a male and a female as parents for her child. There is nothing wrong with this belief system. It is what most people believe and value.

"However, values are about what you want and what you find meaningful in life," Marra continued. "There is no 'science" to which one should have to submit their values for validation that their values are the correct ones to hold.

"Rather, this 'appeal to authority' logical fallacy represents insecurity and what science is precisely designed to rule out: bias and personal expectation."

Noted Marra, "There is no scientific evidence that same-sex parenting is harmful.

"Dr. Hansen may disapprove of same-sex parenting as not in her value system, but she should clearly put forth that this is based on her personal preferences and bias (not on the science of psychology she presumably studied to obtain her Ph.D.)."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.