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What to Make of the Long-Term Study of Lesbian Parenting?

June 9th, 2010 No comments

Here’s what Dan Savage has to say:

I’m happy to scrap the results of this study—this peer-reviewed, 25-year-study—on the condition that the haters stop citing the results of discredited, non-peer-reviewed studies funded by anti-gay advocacy groups, studies that are “designed to come out with” anti-gay outcomes, studies conducted by disgraced and discredited “scientists” like Dr. George Rekers.

No, Dan, no! There’s no reason to throw out the study, and you shouldn’t be conceding anything here.

The study to which he refers took a long view of the behavioral and social outcomes of the kids of lesbian parents, comparing the results to an often-used data set consisting of a normative sample of American youth. In the same post, he rightly argues that the comparison groups could have been better, because the women studied were motivated volunteers, who (just by virtue of having to take the steps to create and parent a child) might be expected to be more engaged and involved than the “normative sample” (read: average).

Having read the report of the study in the highly respected Pediatrics, I’d add my concern that much of the data came from reports from the mothers themselves about their children at various ages. In addition to the inherent bias in self-reporting that’s well-known to epidemiologists, this particular report seems particularly susceptible to such bias: these women likely have at least some interest (perhaps greater than parents in the “normative sample”) in seeing their kids as happy and well-adjusted.

But conceding these points doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and say: “Well, we need a better study so this one is worthless.” It isn’t. Peer-review is — as Savage seems to recognize but then is willing to overlook — the gold standard for scientific acceptability. Courts have even assessed witnesses’ credentials based upon whether their “scientific” testimony is grounded in peer-reviewed science. George Rekers and other “haters” are, by contrast, charlatans who live in what Andrew Sullivan and others have called their own epistemically closed world. Read: no serious scientist, or publication, gives them the time of day.

I want to make another, deeper point, though. Since the kids of gay and lesbian parents will always be the product of deliberative decision-making, why is it unfair to compare them to the broader population of the children of heterosexual parents? After all, that’s the comparison group that the anti-equality forces constantly refer to. “Kids do best when raised by their biological parents.” Maybe that’s wrong, and maybe this study is a major step towards using science — real, peer-reviewed science — to debunk that unsupported assertion.

If our kids do better than a “normative sample,” it’s fair to point that out. Our opponents haven’t hesitated to argue the contrary — even without evidence that applies to our families at all. The evidence they rely on compares kids being raised in stable, two-parent families with kids being raised by single parents, with stepparents, and so on. What if being raised by same-sex parents is the best situation for kids? Wouldn’t that be…I don’t know, funny?

Categories: Dan Savage, Gay Rights, parental rights Tags:

Another Conversation Not to Have

December 30th, 2009 1 comment

Here’s a fool-proof plan for spoiling an otherwise-delightful dinner with friends: Talk about the various ways one might build a family.

This I learned recently, after getting into a surprisingly heated exchange with a couple that we count among our very closest friends. I was reminded that everyone has very strong opinions, not only about how they’ve decided to create their own families, but also about how others should build theirs. In the interests of avoiding another round of unpleasantness (and of making my friends fear that every conversation with me could end up as blog-fodder), I won’t go into any specifics about my friends’ views, or their arguments in support. Instead I want to use this opportunity to make and defend a point that might go insufficiently appreciated at times:

Every method of “having” children has its own ethical issues.

Let’s start with the old-fashioned way: Having your own kids through procreation. More than a decade ago, Joy Williams blew apart any thought that simply having one’s own biological kid was a moral good, or even that it was necessarily ethically neutral. While most of her deliciously over-the-top essay took aim at the fertility industry, she didn’t spare those who conceived the ol’ fashioned way. After reminding us that there are too many people in the world, she gets specific about American babies:

The argument that western countries with their wealth and relatively low birth rate do not fuel the population crisis is, of course, fallacious….The US population is growing faster than that of eighteen other industrialized nations and, in terms of energy consumption, when an American couple stops spawning at two babies, it’s the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at sixty-six, or an Ethiopian couple drawing the line at one thousand.

Williams’s snark-attack at those women and couples who choose to go to extraordinary means to conceive recently received a substantial boost from an in-depth series in the New York Times. The issues involved in such reproductive gymnastics are well-known, and the Times reporting shone what I’d consider to be an unflattering light on extreme cases. Sometimes, there are as many as five participants (egg donor, sperm donor, gestational surrogate, adopting couple) in the birth and parenting processes and an unsavory amount of money changing hands. Other cases involve Herculean and medically ill-advised efforts at fertility.

A woman profiled in one of the stories, for example, went through the following: an in vitro procedure that resulted in a miscarriage and revealed a problem (“incompetent cervix”) that made further pregnancies fraught with danger; a second procedure that resulted in twins — one of which died in utero, and the other of which was born at twenty-four weeks (and then remained in the neonatal unit for more than 100 days, so that the hospital bills approached $1 million — all of which was eaten by the woman’s self-insured employer); and then, incredibly, another in vitro procedure that resulted in a healthy birth. Why the last one?

“I didn’t did feel our family was complete yet.”

At this point in reading, I could barely contain my anger. Not once in this story, nor in the next installment in the series, was the word “adoption” used. Yet the question fairly screamed from the page: Why not complete your family by providing a good home to one of the millions of kids, world-wide, who need one?

As regular readers of this blog know, this is the time for full disclosure: David and I are adoptive parents. So obviously I have a bias of my own, and one that I defend. Our kids are local (from Philadelphia), so we don’t have to face the question: Why not adopt a child from your own backyard? Yet one must decide during the adoption process all kinds of questions that don’t otherwise come up: Does race matter to you? What about disability? Are you willing to adopt an older child? And so on…. I won’t get into the particulars of how we answered those questions, but the moral issues they raise should be clear enough.

And then there’s international adoptions, which raise for some additional but related issues: What justifies removing kids from their community of origin? (In a sense, this question can be asked of any adoption.) Would they be better off, in some ways, remaining there? On the other hand, are we simply associating a baby with a “community” that it will never even know? In other words, does it matter where kids are from? And for gay couples, international adoptions may not even be an option unless they lie — which of course raises its own set of questions.

To return to the beginning of this post: The friends with whom we were arguing had the benefit of a particular experience that colors their view of one of these options. Another couple we know had a somewhat-similar experience, but the difference may be in the “somewhat,” as their view of this same option is diametrically opposed.

So maybe we can’t do any better than this aphorism, attributed by a member of this second couple to an unidentified friend:

“People have the babies they need.”

The Light in the Piazza (Or, Strained Connections to Tiger Woods)

December 11th, 2009 No comments

David and I recently took advantage of a generous invitation to see the latest production of the Philadelphia Theater Company, The Light in the Piazza. You might be asking yourself: What does this have to do with Tiger Woods? I’ll get to that.

The terrific show — which runs through this Sunday at the Suzanne Roberts Theater; go if you can — is set during a vacation in Florence, Italy, shortly after World War II. There, a middle-aged, Southern woman and her ingenue daughter (Clara) encounter a sexy Italian man who, with almost no effort, wins over Clara. Of course there’s a major obstacle to their union: Mother Margaret thinks that Clara “isn’t right,” and hasn’t been since she was kicked in the head, at age 12, by a pony.

The audience, though, knows differently. By the time we learn that Clara supposedly isn’t all there, the spoken and musical evidence (the show is a kind of operetta, but defies categories) has convinced us otherwise. So the story raises that universal question for parents: When do we let go? Clara is 26!

A parent’s natural protective urges, relinquished with difficulty in any case, would of course be even more powerful in a case like this. And it’s not hard to see how the challenges of raising a child with a (real or imagined) disability would crack open a marriage: Margaret and husband back home are finished, with the physical separation (he’s seen only on the other end of a few phone calls) underscoring for the emotional distance between them.

So Margaret has only Clara who, until now, has never talked back to her. Will she break free? Can Margaret allow herself to accept  the clear evidence that the doctors who predicted life-long arrested development were just wrong? After two hours of romantic comedy meets family therapy, you’ll have your answer.

And you might emerge from the experience reminded that letting go even when you – the parent — are not ready, is the right thing to do. Indeed, I thought back to this little essay after the show. Now I see why the mother let her son go live with his father, even though she could have fought this decision, and won. But when I read it, I thought: “Are you nuts? Why would you let your twelve-year-old son leave you for his long-absent dad?” The Light in the Piazza reminded me why.

Oh, right, Tiger: I hope this will be my only entry into the Tiger Woods Schadenfreude sweepstakes, but enter I will. Even though I, too, have slept with him, I’ve never really warmed up to the guy, and not just because I don’t get the whole golf thing. In fact, I might have gotten more interested in golf had I found something — besides the undeniable athletic genius, of course — to like. But no one is as chilly and machine-like as Tiger came across, really. Now we see that he’s…well, he’s a mess. And why? No shortage of amateur armchair psychologists here, and I might as well chime in. Lack of first-hand (or any hand) information will prove no barrier here.

Add Woods to Michael Jackson and countless other athletes and celebrities with insanely pushy, hermetic parents. I don’t know anything about Woods’s childhood, and it may be that his admittedly overbearing father did pretty well given his son’s early evidence of superhuman ability. But we all need to let our kids learn how to breathe on their own. If we don’t, they’ll hyperventilate later.

And perhaps pass out. As I was writing this, Tiger emerged from his bunker to announce an indefinite leave from golf.

Valuing a Child’s Best Interest?

October 8th, 2009 No comments

On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court decisively ruled that a non-biological parent who had lived with her same-sex partner for some ten years, and with whom she had co-parented the couple’s children, had parental rights under a state statute. An in-depth analysis of the decision, Kulstad v. Maniaci (and a citation to it),  is available at Art Leonard’s site, and I can’t really improve on his summary of the case.

I do want to take a moment to mention, though, that the need to oppose any law or judicial decision that might conceivably contribute to the recognition of same-sex couples sometimes causes anti-gay groups to take strange positions. In this case, the Alliance Defense Fund argued that the statute under which the court granted parental rights to the non-biological parent was unconstitutional. (Again, see Leonard’s blog for a summary of the argument.) Shouldn’t a conservative legal group, and one that broadcasts its foundation in Christian values at that, be arguing that the children’s best interest would be served by having two committed, loving parents in their lives? The court, perhaps annoyed by the effort to separate the kids from one of their two parent, began its decision by stating:

Far too often this Court faces a situation in which minor children have no adult fit to parent them. This case presents the increasingly unusual situation of two adults fit to parent minor children, L.M. and A.M.

Well, from the ADF’s point of view, I suppose it’s better to have one sinful parent rather than two; and they’re all about biological ties, even when other interests and arguments pull strongly in the other direction.

But…who is on the same side as the ADF? The biological mother, who argues that her former spouse should be a legal stranger to their kids. There is a special place reserved here for gay and lesbian former partners who make these arguments, which, if successful, can set back the progress of LGBT rights — so that the winning partner can deprive her children of a parent’s love and duty: reliable comforts that the kids have relied on all of their lives.

None of these arguments would even be possible if second-parent adoptions were routinely available (and used) for same-sex couples. But there’s no excuse for exploiting bad law. I hope Barbara Maniaci, the bio mom, can live with herself. (Or do I?)