A new study has found that adolescents with lesbian moms had higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of conduct problems compared with peers in families that have a mom and a dad. Importantly, this is the first study to compare adolescent–parent relationships and well-being in families where the parents — both lesbian and straight — were all continuously coupled. This is key to combating some of the apples-to-oranges comparisons that have plagued right-wing analyses of lesbian and gay parenting — and seems perfectly timed to help fight a federal case that starts today.
The research, published in the current issue of the Journal of Child and Family Studies, was conducted by Henny Bos and Loes van Gelderen of the University of Amsterdam and Nanette Gartrell, all of whom are Visiting Scholars at UCLA’s Williams Institute. They first chose 51 adolescents from the Dutch Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (DLLFS), the longest-running and largest prospective study of lesbian mothers and their children in the Netherlands (based on the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), about which more here). Then they matched them on age, gender, educational level, country of birth, and parental birth country with a group of adolescents from mom-dad families, taken from a large school-based survey in the Netherlands.
By looking only at families where the parents had been continuously coupled, they eliminated variation that might have crept in to previous studies that variously included single-parent, two-parent, separated, and stepparent families. “It is important to control for family type, family stability, and parental self-identiﬁcation (i.e., if LGBT, for how long) when comparing offspring in lesbian and heterosexual families,” the paper states.
Gartrell explained in a press release, “This is important in exploring adolescent-parent relationships, as well as adolescent psychological adjustment and substance use, since parental divorce and re-partnering can affect all of the above.”
The findings? These kids with lesbian moms are doing just fine — and more than fine in some ways:
Adolescents with continuously-coupled lesbian mothers had higher self-esteem and fewer conduct problems (such as rule-breaking, vandalism, or getting into fights ) than adolescents with continuously-coupled heterosexual parents. . . . Across other indicators of psychological adjustment, substance usage, and relationships with their parents, the study found that adolescents from intact two-mother lesbian families were comparable to those from intact mother-father families.
Once again: This doesn’t mean lesbian parents are better than different-sex ones; only that we seem to have different strengths and are certainly no worse on the whole than different-sex parents.
Here’s the timely bit: Today, a federal court in Detroit is scheduled to hear a case brought by two lesbian moms, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, challenging the state’s ban on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples. Among those who will likely testify are four social scientists with ties to the conservative Heritage Foundation, reports the New York Times. They include Mark Regnerus, who published a widely discredited study of same-sex parents in 2012. (That whole apples-to-oranges thing I mentioned above.) They’ll argue that children do best in a home with a mother and a father — and that that is why marriage should be restricted to different-sex couples.
Opponents of marriage equality are using a similar argument in Oklahoma, and will likely do so in every state debating the issue. Never mind that study after study after study (I could go on) has shown them wrong; never mind that in striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the U.S. Supreme Court heard many of the same arguments from both sides and ruled in favor of marriage equality, noting that the lack of legal marriage for same-sex parents harmed their children.
It’s going to be a frustrating year as courts hash this all out again and the media covers it. Momentum is on our side, however (along with better research to back us), so while we shouldn’t take our foot off the gas, we might at long last see our destination beyond the bumps in the road.