I recently returned from the World Congress of Families in Sydney, Australia, where my colleague Dr. Patrick Fagan, director of Family Research Council's Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), was a keynote speaker. Australia has been facing many of the same struggles over social issues as the United States, including an effort by homosexual activists to redefine marriage – and now, their own contribution to the debate over the well-being of children with homosexual parents.
Australian media sources, and pro-homosexual American bloggers, have just hit the web with breathless stories about an "interim report" on a new study of children with homosexual parents – "The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS)." The day the stories came out, the actual "interim report" was not yet available online. Now it is, and even "interim" barely describes it – it consists of a single page in PDF format, with three columns: Introduction, Highlights, and Summary.
Aside from some background, information on the sample, and the highly generalized summary, the "interim report" included only one short paragraph of actual data: "On measures of general health and family cohesion children aged 5 to 17 years with same-sex attracted parents showed a significantly better score when compared to Australian children from all backgrounds and family contexts. For all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences."
This paucity of actual information makes one question why they bothered to issue an "interim" report at all (the document says, "It is anticipated that full results will be available by September 2013"). A much more detailed paper on the design (not the results) of this study was already published online in August 2012. Forgive me, then, for the suspicion that the issuance of this "interim report" serves political purposes more than academic ones. First, although the Australian House of Representatives decisively rejected the redefinition of marriage less than a year ago, pressure for that cause is still on. Second, homosexual activists around the world remain desperate to counter the devastating research released last year by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus. It showed that subjects whose parents had a same-sex relationship when the subjects were growing up suffered serious deficits on a wide range of outcomes, in comparison to those who were raised in an intact family with both biological parents – and in comparison with most other family structures as well. (I wrote an analysis and detailed summary of the Regnerus research last year.)
Regnerus himself has quickly come out with a response to the reports out of Australia, focusing in particular on the weaknesses of the sampling method in the "ACHESS" study. For example, the paper on the design of the study notes, "Initial recruitment will involve convenience sampling and snowball recruitment techniques … Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting." This type of recruitment is anything but random, and will tend to bring out the most confident of homosexual parents, eager to make a good impression.
Another important point not emphasized by Regnerus is that even the limited data from the "interim report" is being misreported by the news media. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald article made five references, including in the headline, to "same-sex couples." However, this study is not limited to children raised by same-sex "couples" – it is a study of "children … with at least one parent who self identifies as being same-sex attracted."
The study design refers vaguely to "same-sex families," which cleverly seems to imply same-sex couples. Yet actually, under the design of the study, a so-called "same-sex family" could be a family consisting entirely of a male child being raised by a single female parent – if that mother happens to be sexually attracted to other females. In fact, since some of the subject parents identify themselves as bisexual, the study could theoretically even include children who are being raised in an intact biological family – if a parent with bisexual attractions has committed to an opposite-sex marriage. (Whether the study's sampling technique is likely to attract such parents is another question.)
One of the chief criticisms of Regnerus was that his subjects were not necessarily raised by same-sex couples, but merely had at least one parent (custodial or non-custodial) who had a same-sex relationship (whether cohabiting or not) while the child was growing up. Although Regnerus had made this fact clear in the text (and even in the title) of his article, critics argued that this rendered his research irrelevant to the debate over the redefinition of marriage.
If that was true of Regnerus, however, then the advocates of redefining marriage ought surely to concede that the same is true of the Australian study.