Lord, deliver us from dunderheads like James Dobson! This week, Mr. Focus on the Family offered up an editorial on the topic of Mary Cheney’s pregnancy and the problems of being raised in a lesbian home. The piece was teeming with moronic generalizations and scientific errors — but what can one expect from a Bible thumper so bigoted he once compared same-sex marriage to slavery and suggested that same-sex marriage was worse?
Not surprisingly, Dobson disguised his virulent anti-gay politics as “concern” about “what kind of family environment is best for the health and development of children, and, by extension, the nation at large.” He began with a doozey of a lie: proclaiming that the “majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.” As “evidence,” he cited a book called “Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child,” as well as that ground zero of scientific data, Psychology Today, which, in 1996, argued that the role fathers play in children’s lives is indispensable. He even trotted out Carol Gilligan’s archetypal ideas about nurturing mothers and authoritative fathers. Theories extolling tough papa love may carry some currency when talking about families in which the father abandons his children, but in discussions of gay families they’re a red herring.
The facts are that (whether the social conservatives like them or not) there is no scientific evidence that children raised by lesbian or gay parents fare any worse than their hetero-raised counterparts. If anything, there may be some benefits to being raised by gay parents: In 2001, a meta-study (subscription required) by two University of Southern California sociologists concluded that children with lesbian or gay parents show more empathy for social diversity. A 1994 study conducted by Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia found that children of lesbians exhibited “a greater overall sense of well-being” than kids with straight parents. Indeed, in study after study, researchers have found that children with gay parents grow up with similar psychological and physical outcomes as children with straight parents.
So it’s not really an issue of dueling research; it’s more a case of studies on each side producing peer-reviewed research pointing to different conclusions. It’s a consistent enough finding that mainstream children’s advocacy groups — from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Child Welfare League of America — have come out in support of same-sex parents. The American Psychological Association came to similar conclusions after reviewing research over the last 40 years: “Not a single study has found children to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents,” the association said.
Even Dobson’s closing caveat that “we should not enter into yet another untested and far-reaching social experiment” bears the markings of his factually challenged thinking. Like it or not, this isn’t an experiment — in 1990, an estimated 6 to 14 million children had a gay or lesbian parent, and, nearly 17 years later, it seems likely that those numbers have grown.
But here’s the burning question: Why would Time magazine publish Dobson’s drivel without any attempt at fact checking? Sure, opinion pieces get more latitude in the truth department, but really, shouldn’t there be a limit on fictional hallucinations in one of the country’s most influential newsmagazines? If Time editors received an opinion piece that claimed science proved the moon was made of green cheese, would they consider that view just another part of the editorial mix? Rather than use good judgment, Time waited two days, then published another editorial by “an advocate for gay families.” Jennifer Chrisler dissects Dobson’s distortion of the facts as best she can given the short-format forum, but it’s still shocking that Time decided that this was the best it could manage. Not surprisingly, the editorial has gotten LGBT advocates seriously pissed: Soulforce has launched a petition campaign to get Time to check Dobson’s facts. Let’s hope it does. In the meantime, we can take yuletide comfort that at least some voices are recognizing that Cheney’s immaculate conception is more blessing than bane.