you're reading...
Christianity, Dating Mating Sex and Reproduction

What Does Science Say about Gay Relationships?

The belief that homosexuality is abnormal and unhealthy is prevalent in the Christian community, and is the foundation of a great deal of Christian bigotry.  For the time being, however, bigotry is not enough justification to subvert the constitution.  Throughout the ongoing debate over the definition of marriage, Right Wing bigots have cited the damage caused by homosexuality and homosexual relationships in an attempt to justify legal discrimination against gays.

The scientific evidence on the matter is out there.  (It has been for many years.)  Had we simply trusted evidence years ago, there would be no more debate — at least no debate worth taking seriously.  Sadly, very few people are aware of the evidence, and wouldn’t know where to find it if they wanted to look.  This article presents some of the most compelling conclusions from recent scientific studies.

Children of Gays.

One of the most common accusations is that children of gay parents are more likely to suffer developmentally, more likely to become gay, or more likely to have emotional problems.

  • In 1996, Mike Allen and Nancy Burrell published a peer reviewed study on the subject.  They found the following:  “The results demonstrate no differences on any measures between the heterosexual and homosexual parents regarding parenting styles, emotional adjustment, and sexual orientation of the child(ren). In other words, the data fail to support the continuation of a bias against homosexual parents by any court.” (The full text is available through PsychNet if you’d like to read it.  There is a modest fee for membership.)
  • In 2006, Gregory Herek replicated the conclusions:  “The data indicate that same-sex and heterosexual relationships do not differ in their essential psychosocial dimensions; that a parent’s sexual orientation is unrelated to her or his ability to provide a healthy and nurturing family environment.”  (Also available through PsychNet.)
  • In 2001, Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz discovered something rather startling.  While children of gay and lesbian parents don’t “become gay” any more than children of heterosexuals, daughters of lesbian couples do display one very different behavior:  They play better with male children and have more gender-neutral views of society.  (Isn’t that what we want?  For women to choose their own destinies sans gender impositions?)  “53 percent (16 out of 30) of the daughters of lesbians aspired to careers such as doctor, lawyer, engineer, and astronaut, compared with only 21 percent (6 of 28) of the daughters of heterosexual mothers.”
  • Overall, Stacey and Biblarz found that “Lesbigay parents and their children in these studies display no differences from heterosexual counterparts in psychological well-being or cognitive functioning.”

Adult Gay Relationships

Failing to prove that children are harmed by having gay parents, many Christian bigots will go on to claim that homosexual relationships are “inherently” less stable, less emotionally fulfilling, and psychologically damaging.  This claim is also contradicted by the evidence.

  • A 2003 empirical study by Gottman, et al, of the interaction between heterosexual and homosexual couples found that “same-sex couples actually demonstrated more positive (and fewer negative) behaviors during their interactions than did married couples.”  
  • The 2003 study had a small sample, so Roissman, et al, conducted a more thorough and broader series of studies in 2008.  They found “individuals in committed same-sex relationships were generally not distinguishable from their committed heterosexual counterparts, with one exception–lesbians were especially effective at working together harmoniously in laboratory observations.”
  • Empirical evidence for actual levels of infidelity in either heterosexuals or homosexuals is very difficult to come by.  Varying cultural and ethnic definitions, self-reporting bias, and social concerns have rendered the body of evidence difficult to interpret.  At best.  There is no data available for divorce rates among gays — since gay marriage has never been allowed in the U.S.  However, it’s important to note that there are no reliable studies linking homosexuality with higher levels of relationship infidelity.
  • Recent publications have questioned the reality of monogamy as a historical tradition.  In The Myth of Monogamy, Barash and Lipton present a compelling (and cross-disciplinary) argument that heterosexual couples have never been paragons of fidelity to begin with.  In other words, it appears that lots of people — both gay and straight — cheat.  The Roissman study backed up this conclusion with the observation that both gay and straight couples’ relationship satisfaction was based more on non-sexual factors like parental support and modeling.  Not sexual orientation.

In short, the arguments from the Christian bigots fail.  They do not reflect reality, but rather a religious ideological agenda.  There is no evidence whatsoever that gays are inherently less healthy, happy, or faithful than straights.  There is no evidence that children of gays suffer any harm.  In fact, there’s reasonable evidence that children of lesbians are more socially accepting and well adjusted — especially girls.


Allen, M., & Burrell, N. (1996). Comparing the impact of homosexual and heterosexual parents on children: Meta-analysis of existing research. Journal of Homosexuality32, 19–35.
Herek, Gregory M. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, Vol 61(6), 607-621.
Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. J. (2001). (How) does the sexual orientation of parents matter?American Sociological Review,66, 159–183.
Gottman, J. M., Levenson, R. W., Swanson, C., Swanson, K., Tyson, R., & Yoshimoto, D. (2003). Observing gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples’ relationships: Mathematical modeling of conflict interaction. Journal of Homosexuality45, 65–91.
Roisman G, Clausell E, Holland A, Fortuna K, Elieff C. Adult romantic relationships as contexts of human development: A multimethod comparison of same-sex couples with opposite-sex dating, engaged, and married dyads. Developmental Psychology [serial online]. January 2008;44(1):91-101.
Barash, David P and Lipton, Judith Eve.  The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People.  W. H. Freeman. (2001)


3 thoughts on “What Does Science Say about Gay Relationships?

  1. A frequent attack that carries a bit more heft for gay males, rather than lesbians, is the unhealthy lifestyle. This is based on the true statistic that the gay male population accounts for a disproportionate amount of HIV infections (though prevalence in ethnic minorities is on the rise and account for more infections overall). It would be good if you included this for a more complete tackling of their arguments. Some apparent flaws are we don’t regulate ethnic minorities in marriage because of their heightened risk, or heterosexual couples because they are at greater risk than lesbians.

    Posted by Michael Kandefer | July 26, 2011, 12:32 pm
  2. Thanks, Michael.

    One of the problems I’ve found with the HIV/gay “lifestyle” connection is that HIV as a vector comes from a different starting point than other STDs. What I mean is this: Herpes and other viral STDs have been in the totality of the human population for centuries. So when we compare the rates of herpes infection in gays vs. straights, we’re getting a useful bit of information: Do gay sexual habits promote more herpes infection than straights?

    The answer appears to be no. It’s not sexual orientation but the number of partners and condom use that most accurately predict herpes infection.

    With HIV, the same information isn’t as useful because HIV started in the gay population and hasn’t dispersed equally through the human population. Do gay people get HIV more than straights? Yes, they do. But it’s not because of their sexual practices. It’s because there’s more HIV in the gay community to begin with. The question we need to ask is this: IF HIV was as prevalent in the straight community as in the gay community, would gays get it more often than straights?

    The answer is the same as herpes: It’s not whether it’s gay or straight sex. It’s how many partners and condom use.

    This goes right back to the question of promiscuity. And we run into several problems here. We can’t “prove” that heterosexuals are more promiscuous than straights. In fact, there is reasonable evidence that they’re not. Straight men go after about as many women as gay men go after men, on average. (Yes, there may be a very small number of gay men that are hyper-sexual, but it’s unclear whether that’s a gay reality or a psychological backlash against homophobia, or something else…)

    So… again, we’re left with the conundrum. We are using the prevalence of HIV to prove that gays are very promiscuous. But how could we possibly use that as a comparison when straights don’t have as much HIV in the population? It’s comparing apples and oranges.

    Which is why there aren’t many good scientific discourses on the actual prevalence of promiscuity and its effects on HIV transmission as a function of “gay lifestyle” vs. “straight lifestyle.”

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | July 26, 2011, 1:30 pm
  3. Excellent summary! I’m sure I’ll be citing this in the future.

    Posted by Tim Martin | July 26, 2011, 11:35 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Me On Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: