What Does Science Say About Gay Marriage?

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.

NEXT: Getting in Touch with Our Animal Instincts.

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)


6 thoughts on “What Does Science Say About Gay Marriage?

  1. I am SO happy I found this webpage! I’m doing a school report on gay marriage because some jerk in my class was going to write one AGAINST gay marriage just because he thought it would be easy! It drove me crazy. I’m straight myself, but I would never condemn others for their sexuality. I have a relative who is baptist and I got into a heated argument with him because he said “All Gays Should Die” because the bible said so. I also have several friends who are gay or bi and are amazing people. People who are against gays act like being gay makes them an entirely different race or animal! It just astounds me that people could be so narrowminded and cold hearted.

    Posted by Amanda | April 18, 2012, 12:22 pm
  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Amanda, and good luck on your report. Thanks for helping to spread the scientific reality.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | April 18, 2012, 2:49 pm
  3. No problem at all. It’s going very well so far and I almost have the rough draft finished. All the research has my head spinnig though. It amazes me that people came up with so many ridiculous claims against gay marriage and that people haven’t cared to look closely at the facts. If they had, they would have seen the constant contradictions and hypocracy behind it all.

    Posted by Amanda | May 16, 2012, 1:54 pm
  4. I love it, you pick and choose only gay-biased studies and refuse to show your readers the 1000’s of reports that completely negate your entire post, even the College of Pediatrics reports (based off of several studies with links to all of them) states there are in fact many side-effects to rearing children in a homosexual environment. And thanks for the “Christian bigots” reference, it helps us weed out those wishing to actually take a moment and look into the facts before they post their “point of views”, and those that simply wish to bash anyone who thinks differently than they do. http://www.acpeds.org/Homosexual-Parenting-Is-It-Time-For-Change.html

    Posted by Mr BG | December 6, 2012, 6:08 pm
  5. the article was really useful ,thank you ,it really makes me wonder and laugh why some bigoted ,mostly religious people are against gay marriage with no actual good reason ,prejudice is ignorance ,i have met many gay couples having well educated and smart kids ,and why not ?? if marriage is just between a man and a woman ,we all know so many many heterosexual couples betraying each other and being terrible parents ,so why not let gays have their right to ,who are we to judge others parenthood ???

    Posted by saman | January 14, 2013, 6:24 pm
  6. I wish this was a more recent post since I am truly looking for people discussing this topic without religious bias and without anything to do with a perceived moral code. I will start off by saying that I have no problem with homosexuality, I do know and have friendships with a few homosexuals that are open about their sexuality and I believe I know more that are not so open. I believe in everyone doing what makes them happy so long as they do not interfere with the liberties of others. That makes me a social liberal and fiscal conservative ( if you don’t understand the second part just stop reading now). I do however have issue with marriage and homosexuals and my issue stems from the impact it will have on social economics and existing systems. What especially bothers me is when I have asked some highly intelligent homosexuals about why they personally want this change, their answers are all financially based and revolve around social security benefits and survivor pension payouts. To me this appears to be a bunch of people who really just want to milk an already stressed, dare I say failing, system. If it was really about equality, societal acceptance of their union, power of attorney and so on then why is everyone insisting on changing the definition of a term that has been defined for centuries and has been used to define rules in economic systems. Keep in mind that this definition only came about as a definition of property ownership and liability, it was not to profess love to the world. It was defined because 1. someone had to be responsible for the financial burden of property ( that would have been the wife) and any children that were born. 2. It prevented by law the behavior that may lead to a birth of a child that was not genetically of the husband/owner. This definition was identifying the basic understanding that all children need to be cared for and that that care has a cost. the cost of which if neglected is enough to cause great burden to a society which is why it needs to be legally bound to an individual for accountability.

    I should also note that since divorce is so readily available and prominent in our society I, myself, do not believe in the institution of marriage and had absolutely no desire to get married. However, I did get married when my then life-partner and I decided to start a family. It was just a necessary evil in my opinion when raising children. We were also planning to be setup like the standard pre-90s majority with single income (working husband) and stay at home Mom; so marriage made sense so that we could take advantage of the social systems setup to promote the success of this model of family unit.

    As far as the topics you covered in your article, I agree. There is nothing wrong with homosexuals having children or raising children. But naturally they could not have had children, so they must have went out of their way to make it happen somehow and only one of them can possibly be genetically related. And in the case of men, the burden of care in the first year is not nearly as heavy for natural rearing. If rearing in the seemingly more favored methods of the 21st century, then they will have a nanny and daycare which in my book does not equal the need for social assistance at any level.

    In the end I see a logic breakdown and that always bothers me, but from a personal level I can honestly say that I don’t really care one way or the other. I just know that it will irk me when I hear of someone getting extended pension or social security based on the survivor status from a gay marriage.

    before I die I will divorce my wife and marry my least financially sound friend so that both of them can receive survivor benefits. It makes you hate me doesn’t it.

    this one bothers me even more. I never got married or had kids so me and my best friend have teamed up a built a very high standard of living together. Once I die he won’t be able to afford our lifestyle on his own so I am going to marry him so that he can get survivor benefits from my pension and social security. WTF

    So in the end I am not against gay marriage as much as I am against marriage all together and the broken economic system that is built around it. Yes heteros can cheat the system, but in my view every gay marriage would be cheating the system if the system isn’t changed at the same time.

    I would be very interested in hearing from anyone else who has comments regarding the social economic impact of this topic.

    Posted by dollars and cents | June 13, 2013, 12:48 pm

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