Reply to George: XII. The Dishonest Truth about Same-Sex Parenting

[This post is part of a series analyzing Robert George's widely-read article, "What is Marriage", which appeared on pages 245-286 of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can view all posts in the series here.]

Pages 257-259 and 262-263: In which George — well, read for yourself. Any summary I write sounds incredibly harsh.

Deceitful honesty

You can lie by telling the truth. You can oversleep, race to work, and burst late into a meeting with an apologetic, “My kid was throwing up.” You just neglect to say this happened last week and has nothing to do with why you’re late today.

You’ve spoken the truth and told a lie. My parents taught me it’s not what you say or don’t say. It’s whether you intend to deceive. You don’t get to shrug off your lie with a disingenuous, “It’s not my fault if they drew the wrong conclusion.”

That’s exactly what happens in this section and it troubles me. I’m used to our mid-level opponents quoting studies to denounce same-sex parenting — without  mentioning these studies have nothing to do with same-sex parenting. It’s profoundly disturbing when a respected intellect and Princeton professor like Robert George does it.

Essentially, though, in what follows you’ll see him burst in the room and tell us his kid was throwing up. And he’ll never mention that he really just overslept.

Another of George’s harms to society

George worries that legalizing same-sex marriage would undermine:

the idea that the union of husband and wife is (as a rule and ideal) the most appropriate environment for the bearing and rearing of children — an ideal whose values strongly corroborated by the best available social science.

He footnotes this assertion about opposite-sex married parents. That footnote, however, just refers us back 5 pages to his own parenting discussion earlier in the paper, which I previously skipped and promised to come back to.

I hated this section before and I hate it now. It fails a basic test of intellectual honesty, a failure I’ve seen over and over in our opponents. In that section, George writes:  

Given the marital relationship’s natural orientation to children, it is not surprising that, according to the best available sociological evidence, children fare best on virtually every indicator of wellbeing when reared by their wedded biological parents. Studies that control for other relevant factors, including poverty and even genetics, suggest that children reared in intact homes fare best on the following indices: [educational achievement, emotional health, and familial and sexual development].

George sins by omission.

What’s the problem? He makes a sneaky switch here. He opens by talking about “wedded biological parents.” His evidence, though, is about “children raised in intact homes.”

You see, these carefully-chosen studies almost always compare kids raised by their wedded biological parents to kids whose parents have divorced — kids who are being raised in single family homes or by a step-parent. For instance, George quotes a study from a “left-leaning research institution”:

[I]t is not simply the presence of two parents, . . . but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.

Wow, even a left-leaning institution endorses both biological parents as the ideal!  But wait. Those brackets around the first letter suggest he picked up his quote mid-sentence. Here’s a fuller version:

Divorce is linked to academic and behavior problems among children, including depression, antisocial behavior, impulsive/hyperactive behavior, and school behavior problems. Mental health problems linked to marital disruption have also been identified among young adults.

Children growing up with stepparents also have lower levels of well-being than children growing up with biological parents. Thus, it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.

So this left-leaning institution has compared coupled bio-parents to…divorced parents.  And step-parents.  Do you see what’s not there?  Adoptive parents — same-sex or opposite sex.

Funny what happens appears when you don’t chop up the quote.  George also writes:

Recent literature reviews conducted by the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Institute for American Values corroborate the importance of intact households for children

There it is again — the importance of “intact households.”

Adoptive parents are not stepparents.

This matters.  The world includes more than just married bio-parents, single parents, and step-parents. Adoptive parents exist, too — adoptive parents who provide permanent “intact households.” And research indicates that children are much better safer with adoptive parents than with step-parents, so take all that step-parent research and throw it out the window. Research is also out there suggesting that adoptive parents invest more resources and spend more time with their kids than married bio-parents. In fact, during the Prop 8 trial, we heard this exchange between attorney David Boise and the expert witness against marriage equality, David Blankenhorn:

Boise: In fact, the studies show that all other things being equal, two adoptive parents raising a child from birth will do as well as two biological parents raising a child from birth, correct?

Blankenhorn: No, sir, that’s incorrect.

Boise: Well, sir —

Blankenhorn: May I say another word on that, please?

Boies: You will have an opportunity on redirect.

Blankenhorn: Okay. It was a clarifying thing and actually supports something you just said. The studies show that adoptive parents, because of the rigorous screening process that they undertake before becoming adoptive parents, actually on some outcomes outstrip the biological parents in terms of providing protective care for their children.

Yep.  In some way adoptive parents can be better than coupled bio-parents.

George is hiding essential information from his readers. He hasn’t established that married bio-parents are the ideal — merely that they tend to be better than fractured homes. That’s not a relevant comparison.  Here’s a list of things he might have fruitfully compared:

  • Kids raised from infancy in intact bio-parent homes vs. same-sexer adoptive homes.
  • Kids raised from infancy in intact opposite-sexer adoptive homes vs. same-sexer adoptive homes.
  • Kids adopted later in life and raised in intact opposite-sexer adoptive homes vs. same-sexer adoptive homes.

But no, none of that. He offers no evidence about same-sex parenting at all.

George betrays his most loyal readers.

In fact, if you dig deeper into George’s own primary source you find this:

First, no one can definitively say at this point how children are affected by being reared by same-sex couples. The current research on children reared by them is inconclusive and underdeveloped—we do not yet have any large, long-term, longitudinal studies that can tell us much about how children are affected by being raised in a same-sex household. Yet the larger empirical literature on child well-being suggests that the two sexes bring different talents to the parenting enterprise, and that children benefit from growing up with both biological parents. This strongly suggests that children reared by same-sex parents will experience greater difficulties with their identity, sexuality, attachments to kin, and marital prospects as adults, among other things. But until more research is available, the jury is still out.

Now the American Psychological Association would disagree. But even if you look at nothing but George’s best source, putting aside what it claims is “suggested” and sticking to actual evidence, the most he can assert is that “the best available social science research” has not been able to establish the superiority of either situation. But George glides over that.

You can see why this is troubling. I’ve encountered this evidentiary sleight of hand from less reputable opponents, from talking heads who make good money spreading bigotry and hate, but I don’t expect it from a man of his reputation. How can he damn same-sex parenting with studies that don’t look at same-sex parents? How can just…skip that little fact in his presentation? It’s a betrayal, not just of his own integrity, but of the readers who admire him and count on him for truth.

I’m sure Robert George has an answer for this. He must.

I just wish I knew what it was.

Next: George argues marriage equality is a threat to religious freedom.

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17 comments to Reply to George: XII. The Dishonest Truth about Same-Sex Parenting

  • 1
    Brant says:

    Rob,
    You write so eloquently and with great reason and reflection. Have you considered publishing your critique? I think you should. More people need to read what you’re writing.

  • 2
    Jeff M. says:

    Can’t wait for the next installment.  I actually agree with George that marriage equality is a threat to religious bigotry.
    oh… wait.  did he say religious FREEDOM?!
    What kind of twisted world view do you have to have when you see Equality as a threat to Freedom?

  • 3
    Spunky says:

    Rob,
     
    You are now 12 for 12 with this post. Thank you so much for doing this. I’ve never heard so many good arguments and counter arguments supporting gay rights. I hope Robert George reads this–I’d love to hear his rebuttal.
    There are a few typos: under “Adoptive Parents” you write “much better safer” when I think you mean “much safer,” and in the last full paragraph, you write “How can just…skip” when I think you mean “how can he just…skip.”

  • 4
    Bonefish says:

    1: I agree, and I think he should try and get it published in the same publication.  When someone writes a rebuttal to a scientific journal article, it’s usually published in the same publication so it’s more likely to reach the readers who read the faulty one.  I think it should be the same for the Harvard Journal of Law (and maybe it is).
     
    As for George’s insistence that straight bio parents are better, there are so many things wrong with this.  For one thing, it is an outright lie, and he knows it.  Not a miscalculation, or a logical stretch, but a LIE.  And when a person lies, he proves his own argument wrong better than anyone else could.
     
    For another thing, he is once again using an argument that would have to condemn straight adoptive parents along with gay parents.  Once again, George, your rationale has to be consistent to have a valid legal basis.  So if you want to claim that [Thing X] is your reason for condemning gay marriage, you have to condemn everything else that [Thing X] applies to.  You don’t get to make arbitrary exceptions for things that you don’t personally disapprove of (if you want to claim that your argument is anything other than personal).
     
    And the third thing: the only way gay adoption COULD be any different from straight adoption would be the gender role thing, mentioned in that study.  But there are two things wrong with this:
     
    1)  Gender roles are overrated.  As nostalgiac as we may get over the image of a father tossin’ the ol’ ball around with his son, or teaching him to fish and hunt, or a mother teaching her daughter to braid her hair: these things are not essential.  A parent’s job is to provide their child with care (food, clothes, shelter), to give them affection and love, and to teach them life skills (and this includes sending them to school).  It doesn’t matter that they learn some skills from a penis-haver and others from a vagina-haver. These nostalgiac things mentioned earlier are nostalgiac because of the affection involved, not because of some magical connection between fishing and testicles.
     
    Say you have a boy raised by lesbians.  He’s still going to learn to drive, to read and write, to cook and clean, to relate to others, to do his homework.  And he very well might learn to hunt and fish and belch and play baseball; tits don’t get in the way of any of these activities, and we’re always knocking on lesbians for being “butch” anyway, right?  So what’s the harm?  OK, so he won’t explicitly associate his cooking skills with “vagina” and his hunting/fishing skills with “cock.”  Does he really have to?  I for one find it more pathological to obsessively divvy up our skills into “masculine” vs “feminine” rather than “useful” vs “useless.”  The 1950s have proven themselves to be a psychotic, delusional time in American history.  Let’s stop looking to them for guidance.
     
    2) Let’s again use the example of a boy raised by lesbians.  And, just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that gender roles ARE useful: that SOMEONE had better teach that boy to play baseball and belch, or he’ll never manage to get a job and feed himself!  Even then, there’s no harm in gay parenthood.  These lesbians are (likely) not raising their son on a desert island or an isolated jungle hut.  He is going to have male teachers, male coaches, male grandparents, uncles, and friends with male parents; plus, his moms are likely to have male friends.  And if it’s an open adoption, he might have his biological dad milling about also.
     
    So he will get plenty of “male” guidance, and he can take on all the tasks that ONLY manly straight men are capable of doing, like… um… well, not hunting, because gays and women do that too…. and not football or boxing or joining the military… hmm.  Not math, either.  OH!  Smacking a guy on the back when hugging to show that the hug is “totally not gay.”  That, and buying heart-shaped jewelry for his girlfriend.

  • 5
    Christopher Mongeau says:

    George says, “First, no one can definitively say at this point how children are affected by being reared by same-sex couples.”
    Google says”
    http://faculty.spokanefalls.edu/InetShare/AutoWebs/kimt/AW%20articles/Children%20of%20Lesbian%20and%20Gay%20Parents.pdf
    http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/parenting.aspx
    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/269718/0080303.pdf
    http://www.felgtb.org/files/docs/ec16f2da0a24.pdf
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_parenting  (many references here)
     
    There are many more, but George will just have to learn to google.

  • 6
    Diana Marie Davis says:

    I’m chiming in here to support the idea of publishing your rebuttal to George in the journal he published his opinion piece in – that’s what it is, not a scholarly work.  Might I suggest though that when you do, you footnote your rebuttal with the studies that do the very comparisons that he does NOT make.  It is one thing to assert that these studies say what we know they say; it is another for someone to say they exist and point right to them.  One might try to rebut your assertions by saying that you are lying – and there are numerous people and organizations that will do just that if you only assert them.
     
    It is quite another to say that your assertions are just your beliefs when you point out the studies or other scientific evidence.  Then your opponents have a larger problem – they have to discredit the authors, the study methodologies etc of mounting evidence.  Some of the readers might examine what you add to the discussion and the sheer weight of the evidence might convince a few folks, while the sheer weight of the facts will bury the others.  But I suppose it doesn’t matter will it?  Their heads are buried in the sand already so I doubt they’d notice more dirt around and in their heads.

  • 7
    Regan DuCasse says:

    Excellent suggestion Diane!
    Rob’s analysis is very thorough and complete. And unlike George, Rob’s own life experience isn’t in the abstract of statistical information.
    Indeed, us straight allies can say a thing or two about empirical experience. Our entire lives has consisted of what would be called long term research if anyone were to track our relationships with gay folks over our lifetimes.
    We are after all, who along with our gay loved ones, is who is being asked and watched all this time.
    I have noticed that the anti gay firmly like to believe that I’ve been bewitched or somehow missed something they think they know better than I do.
    This from the very people who AVOID gay people if they can, and only have the most superficial and stereotypical understanding of what a gay person is to them.
    But someone like ME, who has had intimate and strong relationships with HUNDREDS of gays and lesbians and continues to…well, gee…somehow I know NOTHING about gay people!
    That’s the thing I love about experience over opinion, to them I’m being stubborn.
    To anyone smarter and without prejudice, I KNOW BETTER than to believe lies, hyperbole and bigotry. And the anti gay, trust me, hate me for outclassing them that way.
    It has NEVER taken any courage, specialness or anything above and beyond just simple respect that got me here.
    Which is why, I can see the anti gay as the UTMOST of cowards. People who are too afraid to even engage people who are in plain sight, who are open and a part of all our lives everywhere. An opportunity to know better is everywhere.
    There IS no unknown here to be afraid of. This is the MOST FAMILIAR thing to know and understand in all our human history.
    If these people weren’t so dangerously serious in their cowardice, they would be funny as a ballerina slipping on a turd.

  • 8
    Matthew says:

    Yes, I think Rob should publish it and you have an excellent future career in law if you should decide to change professions. 
    Regarding his assertion that the jury is still out, even if that were the case, that is a terrible argument for stagnation.  Its to say, well, we cannot really change anything at all in society ever because you never know how it might turn out.  You never know about many things statistically until they are in place.  We did not know precisely how many more highway deaths would result from raising the speed limit.  We could guestimate.  But, we had to do it for a decade to know the results.  Social change always has some risk and future uncertainty. 
    Also, it validates the homophobia.  If we don’t have enough data, it may be that not enough jurisdictions allowed same sex co-parent adoption until recently.  That is another thing that should be compared side  by side — gay co-parent legal adoption (as opposed to single parent but living in a committed relationship) from infancy where the parents remain together until the child is 18 versus opposite sex legal adoption without divorce.  You could even argue that you cannot even make that  a meaningful comparison except in the states that have had co-parent legal adoption AND same-sex marriage (which has been less than 18 years) because some argue that the presence of legal marriage is itself a stabilizing presence and provides a vocabulary for children to talk about their parents marriage.  Certainly you could argue that committed same sex couples but in relationships without legal marriage have disadvantages to such children being raised by those couuples that children adopted by same sex couples in legal marriages don’t have.  If legal marriage serves a societal purpose and if those purposes impact children then you cannot make a comparison without marriage rights.  The fact that the studies show that children of gay couples turn out as well adjusted suggests that marriage really does not provide much impact and that the rights and responsibilities really did not impact the children that much, or that the parents simply did an amazing job given that obstacle.   I would argue that after same sex marriage has been legal for 20 years children of such couples might be doing even better. 
    Lastly, if children of same sex couples experience greater obstacles as George says, that might also be due to homophobia. 

  • 9
    Martin says:

    Here’s another very valid and important contribution to the discussion about the merrits of same sex vs. opposite sex couples: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=1929 Cheers. ^_^

  • 10
    Ken Spreitzer says:

     
    I think a really important distinction that needs to be made:  Saying that children need a mother and father to grow up best is an argument against gay parenting, not gay marriage.
    Preventing gay marriage will not stop gay people from being parents. Gay people will still adopt or have kids via other methods (surrogacy, etc).
    What’s even worse is that preventing gay marriage actually harms kids being raised by gay parents because it denies those kids the benefits they get from having parents who are married. For example, a child may end up getting better medical coverage if their parents are married. Would you rather have a child’s parents be married or unmarried?

  • 11
    Ken Spreitzer says:

    And here’s another important point: children being raised by gay parents are always better off than any practical alternative.
    A child placed with a gay couple via adoption must be better off, otherwise they wouldn’t have been placed there.
    A child born to a gay couple (via surrogacy, for example) is also better off than their only other alternative: not being born.
    There’s only one scenario in which a child would be worse off: if they were unjustly taken away from their loving, nurturing natural (birth) parents. But of course this never happens. There’s no gay mafia stealing babies in the middle of the night from straight families.

  • 12

    [...] that makes his piece a lie. This kind of sin-by-omission is nothing new; we’ve seen it from far more reputable scholars than this NARTHer. Here, though, we have the original researcher explaining why this is an abuse of [...]

  • 13

    [...] that makes his piece a lie. This kind of sin-by-omission is nothing new; we’ve seen it from far more reputable scholars than this NARTHer. Here, though, we have the original researcher explaining why this is an abuse of [...]

  • 14

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  • 17
    do pobrania says:

    Excellent article! We will be linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the good writing.

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