A New Study Just Destroyed a Stigma Haunting Same Sex Parents

April 15th 2016

Lucy Tiven

There's now even more evidence that same-sex couples are just as capable at parenting as their heterosexual counterparts.

The new study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics found "no significant main effect for child outcome variables" for children who grew up with two lesbian parents compared to those who who grew up with a mom and a dad.

Here's how they measured parenting abilities.

The study authors used data from the 2011–2012 National Survey of Children's Health, and looked at 95 same-sex households and 95 households with parents of different sexes. They specifically selected couples with children between the ages of 6 and 17 years old, and who had not divorced or split up.

They interviewed one parent over the phone, and used data analysis to compare kids' health, emotional difficulties, and learning behavior.

They also inquired about parents' relationships with children and each other, and the stress levels faced by both types of couples to see if stress impeded parenting abilities or negatively impacted children.

Each question asked parents about the sample child (SC) using a numerical scale. The study reported:

One item was used to assess health status: “In general, how would you describe (SC)'s health?” (reversed coding: “1 = poor” to “5 = excellent”). For children's emotional difficulties, parents were asked to specify how often during the past month the SC was unhappy, sad, or depressed (“1 = never” to “5 = always”). Children's coping behavior was measured by a single item that inquired whether the SC stayed calm and in control when faced with a challenge (“1 = never” to “5 = always”). A scale was constructed by taking the mean scores of the 4 items assessing children's learning behavior (e.g., “He/She does all required homework”; “1 = never” to “5 = always”); Cronbach's alpha was .75.

Here's what they found out.

The researchers found that children's health, learning behavior, and happiness did not differ significantly if they were raised in a lesbian household, rather than by a heterosexual couple. It's worth noting that the study had a few limitations—the researchers chose not to include homosexual male couples in the study because they could not a find a large enough sample size.

However, the same-sex parents did report significantly higher levels of stress than mixed-gender couples. The study's authors stated that further research needed to be done to determine the source of the stress, but noted that past studies revealed that lesbian mothers worried about their children growing up in a homophobic culture.

They also relied on self-reported data, so it is important to take into account that parents might not always be entirely truthful about their children and relationships, and also could have interpreted the numerical scale and subjective qualities like "calm" and "unhappy" differently.

Still, this is not the first research to conclude that gay couples are just as capable parents as their straight counterparts. Researchers from Bowling Green State University came to a similar conclusion in a 2014 study, Vox noted.

"American children living within same-sex parent households fare just as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse," the Bowling Green State University study authors reported.

Gay parents still face a stigma, but things are improving.

Although gay marriage was legalized across the nation in a landmark June 2015 Supreme Court decision, gay couples continue to face discrimination and homophobia in many parts of the country.

Barack Obama on marriage equality

In early April, a Mississippi judge ruled to legalize gay adoption, making it legal in every U.S. state.

Though gay couples now have many of the same legal rights as straight ones across the nation, it's also important to fight the stigma that contributes to the stress revealed in the survey, and to continue to spread the message that being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

[H/T Vox]