An Australian study claiming children of same-sex parents enjoy higher levels of health and social wellbeing has captured attention across the globe, but advocates of traditional family structures have urged caution.
Melbourne University recently released the findings based on data from the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families, which involved 500 children from 315 same-sex families.
Researchers compared their results to a global index of child health, which measured children in areas of physical activity, mental health and behaviour, and claimed children of same-sex parents scored, on average, six per cent higher in areas of general health and family cohesion.
Lead researcher of the Melbourne study, Dr Simon Crouch, suggested that the positive findings stemmed from the equal distribution of work, with same-sex couples more likely to equally share domestic and income responsibilities than heterosexual couples.
“It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes,” he said.
The attention generated by this study, however, is causing concern among proponents of male-female family units, such as Family Voice Australia (FAVA), who believe that “serious methodological flaws” have hampered its accuracy.
FAVA researcher Ros Phillips pointed out that the gay and lesbian parents participating in the study were volunteers and not randomly selected and were also the ones reporting on the progress of their children.
“Volunteer bias is a major problem with the study,” Mrs Phillips said.
“Same-sex couples whose children have health or behaviour problems would be most unlikely to volunteer. Those who did volunteer, knowing that the results could be used to further the gay lobby’s agenda, would be reluctant to report unfavourably on their children’s progress.”
Mrs Phillips also expressed concern that three of the five researchers involved were believed to be raising children in same-sex relationships and suggested the motivation for the study may have been partly political.
Fr Joseph Parkinson from the LJ Goody Bioethics Centre in Glendalough agreed the study had several major flaws that invalidated its findings.
“I have major difficulties with the study design and with the conclusions that can be drawn from this kind of study,” he said.
One such problem was the small sample size of just 315 participants, Fr Parkinson said, as well as the “opt-in” nature of the study.
“The researcher only sent material to same-sex couples, but he should have sent an equal number of invitations to heterosexual couples and… then you could maybe make some comparisons. My understanding is that that didn’t happen, so basically all he’s done is survey same-sex families,” he said.
“The whole thing is flawed. There are so many biases in the study design to make it worthless.”
Fr Parkinson, who has been reading university research proposals for the last 25 years, said he wouldn’t accept the research from an undergraduate student.
“It has no credibility,” he said. “Looking at it purely from a research perspective, regardless of the subject of the research, the design of the project is so poor, so biased and so uncontrolled that the project has no validity and therefore the results have no validity.”
The Melbourne findings contradict those presented by George Rekers, Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioural Science at the University of South Carolina.
In a 2004 study on homosexual parenting, adoption and fostering, Rekers concluded: “It is clearly in the interests of foster children to be placed with exclusively heterosexual, married-couple foster families because this natural family structure inherently provides unique needed benefits and produces better child adjustment than is generally the case in households with homosexual behaving adults”.
He said witnessing and experiencing the innate and unique abilities and characteristics of each sex contributed to children’s positive development in later life.