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09/17/2013

Guest Post: Author Joel Derfner on equality and its stats-skewing detractors

by Jeremy Hooper

As a reader with my own book on the market, you all know that I love to promote my fellow LGBT authors. It's with pleasure that I tip you to the latest from Joel Derfer (author of the terrific Swish), which is on store shelves (digital and otherwise) as of today:

Derfner Final Cover Copy
Lawfully Wedded Husband [Amazon]

But I wanted to go beyond just an ad. Instead, I invited Joel to write a guest post for the site. Without further ado, here's Joel's contribution.

BUY HIS BOOK!

***

by Joel Derfner

Final Author Photo Joel Derfner Copyright Chia MessinaI did a lot of research for my new book, Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family. Most of it I did because doing research gave me an unimpeachable reason not to be writing. “How’s the book coming,” a friend would say, and I would respond, “Oh, man, you wouldn’t believe some of the research I’m reading!” and my friend would be like, “Wow, that’s so cool!” If I had said instead, “Oh, you know, I’m spending most of my time not writing it,” I don’t know what the response would have been, but I doubt it would have allowed me as easily to pretend that I didn’t hate myself.

Anyway, I learned a great many lessons in the number of ways in which statistics can be used and misused to support arguments that they don’t actually have anything to do with.

For example, there’s an excellent book called Why Marriage Matters by Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, about, well, why marriage matters. Unfortunately, there’s also a book called Why Marriage Matters published by the Institute for American Values. (Whenever an organization has the word “values” in its name I start feeling very nervous. Somehow it always seems that in these contexts “values” actually means “our values and not yours.”) Here are some of the things the Institute for American Values has to say about why same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to raise children:

  • “Children of divorced or unwed parents have lower grades . . . are more likely to be held back, and are more likely to drop out of high school.”
  • “Divorce and unmarried childbearing appear to have negative effects on children’s physical health and life expectancy. . . . The health disadvantages associated with being raised outside of intact marriages persist long into adulthood.”
  • “Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.”
  • “Young teens whose parents stay married are also the least likely to experiment with tobacco or alcohol.”

If these statistics are true, this is definitely an issue for careful consideration. So let’s step back a moment.

There are something like two million children in America being raised by same-sex couples. Two million. And that number is only going to rise, because same-sex couples are going to keep on raising kids. How many will it be in 2020? 2050? So let’s look at this with an attitude of concern for the children of America.

(Although I hate and fear children, of America or any other country—once a child is old enough to have a conversation about Kafka then I suppose it can be allowed into society but until then I’d prefer that it be neither seen nor heard, at least not by me—I am concerned for their welfare, if only because without them there would be nobody to grow up and act in gay porn or be on Project Runway.)

So we have two options: either 1) same-sex couples are permitted to marry, or 2) we’re not.

Take option 1). The same-sex couples raising these two million kids get married. This makes the kids more likely to earn higher grades, stay in school, live longer, be healthy, and say no to drugs. The outcomes for the rest of America’s kids depend, as they did before, on the strength of their own parents’ marriage (this is actually a big assumption, one that I’ll address later on, but for now let’s just say for the sake of argument that I’m right).

Now take option 2). The same-sex couples raising these two million kids stay unmarried. This makes the kids more likely to earn lower grades, drop out of school, die sooner, be sick, and do drugs. The outcomes for the rest of America’s kids depend, as they did before, on the strength of their own parents’ marriage.

And the opponents of marriage equality are saying that option 2) is better for America?

Mary, please.

Of course I’m being flip here; what the Institute for American Values is trying to say is that these statistics hold true only for kids of married opposite-sex couples and not for kids of married same-sex couples, and that being raised by a married same-sex couple would be just as bad for kids as being raised by a single parent or by an unmarried opposite-sex couple.

The problem is that that’s not what the statistics say. None of the studies in question compared opposite-sex couples with same-sex couples. This research says nothing about same-sex couples at all.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean we can assume same-sex couples make good parents; let’s respect the scientific method here. It’s theoretically possible that kids with two moms are all but guaranteed to become cannibalistic, necrophiliac serial killers.

Except that they’re actually not. Though there hasn’t been an overwhelming amount of research on the effect parents’ sexual orientation has on their kids, it’s been saying the same thing for twenty years:

  • “Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.” Charlotte Patterson, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Families,” Child Development, 1992
  • “Parental sexual orientation was not associated with differences in the quality of parent-child relationships.” Fiona Tasker, “Same-Sex Parenting and Child Development,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2010
  • “Lesbian coparents seem to outperform comparable married heterosexual, biological parents on several measures, even while being denied the substantial privileges of marriage.” Timothy J. Biblarz and Judith Stacy, “How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2010

Catch that? Even without getting married we’re better parents than straight people. Maybe that’s what scares the opponents of marriage equality—that if they let us get married we’ll only expose them for the bad parents they are.

(In the interest of full disclosure I’ll say that I’ve also seen criticism of the last study I quoted, criticism implying that same-sex couples parent not better than but exactly as well as straight people. If we are in fact better parents than straight people, though, I suspect it’s because for the most part it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning for a same-sex couple to acquire a child. If a lesbian goes out, gets drunk, and loses all sense of inhibition she’s much less likely to wake up next to a stranger having conceived a child than she is to wake up next to her new, already codependent girlfriend having adopted a sea turtle.)

But you know what? Let’s give the opposition the benefit of the doubt again. The studies I’m referring to could be methodologically flawed (though I don’t think they are). Data can be made to support pretty much whatever you want to claim, like, for example, the Dutch study opponents of equality love to cite about how the average marriage of a gay couple lasts a year and a half, which would be compelling except that 1) while the Netherlands passed a marriage-equality law in 2001, the study only dealt with data until 2000, which means that there were no married gay people in the study and 2) the study excluded everybody over the age of thirty, which means that in order for the study to have an average relationship length of much more than a year and a half these guys would have had to start dating in second grade.

Sorry, I got carried away. As I was saying, data can be made to support pretty much whatever you want to claim, like the study opponents of equality love to cite about how 28% of gay men have over 1,000 sexual partners during their lives, which would be compelling except that 1) the authors of the study, which was based on data collected in one city, more than forty years ago, explicitly say that these numbers can’t be taken as representative of gay people in general because they found their research subjects by advertising in highly specific locations like gay sex clubs, and 2) show me a man who doesn’t add a 0 when asked about the number of people he’s had sex with and I’ll show you a man who can’t count above nine in the language you’re speaking.

Sorry, I got carried away again. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument only, that studies like the ones I’ve quoted aren’t helpful as evidence that same-sex couples ought to be allowed to marry.

What are we left with?

An unproven and (at least currently) unprovable assertion that same-sex couples should be denied marriage equality because we provide bad home environments for kids. Why do we provide bad home environments for kids? Because we’re not married.

Same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because we’re not allowed to marry. QED.

Talk about begging the question.

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