Reply to George: XII. The Dishonest Truth about Same-Sex Parenting
March 24th, 2011
[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.
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. Our mid-level opponents often use 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 steppparents, so take all that steppparent 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-sex 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.