Dobson: One Too Many Mommies

When I was 10 years old, my father told me he was gay. For most of the next eight years I lived with him, except for a two year period living with my mom & stepfather. Most conservative Christians today would probably assume that living with my mom & stepfather was a healthier situation.

They would be wrong. That's why the following bothers me.

On Dec. 12th, Dr. James Dobson contributed a guest column to TIME magazine entitled Two Mommies Is One Too Many (see also here), which he apparently wrote as a reaction to Mary Cheney's recent announcement that she's pregnant. That announcement rekindled the public debate concerning same-sex parenting, and has prompted mixed reactions from both conservative and liberal pundits, bloggers, and leaders.

In his column, Dr. Dobson expressed his concern that children raised by same-sex parents suffer from the lack of an opposite sex parent. He asserts that 30 years of social-science evidence tells us that by every measurement of well-being, children do best when raised by married heterosexual couples. Additionally, he writes that there is something intuitive about a child's need for a mother and father, and that God's divine plan gives children the best opportunities to thrive.

While he carefully tries to avoid casting aspersions on the character of Ms. Cheney and single parents, he does take shots at politics, political correctness and no-fault divorce, which he seems to imply indicates a breakdown in our moral culture. In the final paragraph, he characterizes same-sex parenting a social experiment that defies 5,000 years of human experience.

Dr. Dobson's apparent concern for children is well-known and laudable. However, there are some problems with his conclusions regarding same-sex parenting that simply cannot go unanswered. Among the more glaring errors is that he chose to cherry-pick quotes from studies that he uses as examples of "30 years of social science" supporting his view, when the fact of the matter is that these studies do nothing of the sort. It is a truism when he writes that "love is not enough," but tautological to state that two women can't provide a father or that two fathers can't be complete role models for girls. By comparing today's culture to 5,000 years of human experience, Dr. Dobson reveals his ignorance of history.

The above might be surprising given his credentials were it not for Dr. Dobson's equally well-known status as an Evangelical Christian. That is to say Dr. Dobson's views are ultimately derived from his belief in biblical doctrine, which he allows to prejudice his analysis of existing science on the matter.

In fact, both Dr. Kyle Pruett and Carol Gilligan, whose work he references, expressed dismay at the misuse of their work, and wrote letters to Dr. Dobson asking him to stop (see here and here). Additionally, though he cites a 1996 article from Psychology Today dealing with fatherhood behavior , he fails to note a 1999 article from the same publication dealing directly with same-sex parenting. Furthermore, his assertion that over 30 years of social science affirms his conclusions is patently false. Several well-respected organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the National Association of Social Workers have published research or issued position statements on same-sex parenting, each refuting the notion that children of same-sex parents suffer any negative impact from their unique family situations.

A few examples:

  • A 2002 technical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics stated:
    "A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with 1 or 2 gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes."

  • Even while acknowledging that current research is limited, a 2005 study completed by the American Psychological Association found:
    " evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay 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 lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth."

  • In a position statement from the Child Welfare League of America, it was noted that:
    "Studies using diverse samples and methodologies in the last decade have persuasively demonstrated that there are no systematic differences between gay or lesbian and non-gay or lesbian parents in emotional health, parenting skills, and attitudes toward parenting (Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). No studies have found risks to or disadvantages for children growing up in families with one or more gay parents, compared to children growing up with heterosexual parents (Perrin, 2002). Indeed, evidence to date suggests home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents support and enable children's psychosocial growth, just as do those provided by heterosexual parents (Patterson, 1995)."

  • The Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers published an op-ed piece in which it was stated that:
    "Anyone who wishes to examine the twenty years of peer-reviewed studies on the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes of children of gay and lesbian parents will find not one shred of evidence that children are harmed by their parents’ sexual orientation. In a recent national study of adoption by lesbians and gays, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute concluded the following: gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to be emotionally disturbed than their heterosexual counterparts; there is no link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse; children raised by gay and lesbian parents display no significant differences compared to children of heterosexual parents with regard to levels of depression, self esteem, conduct problems, emotional functioning, and other areas of social and psychological adjustment."

    "The empirical and clinical evidence suggesting same sex parents are equivalent to heterosexual parents in their ability to care for children and provide loving homes is so compelling that there is a growing consensus among legal and child welfare experts that there is no rational basis to deny adoption to gay and lesbian couples solely on the basis of their sexual orientation."

    Furthermore, the same organization has been active in New York and Maryland, coming out in support of same-sex marriage, in at least one case filing an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief stating:
    "...decades of social science research proving that gay couples are just as capable of being good parents as straight couples, debunks arguments by marriage equality opponents that allowing same-sex couples to marry would somehow be harmful to children." See this 2004 press release.

  • The 2005 position statement and philosophy of the North American Council on Adoptable Children with regard to same-sex parents is that:
    "Children should not be denied a permanent family because of the sexual orientation of potential parents."

    and that
    "All prospective foster and adoptive parents, regardless of sexual orientation, should be given fair and equal consideration.
    NACAC opposes rules and legislation that restrict the consideration of current or prospective foster and adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation."

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of Family Pride, wrote a scathing response to Dr. Dobson in which she characterized Dr. Dobson and those espousing similar positions as "politicizing" the family without regard to existing science.

Bill O'Reilly also weighed-in on the issue (see here), but in his usual fashion failed to draw a useful conclusion, instead comparing same-sex parenting as a violation of nature on par with cupcakes causing pregnancy. Thanks, Bill. I needed that.

I can unequivocably state that neither myself nor my siblings ever suffered any adverse effects from our father's homosexuality. At times, our father was an anchor we could cling to when things got out-of-control. You see, my mother and stepfather were alcoholics. Yes, it was a 'traditional' family in the sense that we had a mother & father in the home. But isn't it interesting that my sister was removed from that home by child services, my brother moved out after being physically assaulted by my stepfather, and ultimately my mother was kicked out when her husband went on a bender.

My father and I had our problems. All of us did. But our problems were no different than those confronting any parent & child. Today, I am a happy, healthy, heterosexual male who never suffered any indoctrination, any abuse, or any other negative impact from having a gay father. The fears fostered by the Christian Right seem to be, in each and every way, unfounded.

For those who are interested, my mother since got clean & we are all very happy she's around for us. Like my dad once was, she's an anchor we can turn to.

Returning to Dr. Dobson, with regard to history he seemingly ignores that even according to his Bible, non-traditional families have been commonplace. Setting aside biblical inconsistencies, did not God allow men to divorce their wives, thereby sanctioning the single-parent household? Did not God permit polygamous relationships? Did not Abraham, sanctioned by God, set aside Hagar and her child Ishmael? In other words, there never has been the 'traditional' family to which Dobson so lovingly clings, even in his most sacred text.

It seems that even someone who holds a PhD is not immune from drawing blatantly erroneous conclusions by cherry-picking data, mischaracterizing existing science as supporting a certain position when clearly it does not, and ignoring history. Then again, this seems to be the modus operandi of politically-motivated Evangelicals, who blithely and apparently without irony portray their cause as righteous even as they behave dishonestly.

As an ex-Christian, I find none of this surprising.

What do you think?

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