Doctors’ views on same-sex marriage are ill-informed

By Paula Gerber

The Herald Sun has reported (13 May 2012) that 22 Victorian doctors have come out in opposition to same-sex marriage on the basis that “the evidence is clear that children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters than children without“. The clear inference is that there is medical research supporting their position that same-sex marriage is harmful to children. Such a position is not based on any credible research. Indeed, recent research reveals the exact opposite to be true.

For example, the highly regarded National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study has found that

“adolescents living with lesbian parents function as well as, or sometimes better than, those reared by opposite-sex parents”

( Loes van Gelderen, Henny M. W. Bos, Nanette Gartrell, Jo Hermanns and Ellen C. Perrin ‘Quality of Life of Adolescents Raised from Birth by Lesbian Mothers: The US National Longitudinal Family Study’(2012) 33(1) Journal of of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 1-7

 The American Psychological Association has come out in support of same-sex marriage because it has read the empirical research that demonstrates the clear health benefits that flow from allowing same sex couples to marry, including Herdt, G. & Kertzner, R. (2006). ‘I do, but I can’t: The impact of marriage denial on the mental health and sexual citizenship of lesbians and gay men in the United States’ (2006) 3(1) Sexuality Research and Social Policy 33-49.

Psychologists Susanne Johnson and Elizabeth O’Conner found that gay and lesbian parents tend to be more responsive to their children, more child oriented, and more egalitarian in their sharing of the workload, characteristics associated with a more positive child outcome. (Johnson, S.M., & O’Connor, E. (2002). The gay baby boom: The psychology of gay parenthood. New York: New York University Press. p. 67)

A study published in the prestigious American journal Pediatrics, found that marriage increases the ability of couples to provide and care for one another and fosters a nurturing and secure environment for children. In other words, children who are raised by married parents (be they same-sex or opposite-sex) benefit from the legal and social status granted to their parents. (Pawelski, J. G., Perrin, E.C., Foy, J.M., Allen, C.E., Crawford, J.E., Del Monte, M., Kaufmann, M., Klein, J.D., Smith, K., Springer, S., Tanner, J.L. and Vickers, D.L. (2006) ‘The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children” 118 (1) Pediatrics 349.

All of these studies demonstrate that the argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry is not in the best interests of children cannot be substantiated. There is an overwhelming body of scholarly research that indicates that the exact opposite in the case. I have written earlier that denying gay marriage only hurts the children. The best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in the debate about same-sex marriage, in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The application of that standard leads to the irrefutable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, so that any children they may have, grow up in families that enjoy the same legal and societal recognition as the families of children with opposite-sex parents.

The 22 Victorian doctors who have come out vociferously against same-sex marriage should follow the lead of Barak Obama and Jeff Kennett, read the research about the positive impact of marriage equality and the harmful effects that flow from discriminating against same-sex couples and their families, and then come to a better informed opinion on this issue. Whilst everyone is entitled to hold and express their opinions on the subject of same-sex marriage, it is preferable that those opinions be based on sound scholarly evidenced based research, rather than prejudices and misconceptions.

Associate Professor Paula Gerber teaches law and is a Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University. She is co-editor of the book Current Trends in the Regulation of Same Sex Relationships available from Federation Press.

15 responses to “Doctors’ views on same-sex marriage are ill-informed”

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  6. […] flawed and out of date.  As noted by Melbourne researcher, Associate Professor Paula Gerber the current research shows the exact opposite. “Psychologists Susanne Johnson and Elizabeth O’Conner found that gay and lesbian parents […]

  7. I note that the primary citation from the Parkinson report relied upon by the doctors is Brown, Marriage and Child Well-Being J Marriage Fam. 2010 October 1; 72(5): 1059–1077. This report states:

    “Mounting evidence indicates that children raised by lesbian parents fare as well as their counterparts raised by heterosexual married parents (for reviews, see Biblarz & Stacey, 2010; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). … . On several dimensions, lesbian couples are more effective parents than are opposite-sex couples”

    Even the doctors own citations don’t back their claim. I have to say that I’d be concerned if that reflected their understanding of medical evidence, statistics and causation.

  8. It would be instructive for our community to determine what it seeks to achieve from marriage, in terms of rights, responsibilities and obligations before it moves on to determine the extent to which it wishes to grant rights to members of the community in respect of it. Marriage is most definitely a multifaceted organism. Understanding how that organism exists and can grow and thrive in our community best prepares us to maximise its utility within our community.

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