The argument that children need to grow up with a father is not an argument aimed primarily at lesbian couples raising children. It's the argument at the core of the right-wing "marriage movement" whose agenda includes federal funding for a "marriage promotion" industry, restrictions on no-fault divorce, and increased stigma for births outside marriage. The primary tenet of this movement is that the decline of life-long marriage is responsible for all our social problems, a point of view that deliberately ignores poverty, income inequality, poor education, and inadequate health care, for example, as root causes of poor outcomes for children.
This movement gained traction throughout the 1990's, before any state allowed same-sex couples to marry or even enter civil unions. As the movement for marriage equality grew, it challenged opposition from these "marriage movement" organizations by saying, essentially, if you think marriage is so important for children then you should support same-sex marriage as better for the children those couples raise. To continue opposing same-sex marriage, these groups had to shift their argument from "marriage is crucial to the well-being of children and society" to "heterosexual marriage is crucial to the well-being of children and society," and to do this they had to talk about how much gender matters. It's not marriage, they now say, but marriage between a man and a woman. And then they refined the argument even further to stress the importance to a child of being raised by his/her married biological parents.
So as the defenders of Proposition 8 present their witnesses this week, expect testimony on gender differences to play a significant role. That makes the study published last week by Tim Biblarz and Judith Stacey especially timely. In How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?, published in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family, these two sociologists review all the research used to support the proposition that families headed by married, biological parents are best for children, and they reach a different conclusion. They conclude that the best scientific evidence shows instead that "compared to all other family forms, families headed by (at least) two committed, compatible parents are generally best for children." This is true, they conclude, "irrespective of parental gender, marital status, sexual identity, or biogenetic status."
They write, "Current claims that children need both a mother and father are spurious because they attribute to the gender of the parents benefits that correlate primarily with the number and marital status of a child's parents since infancy. At this point no research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being." (emphasis mine). This is exactly what renowned child development expert Michael Lamb testified to last week at the Prop 8 trial. Expect pro-Prop 8 witness David Blankenhorn to testify how much gender does matter, although I wonder how he will qualify as an expert. He is certainly a writer and an advocate, but he is not a social scientist or mental health clinician or researcher. I am truly looking forward to his cross-examination, and I expect this latest Biblarz/Stacey article -- from a peer-reviewed professional journal -- to play a prominent role.