WASHINGTON, July 13 (UPI) -- As the U.S. Senate considers a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, proponents of the amendment have framed the issue as a debate about the well being of children.
Last week, amendment author Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation, "This is about children and what is the ideal situation for children."
However, there is much research on same-sex couples and children that shows that same-sex households are no more detrimental to child development than heterosexual households.
"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," a summary of research findings to be released this fall by the American Psychological Association states.
"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," said the report, written by Charlotte J. Patterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a researcher of gay and lesbian parenting.
Patterson admitted much of the research is limited in scope, a fact that fuels criticism among gay marriage opponents.
But Patterson's conclusions are shared by a large segment of the scientific and medical community, which is beginning to embrace same-sex parenting.
On July 28 the American Psychological Association's council is to vote on resolutions concerning same-sex marriage and parenting. The group opposes the gay marriage amendment.
According to the group's Web site, "Psychological research and association policy are not consistent with legislation proposed at the federal and state levels that would amend the U.S. Constitution or state constitutions, respectively, to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples."
In June the American Medical Association endorsed legislative efforts to allow adoption of a child by a same-sex partner in gay and lesbian relationships.
The AMA cited the psychological need for children to have two legally sanctioned parents as well as concerns in the event of the death of the sole legal parent.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has adopted a similar position, calling for the legal recognition of same-sex parents because "children who are born to, or adopted by, one member of a gay or lesbian couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents."
The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have each endorsed similar positions against discrimination of same-sex parents.
In a similar policy statement, the American Academy of Family Physicians said, "There is no evidence to suggest or support that parents with a gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation are per se different from or deficient in parenting skills ... when compared to parents with a heterosexual orientation."
While these organizations have all adopted non-discriminatory same-sex parenting policies, only the American Psychological Association has flatly opposed the gay marriage amendment to the Constitution.
Despite the statements of groups like the AMA and the American Psychological Association, gay marriage opponents have also used research findings to illustrate their message that same-sex marriage works against the best interests of children.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation with Allard last week, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., called on legislators to support the amendment, which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"Social science on this matter is conclusive," Brownback said. "Children need both a mom and a dad. ... Study after study shows that children do best in a home with a married biological mother and father."
Yet the data that Brownback referred to compared two-parent households to single-parent households without regard to sexual orientation. Brownback said that children in single-parent households are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and suffer other social problems.
But this research is not relevant to the issue of same-sex marriage and parenting, Patterson said in a telephone interview.
According to Patterson, single-parent households are usually the product of a divorce. Any child whose parents divorce, she said, is more likely to suffer behavioral and emotional problems than a child whose family remains intact. The sexual orientation of the parents will not necessarily compound these problems.
While many children of same-sex parents are products of a previous heterosexual relationship, more gay couples are adopting children.
The National Council for Adoption, a non-profit group that promotes adoption policy and supports adoption services, encourages traditional mother-father homes for children. The group's president and chief executive officer, Thomas Atwood, said reliable social-science research shows that children are better off with male and female parents.
"Some differences (between same-sex and heterosexual parents) have been clearly established," Atwood said, noting a study that found adolescent children of same-sex parents are more likely to engage in sexual experimentation.
But Atwood said the goal of adoption should always be to serve the best interests of the child. In some cases it is reasonable to leave open the option of placing a child with a single parent, even given the possibility that the parent could be homosexual. It depends on what the best interests are for that child given the available alternatives, Atwood said.
The National Adoption Center, a group that specializes in placing special-needs children, has adopted a non-discrimination policy with regard to parent assessments.
Gloria Hochman, the group's communications director, said the center has no official position on the gay-marriage amendment. But Hochman said while civil unions could address the issue of legal rights for same-sex couples and their children, marriage contains an emotional layer that is important to the security of a child.
The Senate is expected to vote on some form of the gay-marriage amendment this week. The measure is not expected to win the 75 votes needed to pass.
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