Antonin Scalia Gay Marriage: Justice Wrong About Same-Sex Parenthood


Behind dueling protests, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the first of two landmark cases this week addressing same-sex marriage. While the transcripts recount many a lively exchange (about whether people over 55 should be allowed to marry, for example), an issue raised by Justice Scalia should be called out:

“If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must — you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there's —­ there's considerable disagreement among — among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a — in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not — do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.”

Alongside gay marriage, LGBT adoption has been the subject of significant debate as of late. And like gay marriage, such debate has generated more heat than light, with few facts and evidence but an excess of rhetoric. In this case, Scalia’s characterization of the research on same-sex couples adopting and raising children is well off the mark.

On one hand, Scalia is correct about the legality of adoption by same sex couples. Currently 22 states permit adoption in some form, while 10 prohibit it. The remaining states have neglected to specifically address the issue, creating an unclear, even contradictory, legal patchwork. It is interesting to note, however, that all 50 states permit adoption by individuals who happen to be gay.

On the other, the consensus in favor of allowing adoption by gay couples among professional organizations is resounding. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have announced their support for adoption by same-sex couples, with the latter stating that “lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.”

Of course, as the APA points out, the question isn’t really about whether or not gay couples should adopt, but whether they should be raising children. In addition to the APA and AMA, the list of groups affirming that same-sex couples make qualified parents is quite lengthy, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the Child Welfare League of America, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Opposition to same-sex parenthood comes from the usual suspects, across-the-board opponents of gay rights such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, and the American College of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the American Association of Pediatrics mentioned above).  

Many of these organizations argue that the mainstream mental health organizations have allowed "activism to masquerade as science," an interesting claim considering that the American College of Pediatrics split from the AAP in 2002 specifically over the latter’s support for LGBT adoption.

Moving beyond organizational opinions, the literature on the subject strongly supports the mainstream consensus. A literature review prepared for the Australian Psychological Society in 2007 concluded that the outcomes of children raised by gay or lesbian families were "at least as favourable" as those from heterosexual families. In fact, a 25-year longitudinal study published in 2010 concluded that children of lesbian mothers performed "significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence." Additional studies agree: homosexual couples are just as qualified for parenthood as their heterosexual counterparts.

It’s this preponderance of evidence that led the Florida Third District Court of Appeals to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex adoption, concluding not only that "These reports and studies find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children," but that "this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise."

Admittedly, while research on the subject is growing in quantity and agreement, studies have faced a number of methodological problems. There are a limited number of studies available and, due to demographic difficulties, sample sizes tend to be small. More research is needed on bisexual and non-white same-sex couples as well as gay fathers (much of the research is focused on lesbian mothers). But the APA argues that the lack of conflicting evidence within even small samples (where it would have a disproportionate effect) maintains their point. 

Although we have yet to exhaustively explore all possible consequences, Scalia’s comments ignore the growing consensus that same-sex couples are fully qualified to raise children, at least as much so as heterosexual couples. In light of these conclusions, the burden of proof has been placed on those who would argue otherwise. The theoretical possibility of harm is no longer enough to deny gays and lesbians the opportunity to be a parent. And while the Supreme Court’s eventual decision on gay marriage is open for debate, Scalia’s comments are not.