Penn State’s Paul Amato Gets It Wrong

Paul Amato, one of the revered deans of American sociology, has shown courage in bucking his academic peers, as he did when he suggested that a “good divorce” is not all that good for children (see New Research, Summer 2012). Yet the scholar has not demonstrated the same resolve in dealing with the academic and media lobbies that assert that homosexual parenting can be good for children. In his relatively fair review of the studies by Loren Marks and Mark Regnerus (see the two New Research commentaries above), he defends the policy statements of the American Psychological Association (APA) that endorse homosexual parenting while fearing Regnerus’s work might be used “to undermine the social progress that has been made in recent decades protecting the rights of gays, lesbians, and their children.” That’s a surprising response, given the conviction of a fellow employee of Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, both a gay father and gay predator.

Amato is more than willing to give the APA homosexual-parenting studies the benefit of the doubt, largely because the population of such parents is exceedingly tiny and difficult to locate, making it difficult to collect the large representative sample that Marks claims is necessary to draw fair conclusions. Perhaps more revealing, Amato praises the APA studies for getting “this field of study ‘off the ground’ and setting an agenda for future work” (emphasis added).

To his credit, Amato acknowledges the methodological superiority of the Regnerus study: “In contrast to most prior studies, the Regnerus study has adequate statistical power for most comparisons” between children of homosexual parents and those of other family backgrounds, and “is better situated than virtually all previous studies to detect differences between these groups in the population.” Indeed, using Regnerus’s data, the Pennsylvania researcher calculates “moderately large” or strong effect sizes for differences separating offspring of lesbian mothers from their peers with continuously married biological parents. Yet because the effect sizes weaken when the comparison group is changed to stepfamilies, divorced parents, or continuously single parents, Amato believes those reduced effects warrant a more positive view of homosexual parenting.

Why Amato does not apply the same standard to homosexual parenting that he has applied to divorce parenting is not clear. Perhaps political considerations take the upper hand, as he clearly supports same-sex marriage laws, likening them to the constitutional right to marry granted to mixed-race, but opposite-sex, couples by a 1967 Supreme Court decision. Indeed, he repeatedly states that social science, especially the work of Regnerus, should not inform the political or legal debate. Blind to the inconsistencies in his own reasoning, he nonetheless suggests that “allowing same-sex parents to marry might be beneficial” to the increased numbers of children that he foresees, without any expression of concern, being raised by homosexuals.

These comments suggest that the noted sociologist has lost sight of what children need most of all: a married biological mother and father, the gold standard of living arrangements, an arrangement delivering numerous benefits documented by decades of research literature, including the Regnerus study. So when Amato asserts, “All children should have the right to be raised by married parents,” he’s not claiming children deserve the gold standard; he means that homosexual couples should have the right to marry and raise other people’s children.

(Paul R. Amato, “The Well-Being of Children with Gay and Lesbian Parents,” Social Science Research 41 [July 2012]: 771–74.)