By Anna Jaffray
While campaigning for the Republican primary in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum said that gay parents are, “robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true…”
But according to the results of a 25-year survey, Santorum has been proven wrong. The study, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, followed 77 lesbian families since 1986 and found that the children were just as happy as the children of heterosexual families. Not only are they as happy, but they do better in school and are much less likely to be abused than the children of heterosexual couples. Before the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, no data existed on the matter and Nanette Gartrell MD., principle researcher at the NLLFS, wanted to change that.
The study found that the 17-year-olds in the NLLFS with lesbian mothers rated higher in academic performance, social competence and lower in externalized problem behavior, such as aggression, social problems and rule-breaking, than the comparison group with heterosexual parents. Furthermore, in a concurrent study, “Adolescents of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Sexual Orientation, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Risk Exposure“, children with lesbian parents reported a zero percent rate of abuse, while children with heterosexual parents report a 26% rate of abuse.
Gartrell has been in a stable lesbian relationship with activist and filmmaker Diane “Dee” Mosbacher for 36 years with no children. Gartrell states that this study would not have been possible if she were to have kids of her own, but claims lots of dogs, nieces and nephews.
When questioned about any personal bias during the study, Gartrell said that most researchers who study children are parents and that researchers of all stripes frequently study their own demographic without bias. Furthermore, her work as a researcher of 20 years speaks for itself. Gartrell’s work as a trained, competent and ethical researcher has been and will continue to be, peer-reviewed by others in her field.
The study began in 1986, while Gartrell was working at Harvard, and continues with 93% of the original participants. It focuses on the measurement of adolescent quality of life in heterosexual vs. planned lesbian families. Quality of life is defined as, “one’s ‘perceptions of position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which [she or he]lives, and in relation to [his or her]goals, expectations, standards, and concerns’”. Quality of life was also measured for participants of planned lesbian families based on known/unknown donor status and relationship continuity, which showed no impact. The 77 planned lesbian families used in the study and the heterosexual families taken from a nationwide survey were also matched in terms of ethnicity, sex, age, adoption status, learning disabilities, and college education. The study will continue in the decades to come with the continued dedication of its participants and researchers.
Gartrell is a 2010 Williams Distinguished Scholar, UCLA School of Law; Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, University of California, San Francisco; Guest Appointment, University of Amsterdam; an author and maintains her own psychiatric practice.