Interview conducted by Hatchet reporter Amelia Williams.
Stephen Forssell, an adjunct psychology professor who will direct GW’s new certificate program in LGBT health starting this summer, has researched how having gay parents affects children. (He found that it doesn’t really matter whether or not an adopted child’s parents are the same gender.)
Stephen Forrsell, who will direct GW’s LGBT health graduate certificate program, said his study on how gay couples raise children is part of a bevy of social science research that shows same-sex marriage does not have negative consequences for children. Photo courtesy of Stephen Forrsell
So Forrsell found himself with distinct insights into Tuesday’s Proposition 8 case arguments when Anthony Kennedy, the associate justice expected to be the swing vote in the cases, said social science research was murky on the consequences of gay marriage.
The Hatchet talked to Forrsell about how social science research has played into the same-sex marriage debate and what could happen if justices rule against gay couples.
Hatchet: You published a study called “Parenting and Child Development in Adoptive Families: Does Parental Sexual Orientation Matter?” How does the publishing of those journals affect the public’s perceptions of gay marriage and gay parenting?
Forssell: I think it’s a slow process. And I know that either [Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia or Kennedy brought that up.
Hatchet: Yes. In today’s oral arguments, Kennedy said, “We have five years of information to pose against 2,000 years of history or more.” So he’s essentially asking, “Why do we need to talk about this right now?”
Forssell: Well, first of all, 2,000 years of history includes many years of history where gay people were parenting kids and they were coming out just fine. As far as research goes, we don’t even have 2,000 years on heterosexual parenting.
But there’s far more than 5 years of history on gay parents. One of my co-authors on my study was Charlotte Patterson, and she argued in the Hawaii case in 1996, in the very first state that had same sex marriage on its radar. Now, by 1996, Charlotte had already published several years of data, looking at lesbian moms—both adoptive mothers and artificially inseminated mothers.
Hatchet: Let’s go back to the study that you published. Why is it important to keep publishing studies? How do they affect public opinion and policy decisions?
Forssell: The way that this affects public opinion is that, the general public, as a rule, isn’t going to “do the homework.” They hear things when different studies come out, and they can be swayed by things like this. So we, as researchers, need to keep doing the work.
In my study, I looked at both same-sex males and same-sex females and opposite-sex parents in an adoption study. No one had looked at those kids in those situations that are raised from birth — and that’s what we did. Many things change when kids are adopted, and we wanted them all raised from birth. So that’s something we added, and then someone else will add more.
Hatchet: If Kennedy remains dubious about the legitimacy of the cases — and if the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are upheld — what would be the consequences if they were dismissed? What would that mean for the future of LGBT social science research?
Forssell: Well, social science will continue pushing on regardless, because psychologists and sociologists are naturally curious. We like understanding how things work, so we’ll keep publishing and conducting studies.
There will certainly be more urgency because even if the two acts are repealed, there’s still a need for this work, because we need to know what makes a healthy family. But what we’ve found with social science research is that two parents are better than one. And what’s been made clear by the research we’ve conducted is that it doesn’t matter what gender those parents are. It has more to do with just having two sets of hands and more resources. That’s a valuable resource that we can do whether or not they’re repealed.
Interview edited for length.