Ukip’s Winston McKenzie is factually wrong to say that adoption by same-sex couples is ‘child abuse’

Is it “child abuse” to allow same-sex couples to adopt? A Ukip parliamentary candidate thinks so.

Winston McKenzie, the party’s culture, media and sport spokesman who is standing in the Croydon North by-election on Thursday, told the Metro newspaper: “To say to a child, ‘I am having you adopted by two men who kiss regularly but don’t worry about it’ – that is abuse. It is a violation of a child’s human rights because that child has no opportunity to grow up under normal circumstances. A caring loving home is a heterosexual or single family. I don’t believe [a gay couple] is healthy for a child.”

He expanded on the point in the Croydon Advertiser. “If you couldn’t look after your child and you had to put them up for adoption, would you honestly want your child to be adopted by a gay couple?”, he asked a reporter. “Would you seriously want that or a heterosexual family? Which would be more healthy for the child?”

This is a serious concern for a lot of people, and should be treated as such, not dismissed as knee-jerk homophobia. It is widely believed that children do best with a mother and a father, and – even if you have no a priori objection to same-sex couples adopting – if that is the case, then it is a reasonable argument for being wary about it. The rights of the child surely should outweigh the rights of any prospective adopter. (It’s not a debate-ender, though: it might be that children do better with gay adoptive parents than with a single parent, or than in care, which might mean that it is still best to allow same-sex couples to adopt.)

But, as ever, it’s an empirical question: do children do worse when brought up by two men, or two women, than they do when brought up by the more traditional one of each? We obviously have to define what “worse” means. Do they do worse in school? Are they less happy, are they less capable of forming social or loving relationships?

There is also a separate question of whether children raised by gay parents are likely themselves to be gay: Mr McKenzie is apparently worried about that, and it’s, again, a common concern. Many people nowadays might not view that as a problem, but nonetheless it’s worth addressing honestly.

There has been some research into all this. A review of the literature carried out in 2002 by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology looked at 23 studies, examining a total of 615 children of same-sex parents and 387 controls. They looked at “emotional functioning, sexual preference, stigmatization, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, and cognitive functioning” – exactly the sort of criteria we discussed above. They found that “Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes”; more specifically, the studies “indicate that children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children”, and the same appears to be true for gay men, although more research was needed given how small their sample was.

Another review, this time from 2010 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that “Strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appear to the same extent in families with 2 mothers and potentially in those with 2 fathers”, and that while “Average differences favor women over men … parenting skills are not dichotomous or exclusive”. They conclude “The gender of parents correlates in novel ways with parent-child relationships but has minor significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.”

A third review, published in 2008 in the journal Child Development, looked at “sexual identity, personal development, and social relationships” among children of same-sex parents, and found that “there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.”

I am aware that I would be uncomfortable with a finding that gay parents have a negative influence on adopted children, so in an attempt to confront my own confirmation bias I’ve been trying as best I can to find a review of the literature which disagrees with the above. So far, I haven’t been able to. Even the individual studies which I have (non-systematically) come across all seem to agree that there is no significant difference in outcomes between the adopted children of heterosexual couples and those of homosexual ones. [Update: someone in the comments, who admittedly somewhat undermined their point by talking about the “gay mafia”, did find this study, from July this year, which found systematic differences.]

So, in any meaningful sense, Mr McKenzie’s view that the adoption of children by gay couples is “abuse” seems to be factually wrong: it causes no trauma, has no negative outcomes beyond that of heterosexual adoption, and doesn’t even seem to make children more likely to be gay. This isn’t to belittle Mr McKenzie’s fears, or those of other people – it’s simply that they are misinformed. Hopefully, as more children grow up with gay parents and gay friends, these misunderstandings and their accompanying fears will melt away.

To that end, I’m going to end by linking to this wonderful letter from Sophia Bailey Klugh, a 10-year-old daughter of two gay men, to Barack Obama, in which she says: “I just wanted to tell you that I am so glad you agree that two men can love each other because I have two dads and they love each other. But at school kids think that it’s gross and weird but it really hurts my heart and feelings.” Maybe she could forward it to Mr McKenzie.


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