Should the gay marriage debate include the biological reality of parenting versus stepparenting?

cinderella_sitting_in_the_ashes_by_dulac_print-r16c185ce0b2f4152b4c244a92067bde3_2vuj_8byvr_512The “Cinderella effect” posits that, for atavistic reasons, stepchildren tend to fare less well than biological children.  That’s not always the case, of course.  There are utterly vile biologic parents and wonderful, loving stepparents (as was the case with Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother).

The data for the Cinderella effect comes from analyses of child abuse statistics — and it turns out that, more often than is the case with biological children, stepparents tend to abuse the other parent’s child (hyperlinks and footnotes omitted):

In the early 1970s, a theory arose on the connection between stepparents and child maltreatment. “In 1973, forensic psychiatrist P. D. Scott summarized information on a sample of “fatal battered-baby cases” perpetrated in anger (…) 15 of the 29 killers – 52% – were stepfathers.” Although initially there was no analysis of this raw data, empirical evidence has since been collected on what is now called the Cinderella effect through official records, reports, and census.

For over 30 years, data has been collected regarding the validity of the Cinderella effect, with a wealth of evidence indicating a direct relationship between step-relationships and abuse. This evidence of child abuse and homicide comes from a variety of sources including official reports of child abuse, clinical data, victim reports, and official homicide data. Studies have concluded that “stepchildren in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States indeed incur greatly elevated risk of child maltreatment of various sorts, especially lethal beatings”. Studies have found that not biologically related parents are up to a hundred times more likely to kill a child than biological parents.

Powerful evidence in support of the Cinderella effect comes from the finding that when abusive parents have both step and genetic children, they generally spare their genetic children. In such families, stepchildren were exclusively targeted 9 out of 10 times in one study and in 19 of 22 in another. In addition to displaying higher rates of negative behaviors (e.g., abuse) toward stepchildren, stepparents display fewer positive behaviors toward stepchildren than do the genetic parents. For example, on average, stepparents invest less in education, play with stepchildren less, take stepchildren to the doctor less, etc. This discrimination against stepchildren is unusual compared to abuse statistics involving the overall population given “the following additional facts: (1) when child abuse is detected, it is often found that all the children in the home have been victimized; and (2) stepchildren are almost always the eldest children in the home, whereas the general (…) tendency in families of uniform parentage is for the youngest to be most frequent victims.”

This data, which had been floating around in my mind for some years, surfaced when I read Dennis Prager’s defense of traditional male-female marriage.  His main point was that the federal courts are diligently working against the will of the people nationwide when they rule that homosexual marriage is identical to heterosexual marriage.  As you would expect, Prager makes excellent arguments supporting the traditional view of marriage — and, probably to the consternation of the Leftist haters, he never denigrates a same-sex couple’s ability to have a stable, loving relationship nor claims that gays should be marginalized, criminalized, or stigmatized.  Instead, Prager looks at the nature of marriage as a biological construct and at marriage’s role through history.

The starting point for Prager’s analysis is the decision that Judge Vaughn Walker wrote for the 9th Circuit overturning the will of California voters who believe that marriage should be reserved for men and women.  In the context of his analysis, Prager took Vaughn to task for ignoring reality:

Walker: “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

Yes, without in any way reducing the worth or the decency of any gay human being or dismissing the depth of same-sex love, California, like the rest of the world, has indeed believed in the superiority of man–woman unions. Not in the superiority of straight men and women as people: The gay human being is created in God’s image every bit as much as the straight human being; and there are gays who have led vastly more moral lives than many straights. But regarding how the family — the building block of society — should be constituted, the civilized world has always believed that it should be based on a married mother and father.

Society has also believed in the superiority of mother–father families to single-parent families; and that, too, never meant that every married person is inherently superior to every single person.

It was that last sentence that triggered my memory of the Cinderella effect.  We know that, statistically, two-parent families are economically best for children.  We also know that, statistically, children raised by same-sex parents are less likely to graduate from high school.  A high school degree or higher has traditionally been associated with better economic prospects.

What occurred to me after reading about mother-father families is to wonder whether anyone has ever looked at the Cinderella effect as it relates to gay families.  After all, there’s no getting around the fact that, even if one partner in a same-sex family provides the sperm or egg for a child, the other does not.  I’ve known lesbian couple where one provided the egg and the other the uterus, and gay couples where each provided sperm for non-identical twins carried by a surrogate mother, but I do not know of any case in which two men or two women have produced (or can produce) a child that they’ve both genetically parented.  This means that, in a same-sex relationship, one parent is always the genetically-unrelated stepparent.

I also don’t know of any study that’s looked at the Cinderella effect in the context of gay parenting.  Indeed, I doubt that anyone could conduct such a study, since the premise is offensive to those who claim that there is no difference between same-sex parenting and heterosexual parenting.  I don’t know.  I think it would be fascinating to compare similarly situated heterosexual and homosexual parents.  The comparison groups would presumably have to be (a) straight couples who have biologically related children; (b) straight couples with stepchildren; (c) straight couples with adopted children; (d) gay couples with adopted children; and (e) gay couples where one partner is genetically related to the child/children and the other is not.