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Gay Rights and the Social Conflict Theory

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correct when he called for more research in
understudied areas (p. 614), but until such
research is conducted, psychologists must
consider carefully what standards to use in
summarizing and communicating research

Anderssen, N., Amlie, C., & Ytteroy, E. A.
(2002). Outcomes for children with lesbian or
gay parents. A review of studies from 1978 to
2000. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,
43, 335–351.
Conger, J. J. (1975). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1974: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 30, 620 – 651. Cummings, N. A. (2006, August 12). The APA

and psychology need reform. Paper presented
at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, LA. Herek, G. M. (2006). Legal recognition of samesex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist,

61, 607– 621.
Patterson, C. J. (1992). Children of lesbian and
gay parents. Child Development, 63, 1025–
Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. J. (2001). (How) Does
the sexual orientation of parents matter?
159 –183.
Wainright, J. L., Russell, S. T., & Patterson, C. J.
(2004). Psychosocial adjustment, school outcomes, and romantic relationships of adolescents with same-sex parents. Child Development, 75, 1886 –1898. Correspondence concerning this comment
should be addressed to Virginia M. Shiller, Yale
Child Study Center, 230 South Frontage Road,
P.O. Box 207900, New Haven, CT 06520-7900.


Psychologists’ Advocacy for
the Legal Recognition of
Same-Sex Relationships
Bruce A. Thyer
Florida State University
Herek (September 2006) provided a useful
overview of psychological research relevant to the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Another avenue of advocacy
that the American Psychological Association could undertake would be to take advantage of its status as an accredited nongovernmental organization at the United Nations and aim to amend the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, originally approved in 1948 (see

October 2007 ● American Psychologist
This document, noble in many respects,
contains standards that limit the rights of
gays and lesbians to legally marry. For
example, Article 16(1) reads, “Men and
women of full age, without any limitation
due to race, nationality or religion, have the
right to marry and to found a family. They
are entitled to equal rights as to marriage,
during marriage and at its dissolution.” Article 16(3) reads, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and
is entitled to protection by society and the
State.” These articles could be construed as
limiting the right of marriage to members
of the opposite sex and justifying legal
restrictions on same-sex marriage in the
name of protecting the “family.” It is troubling that the very United Nations that advocates for human rights around the globe perpetuates these hetero-normative standards. Amending the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights would be a positive step toward providing a legal rationale and international precedent for equal civil

rights for gays and lesbians within the
United States and other countries.

Herek, G. M. (2006). Legal recognition of samesex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist,
61, 607– 621.
Correspondence concerning this comment should
be addressed to Bruce A. Thyer, College of Social
Work, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
32306. E-mail:


Science, Public Policy, and
Legal Recognition of SameSex Relationships
Gregory M. Herek
University of California, Davis
In their comments on my article discussing
the social science data relevant to societal
recognition of same-sex committed relationships (Herek, September 2006), Rosik and Byrd (2007) and Schiller (2007) criticized aspects of my analysis and raised questions about the role of psychology in

policy debates concerning sexual orientation. In the limited space available here, I first respond to their specific criticisms and
then briefly consider the broader policy
To borrow a phrase from Rosik and
Byrd (2007), their comment contains many
“arguable contentions” (p. 711). One might

challenge their use of empirical data, pointing out that the statistics they attributed to Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, and Kolata
(1994) concerning sexual exclusivity
among male cohabiting couples are simply
wrong (Michael et al. reported no such
findings), or noting that the data on which
they relied concerning cross-national gender differences in sexual desire came from convenience samples consisting almost entirely of college students (whose desire for sexual partners might not be generalizable

to all adults) and including only 148 gay
men (vs. 4,995 heterosexual men).
Or, because female–female relationships appear more likely to be sexually exclusive than male–female or male–
male relationships, one might ask
why Rosik and Byrd (2007) did not advocate for the right of lesbian couples to marry. Alternatively, one could question
whether extra-relationship sex that occurs with the knowledge and consent of both partners (which appears to be a common pattern in sexually nonexclusive male couples) should be equated with sex
that involves partner deception (which
appears to be a common pattern in nonmonogamous heterosexual couples). One might even guess that many male couples’ honesty with each other could be considered a mark of being “civilized,”
although that highly loaded term was
never defined by Rosik and Byrd.
Or one might challenge their assumption that the right to marry is contingent on a couple’s sexual exclusivity, and their use
of this assumption to argue that individual
rights should be assigned or denied on the
basis of group characteristics. Without recapitulating my original discussion, I note that such logic could justify outlawing marriage for many heterosexuals, including those who have low incomes, do not attend

religious services frequently, are African
American, or have been separated or divorced. National survey data suggest that all of these groups have higher rates of
sexual nonexclusivity in marriage relative
to their counterparts (Smith, 2003, cited in
Herek, 2006).
Rather than elaborating on these or
related points, I focus here on Rosik and
Byrd’s (2007) central argument, which is
really about heterosexuals. They worry that
if male couples are allowed to marry, and if
some of those couples agree not to be sexually exclusive, heterosexual men will rebel against the institution of marriage—
either demanding the right to have extramarital sex or refusing to marry in the first place.
Among its myriad weaknesses, this
prediction simply ignores important facts:


that sex is only one component of a committed relationship; that people have many reasons for getting married; that marriages
remain intact as a result of multiple attractive forces and barriers to separation; and that many men are intrinsically motivated
to remain sexually exclusive in their marital relationship (e.g., on the basis of their own moral values). Moreover, it is contradicted by the available data. An examination of five European countries that provide marriage or marriage-like benefits to samesex couples found that “divorce rates in these countries have not risen since the

passage of partnership laws, and marriage
rates have remained stable or actually increased, suggesting that heterosexual marriage has not been undermined by enactment of such legislation” (Badgett, 2004, p. 2).
Predictions like that made by Rosik
and Byrd (2007) have been popular among
conservative activists. As I noted in my
article, another common assertion by such
activists has been that “overwhelming scientific evidence” shows that “gay marriage presents a grave threat to children—study
after study has found that boys and girls not
raised by both of their biological parents
are much more likely to . . . suffer abuse,
perform poorly in school, abuse drugs and
alcohol and wind up in trouble with the
law” (Focus on the Family, 2004, quoted in
Herek, 2006, p. 612).
As I explained, the studies cited by
individuals making this argument compared children from intact heterosexual families to those in single-parent households (e.g., due to divorce, separation, or death of a spouse). They did not address the

parents’ sexual orientation and so cannot
be used to draw conclusions about gay parents and their children. Thus, to say that empirical research shows that gay marriage
is a grave threat to children is simply
Schiller (2007) admitted that “opponents of gay parent rights have presented alarmist and misleading information to
courts” (p. 712) and that “opponents make
egregious statements about the unfitness of
gay and lesbian parents and the pathology
of their children” (p. 712). Nevertheless,
she disputed my correction to those distortions, accusing me of (a) minimizing “the significance of the virtual lack of any research focusing on the overall adjustment of children of gay fathers” and (b) failing

“to clarify that findings about children
raised by lesbians are being generalized to
children of gay fathers” (p. 712).
Her first criticism is based on an inaccurate premise. Although most empirical studies on fathering by gay men have focused mainly on the fathers and their par-


enting styles and practices (Patterson,
2004), some have reported on the functioning, happiness, and well-being of the children of gay fathers, based on personal interviews or questionnaires completed by the parents or children (Crosbie-Burnett &

Helmbrecht, 1993; Erich, Leung, Kindle, &
Carter, 2005; Miller, 1979). They are preliminary studies and, like those conducted with children of lesbian mothers, must be
considered in light of their methodological
limitations, including those I discussed in
my article.
It is true, however, that considerably
more empirical research has been published on lesbian mothers than gay fathers, and important research gaps exist in the gay fathers literature. Contrary to
Schiller’s (2007) second assertion, I believe my article made this fact clear. While pointing out that “policy debates
about marriage and parenting . . . have
generally not differentiated between female and male couples,” I explicitly cautioned that “empirical research on lesbian mothers is more extensive than that on
gay fathers” (p. 612), that “studies [of
parental ability and related qualities] examining gay fathers are fewer in number [than studies of lesbian mothers]” (p.
613), and that “data [on gender identity
and gender role conformity] have not
been reported on the children of gay fathers” (p. 613). Contrary to Schiller’s intimation that my discussion of the
Wainright, Russell, and Patterson (2004)
study obscured the sample’s composition, I clearly reported that comparisons were made between “44 adolescents parented by female couples and 44 adolescents parented by heterosexual couples” (Herek, 2006, p. 613, emphasis added). I

also commented that “More studies based
on probability samples are needed on the
children of sexual minority parents, especially the children of gay and bisexual fathers” (p. 614, emphasis added). Finally, having explained previously that a complete review of existing research was

beyond the scope of my article, I referred
readers to several relevant literature reviews, including Patterson’s (2004) extensive chapter, titled “Gay Fathers” (curiously, Schiller’s comment cites a 1992 review by Patterson instead of this more

recent and clearly relevant work).
Recognizing that empirical studies of
gay fathers and their children have indeed
been published, one might nevertheless ask
whether there is reason to expect that future
research will show gay men to be unqualified for parenthood. As I noted in my article, if gay parents (fathers or mothers)
were inherently unfit, even small-scale

studies with convenience samples would
readily detect it. This has not been the case.
Moreover, there is no theoretical reason to
expect gay fathers to cause harm to their
children. For example, being raised by a
single father does not appear to be inherently more disadvantageous to children’s psychological well-being than being raised
by a single mother (e.g., Downey, Ainsworth-Darnell, & Dufur, 1998); homosexuality—male or female— does not constitute a pathology or deficit (Conger, 1975); and gay men do not pose a threat to children (Patterson, 2004). Thus, although more research is needed, the available data

place the burden of empirical proof on
those who argue that having a gay father is
harmful to children.
Both comments raised questions
about whether and how psychologists
should address policy issues related to
sexual orientation. Rosik and Byrd
(2007) advocated what they called a
“measured approach” that “would distinguish the social scientist from the social activist” (p. 712). In practice, however,
their measured approach apparently allows for vague constructs (e.g., men’s “uncivilized” sexual nature), accepts
conservative social activists’ assumptions (e.g., about the necessity of marital “gender complementarity”), and ignores
data that contradict their predictions
(e.g., Badgett, 2004). Thus, it clearly is
inadequate as a source for guidance.
Yet, it is appropriate to ask how psychologists might best decide when we can and should address public policy concerning sexual orientation. That we have something to say in this area seems indisputable in a general sense, given that psychological

constructions of homosexuality as an illness throughout much of the twentieth century provided a justification for heterosexuals to denigrate, persecute, and discriminate against sexual minorities (and led many sexual minority individuals to hate

themselves). It is in recognition of this history that the APA has repeatedly urged mental health professionals “to take the
lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations” (Conger, 1975,
p. 633).
In light of Schiller’s (2007) reference
to Leona Tyler, it seems appropriate to
consider the four criteria that Tyler (1969)
outlined for guiding APA decision making
about taking appropriate action on public
policy issues: (a) the importance of the
issue, (b) the extent of value agreement on
it among APA members, (c) the amount of
available research-based information, and
(d) the probability that action will be effec-

October 2007 ● American Psychologist

tive. Applied to the controversy about recognizing committed same-sex relationships, these criteria appear to be met. My article amply documented the issue’s importance and the fact that empirical data are available to evaluate the accuracy of

assertions about sexual minority individuals made by both sides in the debate. Value agreement on the issue within the
APA is attested to by the Council of
Representatives’ resolutions on same-sex
relationships and families (cited in my
As for Tyler’s fourth criterion, it is
difficult to know if and how psychologists’
efforts in this arena will be effective. Regardless of the ultimate policy outcome, however, to the extent that we successfully
communicate accurate information about
the current state of scientific knowledge on
sexual orientation and same-sex relationships, we will have remained true to our commitment to take a leading role in removing the stigma associated with homosexuality. REFERENCES

Badgett, M. V. L. (2004). Will providing marriage rights to same-sex couples undermine heterosexual marriage? Evidence from Scan-

October 2007 ● American Psychologist

dinavia and the Netherlands. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 1(3), 1–10. Conger, J. J. (1975). Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1974: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 30, 620 – 651. Crosbie-Burnett, M., & Helmbrecht, L. (1993).

A descriptive empirical study of gay male
stepfamilies. Family Relations, 42, 256 –262.
Downey, D. B., Ainsworth-Darnell, J. W., & Dufur, M. J. (1998). Sex of parent and children’s well-being in single-parent households. Journal
of Marriage & the Family, 60, 878 – 893.
Erich, S., Leung, P., Kindle, P., & Carter, S. (2005).
Gay and lesbian adoptive families: An exploratory
study of family functioning, adoptive child’s behavior, and familial support networks. Journal of Family Social Work, 9(1), 17–32.
Focus on the Family. (2004, May 17). Dobson
laments “dark day” for traditional families.
Retrieved May 21, 2004, from http://www
Herek, G. M. (2006). Legal recognition of samesex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist,
61, 607– 621.
Michael, R., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O., &
Kolata, G. (1994). Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston: Little, Brown. Miller, B. (1979). Gay fathers and their children.
The Family Coordinator, 28, 544 –552.

Patterson, C. J. (2004). Gay fathers. In M. E. Lamb
(Ed.), The role of the father in child development
(4th ed., pp. 397– 416). New York: Wiley.
Rosik, C. H., & Byrd, A. D. (2007). Marriage
and the civilizing of male sexual nature.
American Psychologist, 62, 711–712.
Schiller, V. (2007). Science and advocacy in
research regarding children of gay and lesbian parents. American Psychologist, 62, 712–713.
Smith, T. W. (2003). American sexual behavior:
Trends, socio-demographic differences, and
risk behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago, National Opinion Research Center. Retrieved July 13, 2005, from http://www
Tyler, L. (1969). An approach to public affairs:
Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Public
Affairs. American Psychologist, 24, 1– 4.
Wainright, J. L., Russell, S. T., & Patterson, C. J.
(2004). Psychosocial adjustment, school outcomes, and romantic relationships of adolescents with same-sex parents. Child Development, 75, 1886 –1898.

Correspondence concerning this comment
should be addressed to Gregory M. Herek, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8686.


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