House legal team cites controversial parenting study
Potter, who conducted his research using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, says in a discussion of the results that the “transitions and changes that accompany the formation of such households” factored heavily into the lower test scores. He stresses that instability within the family, rather than the family structure itself, seemed to have had more of an effect on the children’s test scores.
Potter explains that “same-sex parent families are often created through a series of changes to and transitions in children’s family structure” but notes that “not all same-sex parent families are created from dissolved opposite-sex relationships.” According to Potter, other research “continues to offer invaluable information regarding the outcomes of children in same-sex parent families and the beneﬁt that a consistent family structure can have on the development of children regardless of parents’ sexual orientation.”
In an email exchange, Potter said he had not previously been aware that BLAG had used his study in its defense of DOMA. He said he did not disagree with BLAG’s characterization of his results but also suggested that he interprets the results somewhat differently.
“It has come to my attention that several different groups have been referencing my study because it does arrive at a baseline finding that living in a same-sex parent family is associated with lower academic scores in children,” Potter said. “But … the negative association is accounted for by including information on the number of transitions that children experience. … I interpret these findings to suggest that it is not the family structure per se that is associated with children’s lower performance, but that it is the instability and transitions leading up to the formation of these families that matters.”
Potter added: “I do not view my study as rejecting prior research on same-sex parent families, nor do I believe it offers the quintessential investigation from which future research should advance. It is a piece of a larger puzzle of social science research that is largely still in its infancy phase, and only as more and better data becomes available will we be able to more fully understand and arrive at conclusions related to the outcomes of children in same-sex parent families.”
Asked to comment on a common argument gay-marriage advocates make — that same-sex marriage should be legal because it encourages stability — Potter said his findings do not address the marriage issue.
“I think the results do push forward the idea that stability is a central element for understanding the role of family structure in children’s lives,” he said, “but the research cannot speak to the issue of same-sex marriage.”