The conventional wisdom concerning same sex parenting is that it is not substantively different from oppoosite sex parenting-the notion that children simply need to be loved and it doesn't matter by whom. Dr. Walter Schumm, a specialist in family studies challenges the conventional wisdom with new empirical data. Join Scott as he as Dr. Schumm discuss this important topic that is highly counter-cultural in today's environment.
About our Guest
Dr. Walter Schumm is Professor Emeritus in the School of Family Studies and Health Services at Kansas State University. He is a fellow at the National Council on Family Relations and has been the editor of the journal Marriage and Family Review since 2010.
Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. A podcast from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics. We're here today with our special guest, Dr. Walter Schumm, who is professor in the department of applied human studies at Kansas State University, who's a specialist in the area of LGBT issues, same-sex parenting, same-sex marriage and has done a lot of empirical research in some of these areas. So Walter, thank you so much for being with us and welcome to our episode.
Walter Schumm: Thank you.
Scott Rae: Now, your research involves interacting with a lot of what I would call the conventional wisdom and the culture and the academic literature on same-sex parenting. So what I'd like to do is to take four of the main areas of what I would call the received wisdom or the conventional wisdom about same-sex parenting and to hear your take on it. Okay. So here's the first one of these, the conventional wisdom in the culture is that same-sex parents have just as stable a family is heterosexual families and children just need to be loved, it doesn't matter by whom. What does your research show about that?
Walter Schumm: Well, it's true that in many of the court cases leading up to Obergefell people had to testify and a lot of folks testified that there was no difference in stability between homosexual couples or LGBT couples and heterosexual couples. And it's interesting that in the literature, I published a paper back in 2010 when I looked into four studies that had been published at the time and they coincidentally mentioned the stability rates of the, usually was lesbian couples in the study, lesbian parents and the stability rates of their comparison groups and it turned out that in all the studies, the lesbian couples had higher breakup rates than the heterosexual couples or parents. Sometimes it wasn't significant statistically, but it was always on the order of two to three times higher. And so that meant that generally speaking, over a period of five or six years, they were running about a 20 to 30% breakup rate compared to probably five to 10 for the heterosexual parents.
But those were not random studies, they were not national studies and so I looked into other datasets and eventually some researchers from Canada and Utah looked into this with some national datasets and they found a very interesting interaction effect that if LGB couples didn't have children, they actually were relatively stable compared to heterosexual couples. But if they had children, their families became less stable, whereas heterosexual couples, when they had children, they became more stable. So the trend lines were in opposite directions here.
Scott Rae: But what do you think accounts for that difference besides just the normal stresses and highs and lows of raising children?
Walter Schumm: Well, I think we really don't know for sure. I mean, the research is pretty advanced just to say, there's a difference here, much less to explain why it is. I would guess, and this is just a guess, that men and women have sort of complimentary traits and needs and so they may be more dependent on each other in a certain degree. Whereas if you have same-sex persons, then they don't have that complimentary nature that might increase their perceived need for each other.
Scott Rae: I think that sounds as plausible a guess as any. Let me give you a second one of these. A second conventional wisdom that children of same-sex parents won't become LGBT themselves or have gender identity issues. Again, tell me what is your research show on this?
Walter Schumm: Well, again, the background on this is even more remarkable than the first question. People have been saying in the literature since 1975, that children will not be more likely to be gay or lesbian or bisexual if their parents are same-sex parents. In one of my articles, I have about 150 quotes where people say this won't be the case. In fact, some people have really ridiculed judges by name, some people have said that anybody who disagrees with this idea is basically delusional or pretty much insane. I mean, the statements about it are really, really affirmative without any caution whatsoever.
We did a literature search of 72 papers published between 2001 and 2017 and over 90% of those reviews of the literature affirm this idea that there was no difference. And so it's just amazing that the literature can be so absolutely from on this issue. However, the way they got there was that they cherry picked the data. So all the studies that showed there was a difference were just conveniently ignored. And if you can cherry pick the date of the way you want, you can prove anything.
So one study in '97 found it 30 some percent of the children of gay fathers became gay or bisexual. More recently, one study found a 65.5% rate, another study found a 70% rate. And so I've got 59 studies I've looked at and we're plotting the change over time and it started out fairly low, but as time goes on and becomes closer to today, the rates are going up and by some models they really take off in the last five years, that's where we're getting the 65 to 70% rate. So it's just astonishing that you can have such absolute resistance to an idea when actually there's a lot of data to contradict it.
Scott Rae: Let me take a third one, Walter, third sort of conventional wisdom is the children of lesbian mothers are doing well as a general rule. We can probably debate over how wellness is measured, but however it's measured the notion that children with lesbian mothers are doing well. You suggest that there's data that suggests otherwise.
Walter Schumm: Well, the most poignant study on this is that one group of researchers were following the children of lesbian parents since birth and by the time they were 17 years old, they found that almost 60% of the children of the lesbian mothers were using illegal drugs, at least occasionally. Whereas it was a 20.5% rate for the comparison sample that was pretty well matched to the 17 year olds. On other data there's indications of gender roles are little, some people would call them more fluid or flexible, or basically contrary to conventional gender and there's data that shows in some cases, less educational attainment. The challenge to it is that some of these things will disappear when you control for the stability of the parental relationship. But that doesn't mean it isn't there, it just means that it's going from same-sex parent or type of parent to stability or instability, and that's predicting some of these other problems. So that doesn't mean the problems aren't there, it just means they could be explained away as a function of problems with stability.
Scott Rae: Okay, let me take a fourth one here. I appreciate the sort of the bullet points perspective you're giving me on this, but here's a fourth conventional wisdom that same-sex marriage being legal has had no effect on culture in general and on marriage as an institution in particular.
Walter Schumm: Right. There's been a couple of papers that were published that claim that this is what they found. And when I replicated the data and just used whether the state had or had not approved of same-sex marriage, I got about the same results. But I changed the deep or independent variable to how long it had been since the state approved of same-sex marriage. And with that as the predictor variable, I found that the states that it approved it longer, there was a greater delay in age at marriage for everybody and that greater delay in age in marriage led to reduced fertility. And so there was an indirect effect on reducing fertility.
Now that was the only variable I looked at in that case and I can't say much about some of the others, but there is a thing called the second demographic transition where basically the sexual revolution has changed a whole lot of things. And the changes with same sex marriage are probably part and parcel of that whole phenomenon. And so if you start trying to tease one out from the other, it's pretty sticky because there's a whole bunch of things that are occurring as a function of that whole phenomenon.
Scott Rae: I understand. Let's back up just a bit. And Walter, tell us, how did you get into this research in the first place?
Walter Schumm: Well, a professor of law at Brigham Young University invited me to attend a conference back in, I think it was 2004 and he was looking for me to critique the methodology of some of the papers. And so that's how I kind of got roped into it.
Scott Rae: All right. But it's continued to be an interest, it sounds like for many years for you, what has sustained your interest in this when chances are in most state universities, this would not be research that's particularly welcome?
Walter Schumm: Well, it wasn't welcome even in my university, but I basically have a dislike for bad research, particularly when bad research is used to inform policy. And there's just some terrible examples of bad research out there. The latest one was published in 2019 in a top tier journal and real quickly the authors used a retracted papers as the foundation for their theory.
Scott Rae: That's a problem.
Walter Schumm: Then they said that they found really profound results but if you look at it, those really weren't significant statistically. And then they said the results for margin were the only ones that were significant. And they claimed that the lesbian and gay people in the study were oppressed. But in fact, they earned more money and had higher education and fewer children than the heterosexuals in the study.
Scott Rae: Interesting.
Walter Schumm: So that's an interesting way to be oppressed. And in fact their strongest effects were that the lesbian and gay people in the study had a higher levels of mental distress than these poor, uneducated heterosexuals, which is really the opposite of what you would expect.
Scott Rae: Let me move us a bit to some of the transgender issues because I know some of your work has been involved with kids who are in the process of transitioning or have transitioned. What does the research show in terms of just the overall wellness of kids who are in the process of transitioning or have transitioned? I mean, it's widely held that the main predictor of mental health for transgender kids is the support of their parents in that transition. But from what I read your research on this, that's quite a bit more complicated than that. So what does the research show in terms of just the overall wellbeing of kids who are in this transition process?
Walter Schumm: Well, I think that one of the problems here is that when they look at support, a lot of times they don't break it down into categories. And so no doubt anybody who feels supported for any reason probably feels better. The question really ought to be, does supporting the child specifically for transgender issues, the key point or not. And a lot of studies don't make those kinds of distinctions.
One study I looked at, which just picked on parents who they assumed were providing support, they made the claim that, well, if the parents support the kids, then they have almost no mental health problems. But when I analyze the data over again, we found that they had relatively substantial mental health problems, even if the parents supported what they did. But these articles have been cited like 500 times in the last three or four years, so they're very popular, even though they're essentially wrong. But they use these little statistical tricks. They looked at self-worth among transgender children that had parents that supported them and then they had a control group of cis-gendered children that were presumably supported by their parents and the overall result was significant with a moderate effect size that the transgender children were doing worse, but they concluded that there was no difference.
How did they get there? Well, they just ignore the overall result. They split the sample into three parts and then cut the alpha level by three. And when they ran their tests, they didn't get to the oh two level of significance, so then they concluded there were no differences and it's just an amazing way to twist the truth around because there were significant differences overall. And even for one of the three subgroups, that was a significant difference, but that doesn't show up in their research.
Scott Rae: In light of that, why do you think the no difference hypothesis in terms of overall mental health of these trans kids is so widely accepted?
Walter Schumm: I'm taking a swag at this, you see at first it was kind of like we want to promote premarital sex. And then it became well let's sort of promote divorce and adultery, and then it became well let's promote lesbian and gayness. Well, now the new horizon here is going to be transgender and it's kind of like people have to keep expanding the envelope of the sexual revolution. I guess they get bored if they feel like they're not doing it or something.
And the next one is going to be polyamory. I kind of thought polyamory would hit before the transgender focus, because a lot of the groundwork is being laid for polyamory in the same way that it was laid for lesbian and gay relationships, where people are saying the same things, there's no effects on children by having a man with multiple wives, the kids are doing fine, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it's just another way for people to expand the envelope and right now it just happens to be transgender.
Scott Rae: Yeah. That's a good point. I expected polyamory to be more prominent because the same arguments to justify same-sex marriage were being used to justify polyamory and it's entirely arbitrary to limit, if you accept the premises underlying same-sex marriage, it's arbitrary to limit that just to one person.
Walter Schumm: Well, and there's a worldwide acceptance of it. I mean, a lot of countries still accept it. So it's not like somebody just plucked some new idea out of the sky.
Scott Rae: Yeah. In fact, I think you could probably make an argument that it's older than monogamy, maybe by several hundred years.
Walter Schumm: Right.
Scott Rae: Tell our listeners a little bit just you've done a lot of deep diving into the research and the literature in the areas of sexuality, LGBT, same-sex marriage, things like that. What's your overall take on the empirical literature that has come to dominate this field in the last say, 20 years?
Walter Schumm: Well, like I said, one issue is that the reviews of the literature which most people turn to for getting an idea of what's going on out there are woefully problematic because they just don't look at the whole spectrum of the literature. I mean, they just don't. I mean, if you find a review of the literature where the author says, "Well, there's actually one or two studies out here that contradicts conventional wisdom." That's remarkable. I mean, that's like, wow, you sit back and say, "That's amazing." I mean, it's actually 30 out there, but at least you mentioned one or two of them. So, I mean, when I looked at the reviews of literature, I found that there wasn't a single one that looked at more than 45% of the available literature. So that's a real bias. And I think that the reviews that are done in these papers before they're accepted are probably pretty superficial. I mean, if it looks like it's a LGBT topic, I think a lot of reviewers are afraid to criticize it and so they pretty much just let it go.
Scott Rae: We've got a lot of our listeners are very aware of LGBT issues. They think hard about them. They're not deep diving into the research on this, like you are, but what advice would you have for our listeners when reading articles or research, especially empirical research on LGBT issues? What kinds of things should our listeners be aware of when reading some of this material?
Walter Schumm: Well, I'd suggest they look up some of my papers first, so they can be aware of some of the specific problems. However, one of the things I want to bring up is there's a sexual minorities theory that is widely used for almost every article. So if there's problems with being gay or lesbian, that's attributed to a stigma or discrimination and they just don't look at anything else in many cases. And if you only look at one item and you don't look at alternative ideas, you'll probably find some degree of support for it. I mean, you ask a person, "Well, what do you think about the weather?" And then you asking them, "Well, do you ever have any problems with the weather?" You're probably going to get some correlation there. So if you ask people, "Well, do you have any problems with being gay?" And then you ask them, "Well, do you have any problems with people giving you grief over it?" They're probably going to be correlated just because the answers are coming from the same brain or the same person.
But people don't generally try to come up with alternative ideas. For example, the common sense one I like to throw out is suppose there was a child at school and he was gay, but he was also using drugs. Would I tell my children not to associate with him because he was gay? No, I might tell them not to associate with him because he was using drugs. Now the person is gay that using drugs is probably going say, "Well, Schumm's children are rejecting me because I'm gay." No, the children reject you because you're using drugs. You see what I mean?
Scott Rae: Yes, yes.
Walter Schumm: But that's never controlled for. People just don't look at that sort of thing.
Scott Rae: Let me ask you another question just about kind of what your life is like since you've been involved in some of this research, what kind of opposition do you tend to get in academic circles to this research that you're doing?
Walter Schumm: Well, I mean, you can claim all these things are coincidences, but from my perspective, they're not, but they could be. I was at a conference one time and the plenary speaker publicly criticized me. And so they had a session afterwards and so I stood up to disagree with the plenary speaker. Well, then another woman, who's a lesbian mother, she stands up and publicly says, "Schumm, you're an idiot. You don't know anything about qualitative or quantitative research." So I asked Bill Daugherty, who's a famous interview, I said, "What was that all about?" Because it was curious to me because I've only got 300 publications and I'd been a professor for 35 years at the time. So it doesn't make any sense on the face even. And he said, "Well, she's a lesbian mother and she's afraid that your research is going to give somebody ammunition to take her children away. So she's playing mama bear, and she's going to slap you down anytime she can."
So when my book came out on a same-sex parenting, it was curious the same week the fire marshal came by my office. He said he inspected every office in the building, but mine was the one that was defective because I had stacks of paper on my desk that were more than two inches deep and I had books on my bookshelves that were lying flat on the bookshelf. Can you imagine such a horror?
Scott Rae: Terrible.
Walter Schumm: Anyway, he said I had to get all of this cleaned up in one day.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Walter Schumm: So actually I got it cleaned up in a couple of days, and then they said, "Well, you've got too many bookcases and I know everybody's given six and six, but you've got too many so we're going to cut you down to one book case or two book cases and one file cabinet, because we have to be able to chop through the wall with our axes to get into other faculty offices." And they said if I didn't do it, they're going to all throw them in a dump truck and dump them on my front lawn.
Scott Rae: Yikes.
Walter Schumm: So I had to, basically in the long term, I really had to move out of my office and let somebody else take it. And eventually had to go into phased retirement because I could see their handwriting on the wall.
One time I was criticizing papers in an advanced graduate course, and I was criticizing all kinds of papers, but one of them happened to be by lesbian authors and there was a student that took exception to this. And so long story, I got a letter of reprimand, which is really rare in the collegiate environment, because I wasn't doing my job right.
And I was banished from my professional organization for life because I supposedly offended somebody for not accepting them for who they are, whatever that means. But it's interesting because I don't get a chance to know who it was, what I said, what I did, don't get a chance to apologize. Don't get to know what day it was, what session it was, whenever, because that's their conference rule. And their rule is you can be in Russia, you can get on the web, write up some blurb against somebody and they can take that as fact, even though it's just totally bogus and they can use that to destroy your career. So it just strikes me as extremely un-American to operate that way, but I'm not allowed to go back to any of these meetings anymore because of this one person that I offended.
Scott Rae: So much for due process and the right to face your accuser.
Walter Schumm: Right. But they're a private organization so I've talked to several lawyers and they have a right to do it.
Scott Rae: Well, yeah that doesn't mean they should. But yeah, I'm sorry to hear. And I think you're right that some of those things, that's hard to believe that those are just coincidences. One final question, Walter, for you, I know that your Christian faith is important to you, how does your Christian faith figure into some of the work that you've done? The research that you've done in some of these areas?
Walter Schumm: Well, that's a touchy subject because when I was at the Guild Trial in Florida, back in 2008, the ACLU made all kinds of hay out of the fact that back in 1984 or sometime I had put a sentence in a book chapter where I said, "I believed in the integration of faith and science." And that was like the world's greatest heresy, according to the ACLU.
Scott Rae: Yikes.
Walter Schumm: And meant that I was inherently biased and a terrible researcher. So I have to think carefully about how I say this, but in general, my sense is that God is the author of truth and human beings, by God's definition, are fallible, myself included. So that means I'm open to possibilities that some things are more true, factually speaking, than other things. And I seem to have been given a gift of smelling a rat when it comes to bogus research. And so a lot of times I can just read a journal article and all of a sudden red lights start flashing in my brain about this doesn't make sense. There's something fishy here and most of the time when I get those mental signals, there is something fishy with it.
But some people have made a lot of hay out of some really bad journal articles. One of the key papers used to prove that same-sex marriages were just as stable for children as not, it was a paper by Rosenfeld in 2014, I believe it was. And he only had a 13% response rate, but they ignored that. But the crunch group was, what about the people who said they were married that had children? What were their stability rates? Well, for the LGB people, it was 25% breakup rate. For the heterosexual parents, it was 8%. So it's three to one, but there were only four LGB couples, which in science is nothing. It was a data set of thousands of people. So they're trying to base this result on four people. It's just absurd.
Scott Rae: I would hope the sample size to be a little larger than that.
Walter Schumm: But the other thing they did, which is kind of humorous, they took all the people that died during the four year study and they counted them stable marriages. One of my colleagues said, "Well, they're stable. They ain't going to move anywheres." Well, that's true. But none of this was ever brought out at the Michigan trial. That scholar testified there, but nobody challenged him on the research. Nobody talked about the dead people. Nobody talked about the 13% response rate. Nobody talked about the sample size of four. I mean they got away with murder.
Scott Rae: Well, this has been so enlightening and I want to commend your research to our readers. In fact, Walter, when we post this, we will put some links to a handful of the articles that you've given Sean and me in preparation for this. I so appreciate your work on this. And I think for your courage in tackling this work and smelling a rat on research when and saying so when you see it. I so commend you for your work and I'm so delighted that our listeners get a chance to be exposed to you and to some of your own research on this. This has been so helpful, so enlightening and I want to wish you well. Are you in semi-retirement at the moment from the university?
Walter Schumm: Well, I'm on 25% for another three weeks, after that I'm completely retired.
Scott Rae: I see you're fully retired. So you've been going on this gradual retirement program?
Walter Schumm: Right.
Scott Rae: Very good. Well, I wish you the best in your retirement. And hopefully you'll be able to continue to do some of this really important research because it needs to be done. And I think you've done a great service here. So we are so, so grateful for your work and for coming on with me today.
Walter Schumm: Well I appreciate you for inviting me.
Scott Rae: Greatly appreciate it.
This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. Think Biblically is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including our Institute for Spiritual Formation. Visit Biola.edu/Talbot in order to learn more. If you've enjoyed today's conversation with Walter Schumm, give us a rating on your podcast app and be sure to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.