In what some are calling a “second front” in the culture war – trailing in the wake of same-sex marriage – the battle over gay adoption is increasing in intensity.

Currently Florida is the only state that officially bans gay adoption, a law that has been upheld in federal court despite an intense publicity campaign, orchestrated by lesbian actress Rosie O’Donnell, to have it overturned.

However, in 16 states efforts are underway to put gay adoption bans on the November ballot. And both sides are trying to convince the public to see things their way.

Gay parents under the microscope
The core argument put forth by homosexual activists is that science is on their side. They claim that scientific studies demonstrate that kids raised by gay couples suffer no adverse consequences from the experience, and that there is therefore no risk in allowing homosexuals to adopt.

But the research says no such thing, according to Dr. Timothy J. Dailey, senior fellow in culture studies at the Family Research Council. Much of it “fails to meet acceptable standards for psychological research; it is compromised by methodological flaws and driven by political agendas instead of an objective search for truth,” he insists.

For example, Drs. Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai, partners in a social science research consulting firm, examined 49 of the studies most commonly used to defend same-sex parenting and adoption. In their report, No basis: What the studies don’t tell us about same-sex parenting, the pair “found at least one fatal flaw in all 49 studies,” indicating that “no generalizations can reliably be made based on any of these studies. For these reasons the studies are no basis for good science or good public policy.”

Moreover, there is evidence that kids raised in same-sex households are more likely to drift towards the sexual orientation of their gay parents.

Dr. Judith Stacey, a sociologist at the University of Southern California and a supporter of gay adoption, admitted in a 2002 Primetime Thursday (ABC) interview that research had shown that children raised by homosexual couples were more likely to have “either considered or had one same-sex experience” than children raised by heterosexuals.

The study to which Stacey referred (Fiona Tasker, Susan Golombok, “Adults Raised as Children in Lesbian Families,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 4/95) actually found that 24% of children raised by lesbian mothers had “been involved in a same-gender sexual relationship,” while none of the kids who had been raised by heterosexuals reported such same-sex activity.

Children raised by gay parents are also more likely to perceive themselves as gay. In a 1994 article in American Sociological Review, Stacey said the Tasker-Golombok results showed: “The young adults reared by lesbian mothers were also significantly more likely to report having thought they might experience homoerotic attraction or relationships.” The differences were “striking,” she added, because 64% of the young adults raised by same-sex parents said they had considered having a same-sex relationship, as opposed to 17% of those raised by heterosexuals.

The Tasker-Golombok study also revealed that the percentage of the young women raised by lesbians who later went on to self-identify as lesbians was nearly eight times the rate of the general population (11% versus 1.4%).

As Stacey wrote in her American Sociological Review piece, “The evidence, while scanty and underanalyzed, hints that parental sexual orientation is positively associated with the possibility that children will be more likely to attain a similar orientation – and theory and common sense also support such a view.”

The male-female model
Ironically, it is usually traditionalists who point to “common sense” when it comes to the subject of gay adoption. They have argued that it makes sense to believe that a child will do best in a home with their biological mother and father.

Why? Dailey says there is a “well-established and growing body of evidence showing that both mothers and fathers provide unique and irreplaceable contributions to the raising of children.” That is, mothers and fathers parent differently.

Glenn T. Stanton, senior research analyst for marriage and family at Focus on the Family and author of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society, agrees. He says research demonstrates that there are a host of differences in the way in which mothers and fathers interact with their children, from the manner in which they play with kids, to the way they communicate, to the way they prepare children for life.

For example, Stanton says that by eight weeks of age, even infants can tell the difference between a male and a female interacting with them because fathers “have a distinct style of communication and interaction with children.”

The differences between maternal and paternal parenting may well be biological and not simply a product of socialization, according to research results released by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

“Conventional wisdom has long suggested that mothers are more attuned to infants, especially their own, than are fathers,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lorberbaum, who conducted one SfN study with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina. “Our studies suggest that this may be true.”

Thus, as common sense would suggest – and research is demonstrating – fathers don’t mother, and mothers don’t father.

Take parental discipline, Stanton says. Research shows that “fathers stress justice, fairness and duty (based on rules), while mothers stress sympathy, care and help (based on relationships). Fathers tend to observe and enforce rules systematically and sternly, which teach children the objectivity and consequences of right and wrong. Mothers tend toward grace and sympathy in the midst of disobedience, which provides a sense of hopefulness. Again, either of these by themselves is not good, but together, they create a healthy, proper balance.”

As a result of these innate differences, then, what a mother and father both bring to the home are important and necessary. Dailey insists that the research reveals that “[c]hildren raised in traditional families by a mother and father are happier, healthier and more successful than children raised in non-traditional environments.”

If true, this would mean that a pairing of same-sex adults cannot replace the male-female model. “They say that the only thing that children need is two loving adults to care for them, but no matter how loving two dads may be they simply can’t provide a mommy to a child,” says Focus on the Family psychologist Dr. Bill Maier.

Nobody available to adopt?
However, the trump card tossed onto the table by homosexual activists is an emotionally laden one: children without homes, languishing in the foster care system. Regardless of what may be best for kids in terms of parental models or parental ideals, they argue, the current situation is so bad that our society can’t afford to be picky.

As Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate, says, those who want to ban gay adoption “must thus argue … that it’s better for these children to languish in state custody, or bounce from foster home to foster home, than be raised by gay parents who want them.”

Admittedly, this is a card that is hard to beat because too often in our culture, emotion does trump sound policy.

However, according to Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, the issue is not a clear-cut winner for the homosexual lobby – at least not when one considers the actual numbers involved.

Knight says there are about 600,000 children in the U.S. foster care system at any given time, but at least half of these are caught up in custody battles and would not be candidates for adoption anyway.

On the other hand, Knight says that the National Council on Adoption puts the number of mother-father, married couples waiting to adopt at between one and two million. These married couples “are having such difficulty [adopting] in the U.S. that they are seeking children, at great expense, in Russia, China, Romania and other nations,” he said. “There is no excuse for deliberately placing a child in a motherless or fatherless household by design, except under unusual circumstances.”

True, of the 300,000 kids who are available for adoption, some would be unadoptable, being too old, perhaps, or having special needs that would scare away most couples wanting to adopt.

In the end, however, sad situations and heart-wrenching circumstances cannot determine public policy, which, after all, must be based on sound principles, and not exceptions. For example, even with unadoptable kids still in the foster care system, we would not want to place those children with a couple on the verge of divorce, or with two unemployed adults. This is not because such adults are unloving or incapable of being good parents, but because public policies must consider what is optimal – and less than optimal – most of the time.

Likewise, banning gay adoptions is not the same as saying that every gay couple would be worse than every straight couple, but that most of the time the best place to put kids is with a mother and father.

The difference between mother and father, therefore, is a difference worth embracing as a society. Kids deserve the best, and a mom and a dad best fit the bill.