Harper shoves family study into the closet
Cons & Christian extremists don’t want you to know

By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has attempted to bury a research report, conducted for Canada’s Department of Justice, that says lesbian or gay parents are just as good, or even a little better, at developing and raising their children, compared to heterosexual parents.


“The strongest conclusion that can be drawn from the empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels of social competence. A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional nuclear families, even fewer studies show the opposite, and most studies fail to find any differences. The very limited body of research on children with two gay fathers supports this same conclusion.”
Children’s Development of Social Competence Across Family Types“, Department of Justice, Canada, July 2006 (Document Released Under the Access to Information Act, May 2007)

The research team, led by Paul Hastings (Ph.D. Applied Developmental Psychology), was commissioned by the then-Liberal Canadian government in 2003, the year our Ontario court case made gay marriage a reality in Canada. The government asked the team to prepare a report on child development within various types of families.

“Canada has recently debated a profound redefinition of “marriage” by extending its parameters through the legalization of civil marriage between same-sex adults,” the paper says in explaining its purpose.

The 74 page document, “Children’s Development of Social Competence Across Family Types”, only became public this week, after Hastings was forced to use the Access to Information Act in order to obtain a copy of his own report.

What is Stephen Harper hiding? Why is the Department of Justice, the once proud international role model to lawyers and jurists around the world, suppressing information about parenting?

Harper has a history of hypocrisy and hiding or distorting facts - his scandal over the torturing of Afghan prisoners of war is only the most recent example - so its clear why the anti-gay Conservative government would attempt to suppress information that does not conform to the ideology of the extreme right. But in doing so, the government ignores a survey of over 100 studies, just when the Conservative core support base is calling for such a study.

Only five months ago, after the failed Conservative motion to revisit the definition of marriage, and after also failing in the courts and in the legislature, opponents of equal marriage for same-sex couples called for more study to determine what impact the new definition of marriage is having on children.

On December 8, 2020 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling on “federal politicians to undertake research and further consultations on the long-term impact of the redefinition of civil marriage on society and future generations.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has also repeatedly called for research.

“In redefining marriage,” an EFC December 7, 2020 press release said, “the government has failed to either study the issue or give consideration to studies completed by other countries.”

The EFC have repeated calls for research and study this year.

“It is time the government, and institutions that have the best interests of the family at heart, engage in serious study to determine the effects … on our families,” Douglas Cryer, director of public policy for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said in a statement issued January 10. At the same time Cryer complained that the government is acting “without full disclosure.”

These groups, and their kind have been silent since the news that their urgent appeals have been answered. Their silence is likely linked to the reason why Harper’s Conservatives tried to suppress the study. The findings don’t conform to anti-gay prejudices, so best ignore it.

Or they could court ridicule and further exposure of their real motives by concocting something like the “homosexual lifespan” paper.

If Stephen Harper was serious about the interests of children, he would have released the Justice Department study last summer. Instead he and his extremist Christian supporters continue to use children as shields to cover their bigotry. This is the true source of problems for some children raised by gay or lesbian parents.

Thriving despite all

“It seems likely that the high quality of parental socialization within lesbian and gay two-parent families acts to protect children from the adverse effects of this addition stress and discrimination. In turn, gay and lesbian parents are protected by the quality of their relationships with their partners. On the whole, lesbian and gay couples n two-parent families report sharing the tasks of child-rearing more equally than many heterosexual couples, and also report having more satisfying couple relationships.”
Children’s Development of Social Competence Across Family Types“, Department of Justice, Canada, July 2006 (Document Released Under the Access to Information Act, May 2007)

“Research has consistently shown little difference in children’s social competence, parental socialization, and family functioning between families of heterosexual parents and families of gay or lesbian parents,” the paper says. “The few differences that do emerge consistently suggest that (1) gay and lesbian couples tend to have a more egalitarian and satisfying balance of child-care tasks than heterosexual couples, (2) gay and lesbian parents may be marginally more effective socialization agents than heterosexual parents, and (3) children with gay or lesbian parents may be more concerned with or even experience more discrimination due to their parents’ sexual orientation, although this does not appear to interfere with their social competence. From the perspective of risk and protective factors, the marginally, more effective socialization practices of gay and lesbian parents might act to protect their children from the adverse effects that could otherwise result from concern about or experience of teasing, bullying and discrimination because of the sexual orientation of their parent(s). Additionally, the marginally more positive home environment that likely results from lesbian and gay parents’ greater support of each other’s childcare activities might provide a marginally more supportive context for children’s development of feelings of security and self-worth.”

In one study, “mothers reported that 18% of children had experienced some form of homophobic discrimination from peers or teachers, and adverse social events that would be a source of stress unique to children raised in gay and lesbian families.”

Another differentiating factor between straight and queer parents is that gay and lesbian parents often have less money.

“Relative economic hardship is common for gay and lesbian parents, as well,” the Justice Department report continues. “Gay men earn 11% to 27% less than heterosexual men with the same education, experience, and occupation, who live in the same region(Badgett, 1995); lesbians also earn less than heterosexual women, although the difference is smaller. Lesbian mothers are more likely to experience job loss than heterosexual mothers (Pagelow, 1980), and lesbian mothers tend to be less affluent than heterosexual mothers (Miller, Jacobsen, & Bigner, 1980)”


“Parents need to not be alone in the job of raising their children. Supportive and engaged partners, and accessible and supportive social networks, help parents to provide their children with the socialization experiences that foster the development of good social competence. The experience of stresses related to economic hardship and, in the case of lesbian and gay parents, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, undermine the quality of parental socialization when good social support is lacking [italics emphasis in original text]. As a society, we should endeavour to eradicate poverty and discrimination because of their adverse effect on children and families. In addition, we should support the social factors that protect families against the adverse effects of these risk factors. All two-parent and one-parent families should be accepted and supported, and the positive social support networks of lone-parent and two-parent families should be fostered and encouraged.”
Children’s Development of Social Competence Across Family Types“, Department of Justice, Canada, July 2006 (Document Released Under the Access to Information Act, May 2007)

Faced with economic hardships, bigotry, and hostility in the current minority Conservative government, it would seem that gay and lesbian parents would be struggling in an effort to raise their children. Think again.

“It is curious, therefore, that overall gay and lesbian parents are equally good, or marginally better, socialization agents than heterosexual parents. Their relatively greater financial stresses do not appear to undermine the quality of their parenting. Perhaps anticipating that their children may be at risk of social disadvantage due to discrimination, gay and lesbian parents may put extra effort into meeting the needs of their children and providing them with strong social and emotional resources. Thus, the expected deleterious effects of economic stress on the quality of parental socialization may be ameliorated to some extent by the added childcare motivation present in many homes with gay or lesbian parents.”

Gay and lesbian parents, and their children, could teach Conservatives and religious extremists a thing or two about family values. But Stephen Harper doesn’t want you to know. And despite their words demanding this study, the silence coming from the Christian extremists speaks volumes more.

If our opponents were truly serious about protecting families, they would work to address poverty and discrimination, and do so working side-be side with the LGBT community. Imagine what we could accomplish with our mutual history of advocacy and activism.

But Conservatives like Stephen Harper and the religious extremists are still in denial, claiming to be protecting children and family values, while becoming sources of the problem rather than the solution for the families who need them.

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