Lawmakers in the state of Texas are currently debating whether or not to ban gay couples from adopting foster children. And giving the pro-ban side ammunition in this debate is a study that claims to show that homosexual couples are vastly more likely to sexually molest the children in their care than are heterosexual couples.
One small problem: The study’s supposed “findings” are utter crap.
Last week, the Texas House of Representatives passed a child-services bill with an amendment that would make Texas the first state in the nation to prevent same-sex couples from becoming foster parents. The state Senate passed a conflicting bill without that measure, and the two bodies are debating how to proceed.
The proposed ban attracted national media attention, and several “pro-family” groups seeking to drum up support for the bill have been circulating some troubling stats about gay parents. Among the most striking, stated during a CNN program: children in foster homes with same-sex parents are 11 times as likely to be sexually abused as those with heterosexual parents.
To get on CNN, that number snaked through a twisting path, from a little-noticed Illinois study published by an antigay scientist/activist in a psychological journal, to several conservative Web sites, to, finally, the attention of a Texas activist who presented her misinterpretation of the study on national television, essentially unchallenged. It’s a textbook example of how flawed numbers can gain national attention if advocates work hard enough — especially when there aren’t widely-known conflicting estimates.
I’ll start at the end of the number’s path and try to unravel it to the source. Cathie Adams, president of the Dallas-based Texas Eagle Forum advocacy group, appeared April 21 on CNN in a debate segment about the proposed Texas law. Her designated sparring partner was Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. “We also have got to look at research that does show that children in same-sex couple homes are 11 times more likely to be abused sexually,” Ms. Adams said during the live segment. “And I think that that is not an issue that can be ignored. It is a proven fact and that was a research study done in the state of Illinois that has not, as the state of Texas has not, even asked that question.”
“That’s a bold statement,” said CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, who gave Mr. Ellis a chance to respond. At first he called Ms. Adams’s assertion “completely uncredible” and “completely absurd,” but later he conceded he hadn’t heard of the study before. Ms. Phillips didn’t revisit the claim.
Ms. Adams told me that her source for the claim was an article she had read on the conservative site WorldNetDaily, about a study published in February by Paul Cameron, chairman of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Family Research Institute, a group that says homosexuality is a major public-health threat. In the journal Psychological Reports, Dr. Cameron analyzed cases of sexual abuse committed against foster children and children in subsidized adoption homes, as reported to Illinois’s Department of Children and Family Services from 1997 to 2002. There were 270 reports, and 34% of those were same-sex in nature: committed by a male adult against a male child, or a female adult against a female child. Dr. Cameron called those homosexual acts of abuse, and, citing several studies, including a joint report by the University of Michigan and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that gays make up between 1% and 3% of the adult U.S. population. “Thus, homosexual practitioners were proportionately more apt to sexually abuse foster or adoptive children,” Dr. Cameron wrote.
This required several leaps of logic, some of which I’ll discuss later. The biggest is that Dr. Cameron had no data about the makeup of homes in which the Illinois children were abused; indeed, a state DCFS spokeswoman told me the agency doesn’t record whether households are same-sex. It’s possible that much of what Dr. Cameron calls homosexual abuse occurred in what would be considered heterosexual homes.
Yet Ms. Adams simply divided 3% into 34% to get her 11 number. When I asked her about this discrepancy between what the study found and what she said, she replied, “I believe I didn’t have that articulated as well as I should have.” But she also said it seems unlikely that abuse would be homosexual in nature yet committed by an apparent heterosexual. “It just requires more explanation than what you can do in soundbites,” she said.
Besides his lack of data about same-sex couples in Illinois, researchers pointed out Dr. Cameron’s flawed assumption that the gender of pedophiles’ victims correlates to adult sexual attraction; that he applied nationwide data on homosexuality to a predominantly Chicago-based population of foster homes; and that he cited many of his own studies, including two previous ones that attempted to calculate the proportion of sexual abuse that is same-sex based on small sample sizes of six and 25 cases of abuse, respectively.
Now, I don’t think anyone here would label me as some sort of radical gay-rights activist. But I am most certainly honest. And that trait of honesty compels me to point out that any arguments based upon this highly-flawed study are totally bogus.
Perhaps this is an issue worthy of serious debate. And perhaps the pro-ban side has some valid arguments to make. But this ain’t one of them, unless they’ve got some legitimate research to back up this incredible claim.
And apparently, they don’t.