Doctors for the Family – Debunked

In a short but virulent Senate submission on same-sex marriage, the covert Christian group, Doctors for the Family, argues against same-sex marriage. Their objections can be reduced to two key points.

  • Children fare better when brought up by their two biological parents.
  • The ‘normalisation’ of homosexuality poses a risk to community health.

In support of the first contention, the submission cites Professor Patrick Parkinson’s “For Kid’s Sake” report and a scholarly article by Wendy Manning and Kathleen Lamb, “Adolescent well-being in co-habiting, married, and single-parent families”.  Defending the submission today on Radio National, Dunjey also cited the opinion of the American College of Pediatricians that same-sex parenting is detrimental to children and society.

Let us deal, first, with Professor Parkinson’s report.  Commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby, “For Kid’s Sake” was released late last year. Immediately, Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey, Beyond Blue’s Jeff Kennett and Catholic commentator, Angela Shanahan rushed to use  ‘evidence’ from the report in their tirades against same-sex marriage.

There was but one problem – the report says nothing about same-sex parenting.

Parkinson, clearly irritated by this misrepresentation of his work, pointed out that his report does not engage in any criticism about same-sex relationships of any kind.  In fact, the report recommends that government sponsored parent and marriage counselling be extended to gay couples.

Parkinson further confirmed that  reference to the high risk of child abuse from men living in family situations in which they share no biological relationship to the children, refers to the heterosexual male partners of women not homosexual couples.

In an article in the National Times, Parkinson clearly makes the point that the key risk factors for children are family breakdown, financial stress, domestic violence and sexual abuse from defacto [heterosexual] male partners living in the family home. He makes no mention whatsoever of same-sex marriage as a risk factor for children.

The crux of Parkinson’s argument is that children do best in stable, peaceful family environments with two married parents. The ‘problem’ with children living apart from one or more of their biological parents is that this is often associated with family breakdown, instability, economic pressures and strangers moving into the household.  This is not in the least bit equivalent to a same-sex couple in a committed relationship deciding to have a child.

The problem, as anyone who reads Parkinson’s report or similar studies will find, is not the lack of a ‘biological’ link between parent and child, but the circumstances which both precede and follow the breakdown of a heterosexual relationship.

As Rodney Croome has pointed out, those who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children should consider Parkinson’s report an endorsement for same-sex marriage.  Parkinson clearly states that marriage is good for children. Marriage tends to create stability and economic security. He says  “the likelihood that a non-marital relationship with children will break down is many times higher than for marriages”. Given that homosexual couples already have children – and will continue to do so whether Doctors for the Family like it or not – it seems that the very best thing that can be done to ensure their welfare is to encourage same-sex parents to marry.

Parkinson has made it clear that his report should not be used as an attack on same-sex marriage. Is it not dishonest in the extreme for Doctors for the Family to suggest otherwise?

It’s ironic that, in their feigned  ‘concern’ for the children of gay partnerships, Doctors for the Family cite studies which raise concerns about the fidelity within and the longevity of same-sex relationships; yet, according to Parkinson – their own source –  the best way to address this is to encourage couples to marry; not make it impossible for them to do so!

Let me just hammer home the point  here; Parkinson’s “For Kid’s Sake” is about heterosexual parenting – he says so, himself. It says nothing about homosexual parenting (other than that gay couples and parents should be supported in the same way as heterosexuals). Using a reference to the report to support an argument against same-sex marriage is both unethical and intellectually dishonest.

The same can be said of Doctors for the Family’s reference to Manning and Lamb’s paper from the Journal of Marriage and Family. Doctors for the Family gives us half a sentence from this article in support of their argument against same-sex marriage:

“Adolescents in married, two-biological-parent families generally fare better…”  

But what does the article really say about same-sex parenting? Thanks to the State Library of Queensland’s database search and JStor I was able to access an online copy.

Manning and Lamb’s study focuses on a comparison between the children of heterosexual, married, biological parents living together and children in married (heterosexual) step-families and single mother families.  There is no mention whatsoever of homosexual parents.

Manning and Lamb found that children living in two-biological-parent families generally fare better, but, importantly, they concluded that  “most of these differences are explained by socioeconomic circumstances”.

Like Parkinson, Manning and Lamb identify a number of ‘risk factors’ for children. These include economic status, family stability, and the quality of parenting. Curiously, they find that the increasing social acceptability of [heterosexual] cohabitation has made for easier parenting and that ‘legal and social recognition’ of parental relationships is important for the stability and well-being of children.

Like Parkinson’s, Manning’s and Lamb’s findings appear to support the notion that children of same-sex parents will fare better if a) same-sex parenting becomes socially acceptable and b) same-sex couples are permitted to marry.  Yet, these are the very things to which Doctors for the Family are opposed.  One has to ask if their concern is genuinely with the children of these partnerships, or whether their opposition is based purely on their ideological bias.

There are two things to be said of Doctors for the Family’s use of Manning and Lamb’s research.

First, it is clearly a case of cynical and dishonest quote-mining. Like Parkinson’s study, Manning and Lamb say nothing abut same-sex parents; they did not include same-sex parents in their research.

Second, Manning and Lamb’s conclusion is not as simplistic as Doctors for the Family suggest with their half-sentence quotation. Being raised by two biological parents is not the determining factor for a child’s welfare; rather, it is the tendency for [heterosexual] step-parent families and single-mother families to be financially stressed.

I’m aware of no evidence which suggests that same-sex parents are subject to the same economic stressors as single parent or step-families. In fact, given the high cost of having a child via IVF or surrogacy, and the fact that the children of same-sex parents are more likely to be planned, it seems reasonable to assume that same-sex parents would generally be in a better financial position to raise children than many heterosexual couples.

And now, to Dr Dunjey’s use of ‘evidence’ from the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) on Radio National this morning.  It sounds convincing, doesn’t it? The average reader – or perhaps the average politician – may be misled into believing that this is the peak body of pediatricians in the USA. That would be wrong – but you didn’t hear this clarification from Dr Dunjey.

The peak body of American pediatricians is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The American College of Pediatricians is a break-away group, founded by religious conservatives in 2002 as a protest against the AAP’s support for adoption by gay couples.

Yes, that’s right, America’s mainstream group of 60,000 credible pediatricians support same-sex marriage. It is only a small, break-away group, driven by religious ideology, who oppose it. There’s is not the consensus view as Dr Dunjey dishonestly suggests – it is the minority view.

Let me repeat that. ACPeds’ religiously motivated view is contrary to  the position of the 60,000 pediatricians represented by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other mainstream medical and child welfare authorities, including the National Association of Social Workers. Indeed, as Dr Kerryn Phelps pointed out on Radio National this morning, the mainstream medical, psychological and scientific consensus is that “sexual orientation has no correlation with the ability to be a good parent and to raise healthy and well-adjusted children.

There’s an old saying which I like very much:  When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. In this respect, Dr Dunjey should really have considered the shady reputation of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) before aligning with them.

Like it’s ideological counterpart, NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), ACPeds is notorious for mischaracterising and misrepresenting the work of legitimate researchers to advance their own agenda.

For example, in 2010, Dr Gary Remafedi from the University of Minnesota was shocked to find ACPeds citing his research to argue that schools should provide no support for gay students as they were likely to ‘grow out of it’.

“Most adolescents who experience same-sex attraction…no longer experience such attractions at age 25,” said ACPeds, quoting a 1992 study by Remafedi.

Except that’s not what Remafedi’s study said at all!:

“[Remafedi’s] work showed that kids who are confused about their sexuality eventually sort it out—meaning many of them accept being gay.

“What was so troubling was that these were fellow doctors, fellow pediatricians,” Remafedi says. “They knew better, and they have the same ethical responsibilities to their patients that I do, but they deliberately distorted my research for malicious purposes.”

“It’s obvious that they didn’t even read my research,” Remafedi says.” [Emphasis added.]

I might say the same of Doctors for the Family cherry-picking a quote from Manning’s and Lamb’s paper – a study not even remotely associated with homosexuality. Did they even bother to read it?

Remafedi is not the only researcher whose work has been “cherry-picked, manipulated, and misstated” by ACPeds.

In 2010, Francis S Collins, a Christian, and one of America’s most respected scientists, issued the following statement:

“It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality.  The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents.” [Emphasis added.]

The paucity of Dunjey’s ‘evidence’ against same-sex marriage is only magnified when he resorts to using the discredited American College of Pediatrics in support of his argument!

Again, let me pause to make my point. By misrepresenting the work of Dr Patrick Parkinson and Manning and Lamb, in an apparent attempt to mislead the Australian Senate, Dr Dunjey and his Doctors for the Family follow in the fine tradition of the American College of Pediatricians – a similarly covert group of religious zealots. No wonder Dunjey appears to be so familiar with their work!

And now, let’s turn to the second point raised in Doctors for the Family’s easily debunked piece of political propaganda.

Quoting from an article from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Infectious Disease News, the Doctors for the Family submission suggests that ‘normalising’ homosexuality is likely to lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids and syphilis.

Yes, they’re stretching.

According to the vast majority of medical experts, homosexuality is not ‘a choice’. It follows, then, that recognising homosexuality as part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality will not lead to more people ‘choosing’ to become homosexual. It’s an argument built on an entirely false and unproven premise. But don’t just take my word for it!

In 1994, The American Psychological Association, which represents over 132,000 mental health professionals, released a “Statement on Homosexuality” which says, in part:

“Nor is homosexuality a matter of individual choice. Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. It is found in about ten percent of the population, a figure which is surprisingly constant across cultures, irrespective of the different moral values and standards of a particular culture.

Contrary to what some imply, the incidence of homosexuality in a population does not appear to change with new moral codes or social mores. Research findings suggest that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accoutrements.” [Emphasis added.]

Similarly, the Australian Psychological Society’s website insists that homosexuality is neither a ‘choice’ nor a mental disorder.

In Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation (2005),  Glenn Wilson, a reader in personality at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist at the University of East London state unequivocally that ‘the existing body of academic research leaves absolutely no room for parental or societal influence on this intimate trait’. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, social acceptance of homosexuality will have no effect whatsoever on the number of homosexuals.

Regardless of Dr Dunjey’s ill-informed and ideologically inspired idiocy, this is the consensus opinion of legitimate researchers and experts.

While Doctors for the Family cynically try to incite homophobia by referring to the high rates of HIV and syphilis in homosexuals who participate in male to male sex, they fail to cite the reason provided in the report from which they quote.  Dr Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention explains:

“It is clear that we will not be able to stop the U.S. HIV epidemic until every affected community, along with health officials nationwide, prioritize the needs of gay and bisexual men with HIV prevention efforts.”

The problem he identifies is a lack of education and support. Given their very real concern about sexual health, are Doctors for the Family advocating sexual health programs for gay teens in Australian schools?

No? I wonder why not.

Promiscuity (whether heterosexual or gay) is obviously a factor which leads to the spread of STDs.  While it is obviously no guarantee, studies seem to suggest that marriage leads to greater relationship stability and fidelity. So, surely anyone who is genuinely concerned about stemming the spread of STDs in the homosexual community would be vigorously  promoting same-sex marriage!

Doctors for the Family have failed every academic protocol in promoting their fatally flawed submission to the Australian Senate. They have misrepresented the work of credible researchers, they have cherry-picked quotes to support their argument. They have failed to consider or disclose that the papers they cite are not relevant to their case and/or do not support their contentions. In a cynical attempt to convince Radio National listeners that the consensus of medical opinion is against same-sex marriage, Doctors for the Family convenor, Dr Lachlan Dunjey misleadingly quoted the opinion of the extremist right-wing American College of Pediatrics; while completely failing to mention the contrary majority view of the peak representative group, the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Further, as I showed in my previous post, Dunjey and his compatriots comprehensively failed to disclose the religious motives which underpin their opposition to same-sex marriage.  Dunjey, in particular, is culpable as he has a history of setting up Christian lobby groups, composed of fundamentalists and evangelists, while deceptively denying any religious agenda.

Trying to mislead the Australian Senate is a serious ethical matter. So is misrepresenting academic research and dissembling (if not outright lying) on national radio. Add to this the hypocrisy of exploiting the public’s trust in doctors in order to misrepresent a fundamentalist religious prejudice as a matter of scientific consensus. It’s a classic case of a tradition which is becoming all to routine in fundamentalist circles – lying for Jesus. I spoke about this at length in my recent address to Dying with Dignity (NSW).

The Australian Senate would be well advised to disregard this shameful piece of holy hogwash and make a note that, in future, any organisation headed by Dr Dunjey should be treated with extreme distrust.

Dr Dunjey, and those who are foolish or dishonest enough to add their names to his petitions, are a disgrace to academia, to the medical profession and to Christianity. They really should be ashamed.

Chrys Stevenson

16 thoughts on “Doctors for the Family – Debunked

  1. Ken Dally

    What is it about fundamentalists that they behave on a manner that directly contradicts the alleged teachings of the prophet they say they follow. From my own readings of the Bible their behavior is like that of which Jesus found abhorrent.

  2. doug Steley

    For fine upstanding moral crusaders they sure do play fast and lose with the truth.

    I seem to recall being taught in my Sunday School classes that telling lies is against the basic principals of the Christian religions top 10.

    Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
    Deuteronomy 5:20

    As well as a few others :

    Psalm 34:13
    Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies!

    Proverbs 25:18
    A man that bears false witness against his neighbor is as a club, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.

    —Proverbs 6:16–19
    There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

    Ephesians 4:25
    Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor,


    The list goes on and on

  3. Jayel

    The underhandedness and hubris of all of this leaves me completely gobsmacked, so I’m glad you have found the words to express it so well, Chrys.

  4. crj4

    Yes, such hypocrites! But perhaps denial of the real scientific evidence here reflects their approach to the lack of evidence for a supreme deity. No matter what the evidence they will bend it to fit their reality.

  5. Louella

    Awesome stuff. Brilliant research and evaluation of the true conclusions of these reports and papers. That Senate Committee needs a Cross-Eyed Bear on its payroll.

  6. rainbowfamilies

    Chrys, I am in awe of your writing, research and analysis. An excellent piece and I am sharing widely. Hugs.

  7. tamlyn123

    This is SUCH a brilliant debunking, Chrys. Thanks.

    I must be getting old and tired, or something – but that piece of lying hypocrisy from the “Doctors for the Family” (such a misnomer) made me feel utterly dispirited. So many years I seem to have been debunking bullshit, and batting my head against various brick walls, just in the name of gaining justice for people, marginalised by our self-centered, self-important society – just ordinary people, looking for an ordinary life in an ordinary society. I was only ever a foot soldier, but now, looking straight down the barrel at Old Age, I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’ve wasted my life.
    Chrys, your writing gives me hope that that isn’t so: that it’s all been worth the effort and the time. Thank you.

    Cushla Geary

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  9. mochuck

    As you say the increased rates of HIV and other STDs in homosexaula are due to a lack of support, yet when education campaigns are rolled out to promote safe sex we have grouos like the ACL claiming that they promote promiscuity. There is just no consistency to the Christian arument against homosexuality

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