Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a brief statement applauding the decision. It didn’t take long after that for my friends to start weighing in on the statement on Facebook.
Part of me was super psyched because I had so many friends talking about the AAP on social media (hooray for informed parents!) and the other part of me wanted to slam my head on the desk as I realized how misunderstood the statement had been. Even the friends who were happy about the SCOTUS decision seemed wary about what they viewed as a neutral health care organization venturing into a divisive political issue.
I can totally understand my friends’ confusion. We’re used to the AAP talking to us about ear infections and car seats, not so much about two adults of the same sex being able to marry or not. The AAP’s release didn’t exactly clarify matters as it was extremely short and without any background to explain why the organization viewed this decision as having an impact on child health.
For starters, the AAP is an organization that focuses on all factors that impact a child’s physical and mental health. This includes things such as family structure and a child’s home environment, which are part of what public health nerds call the psychosocial determinants of health. In short, psychosocial factors are generally created by other people in a child’s life and are things in which the child has little control. Things like home environment, family structure and stability all have massive impacts on a child’s physical and mental health, which is why organizations like the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the CDC study them.
For decades social scientists have studied children of same-sex couples and for just as long those on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate have used those studies to support their side. In 2013 the AAP reviewed the existing meta analyses of these studies and came to the same conclusion that the SCOTUS did after reviewing the same studies: A child’s well being depends much more on their relationship with their parents than it does on their parents’ gender or sexual orientation.
After reviewing the studies in 2006 and 2013 the AAP found that children of same-sex parents do not disproportionately suffer negative outcomes as a result of their parents sexuality. What the AAP did find was that the lack of uniform same-sex marriage rights across all 50 states does put children of same-sex couples at a disadvantage. This may seem bizarre as there are many children being raised by unmarried opposite-sex parents, or by single parents or by divorced parents. But the difference here is that the children of those relationships are legally recognized as being the children of those parents, which matters significantly in terms of custody and visitation rights, as well as access to medical benefits through the parents’ employers. It’s those disparities that negatively effect the physical and mental health of the children of same-sex couples, and why the AAP supports the same-sex marriage movement.
Collection: The Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Pediatrics -Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed 06/28/15
Definition: Social Determinants of Health Policy. American Academy of Family Physicians. Accessed 06/28/15
Perrin, E.C., Siegel, B.S., et al. Technical Report: Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian. Pediatrics – Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. March 30, 2013. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0377. Accessed 06/28/15.