"I believe that we're in denial about potential problems as we see more and more homosexual couples raising families," former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee wrote in 2011. "Essentially, these are experiments to see how well children will fare in such same-sex households. It will be years before we know whether or not our little guinea pigs turn out to be good at marriage and parenthood."
Well, it seems like the science is in. And it's not looking good for Huckabee and the anti-gay family crowd.
According to a new study, the brains of gay dads change in the same way as their straight counterparts' after parenthood. Researchers looked at brain scans of parents, both gay and straight, and found that gay men who adopted children through surrogacy underwent changes in regions of the brain just like the changes undergone by the brains of straight mother and fathers.
Interestingly, while the study found that new, heterosexual mothers and fathers undergo different changes, homosexual fathers undergo a combination of the two, suggesting that gay dads take on both sides of the parenting coin.
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Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study suggests that neurologically speaking, gay parents are able to take on the role of both mom and dad and react to the child accordingly.
This research was conducted in Israel by Eyal Abraham of Bar-Ilan University, with help from Ruth Feldman, also from Bar-Ilan, and professor Talma Hendler of the Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. The researchers filmed new mothers and fathers interacting with their babies, then measured the parents' brain activity while rewatching these videos. The images revealed that gay fathers exhibited emotional activity in the amygdala similar to new moms, while also exhibiting the increased activation of cognitive circuits that occurred in the brains of new heterosexual dads.
"Fathers' brains are very plastic," Feldman said, according to the Telegraph. "When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting."
Abraham noted in an email to PolicyMic that the research was an opportunity to examine potential developments in parenting, given the "reorganization of the traditional family and redefinition of the maternal and paternal roles" and the increased role of fathers in child rearing.
"Despite growing childcare involvement of fathers, little research so far have examined the biological basis of fatherhood, and no study has examined the brain basis of human fatherhood when fathers assume primary responsibility for infant care," Abraham wrote. "Two-father families provide a unique setting to assess changes in the father's brain upon assuming the traditionally 'maternal' role."
Speaking about the implications of the study for nontraditional family units, Abraham said the findings "indicate that assuming the role of a committed parent may trigger a global 'parental caregiving' brain network in both women and men, biological and those genetically unrelated to the child." In other words, you don't have to be the child's biological mother to develop good parenting skills.
"Furthermore," Abraham continued, "Findings describe the mechanism of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers. While only mothers experience pregnancy, birth and lactation, evolution created other pathways for adaptation to the parental role in human fathers, and these alternative pathways come with practice and day-by-day caregiving."
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Of course, all of these findings are predicated on parental involvement.
"Fathers should engage in child care activity because this is their pathway to brain changes and attachment," Feldman told Bloomberg, as the more the brain is activated through caregiving, the more sensitive it becomes to the needs of the infant in question.
"When mothers are around, fathers' amygdala can rest and mothers do the worrying. When mothers are not around, fathers' brains need to assume this function."
Image Credit: Human Rights Campaign
The study's findings seem to bolster the case for gay parenting, a topic of continued and at times rancorous debate. Indeed, same-sex adoption laws vary widely from state to state in the U.S. Florida was the last state with an outright ban on same-sex adoption; that law was overturned in 2010. Meanwhile, Nebraska, Utah and Mississippi continue to maintain restrictive adoption rules.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in 22 states and the District of Columbia, second-parent adoption is an option for same-sex couples statewide.
"In many states, the status of parenting law for LGBT people is unclear," the HRC notes. "The determination of parenting rights is always made on a case-by-case basis and it is ultimately the decision of the judge whether to grant the adoption petition."
Opponents of same-sex marriage and anti-LGBT groups argue that gay parenting is bad for kids because it gives them a very unstable family life, doesn't provide a wholesome upbringing and leaves the kids feeling they aren't normal. But this argument is undercut by the children of same-sex parents themselves, many of whom have been quite vocal about the fact that they don't notice any difference in their parents' love and care.
And science seems to agree.
In Australia, researchers found that being raised by homosexual parents does not harm children's social development, education or emotional health. This finding is supported by a 2010 review of social scientific research examined by sociologists Judith Stacey of New York University and Tim Biblarz of the University of Southern California.
The overall idea is summed up succinctly by Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, who has stated, "The overwhelming evidence so far is that there's not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents."