Good Idea: Keeping mum

Cover your eyes, Sun journalists. Not only are gay people perfectly capable of being cabinet ministers (a fact that had passed no one by except the tabloid's staff: the results of the paper's astonishingly daft YouGov poll at the start of this month showed that 90 per cent of Sun readers have no concerns about politicians' sexuality), but they are also just as well suited to child-rearing as their straight counterparts. Possibly better, according to a new study in the US journal Pediatrics.

A controversial conclusion? Perhaps. Hasty? Definitely not. The lesbian mothers of the 78 families that took part in the research were recruited between 1986 and 1992, making this America's longest-running study of same-sex families - and the research is still ongoing.

Through questionnaires and interviews completed by the children at ten years old, and again at 17, the research found that the offspring of lesbian mothers are academically more successful and socially better adjusted than the US average. Encouraging news for the three-quarters of a million American households headed by a gay couple or single parent, and for those who campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adoption rights in those US states (and those other countries) where they are still illegal.

Or maybe not. Some critics will no doubt argue that Nanette Gartrell's and Henny Bos's findings say more about the child-rearing skills of women than they do about gay parents. Whether you accept that view or not, even the report's authors acknowledge that their recruits - each of them the product of donor insemination - are not an average bunch. Their mothers had all made a careful decision to have children, and had attended the antenatal parenting classes and support groups offered as part of the insemination process. It is not surprising that the children of these well-planned families were better cared for than average, for reasons that have little to do with their parents' sexuality.

Which is really all that you'd expect: why should sexuality have anything to do with how well people bring up their children? A recent report by the British gay rights organisation Stonewall, Different Families, features interviews with children and young people aged between four and their early twenties who have gay parents. Seven-year-old Lewis puts it best:

Interviewer: Do you think your family is like other people's families, or is it a bit different?

Lewis: I don't really get that.

Interviewer: OK. So if you think about your friends' families, do you think that there are things similar with your family and their family, or do you think there's some things different?

Lewis: I think they're all different.

Perhaps Lewis should go and have a word with the Sun, too.

This article first appeared in the 21 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The age of ideas