TOPEKA — When the state of Florida sought in 2008 to defend its ban on same-sex couples adopting children, one of the key experts it called to the stand was Kansas State University academic Walter Schumm.
Schumm, a family studies professor and the father of embattled Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm, faced questions about his academic chops and objectivity from the plaintiff’s attorneys in the case, which ended with a Florida judge striking down the 30-year-old ban.
Schumm said last week he is accustomed to disapproval by progressives and conservatives alike.
“That’s just something I have to live with,” he said.
It hasn’t stopped him from writing research reviews on controversial topics, such as those he published in 2010 and 2013 saying studies suggest the children of gay or lesbian parents are more likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual themselves.
On the outcome of the Florida case, he said he doesn’t support “an absolute ban” on adoption by same-sex couples.
“What I thought the right decision would have been, would have been for the state to have a ban on it, but allow judges to make individual decisions in contradiction to it,” he said, adding the gay couple in the Florida case seemed to take good care of the children involved.
“They seem like pretty decent people and may be very capable of raising these children well,” he said.
Schumm’s son won a custody battle last year to adopt an infant whose foster parents were a same-sex couple in Wichita who wanted to adopt her. The baby was a half-sibling of other children in the Schumms’ care.
The decision in that case has sparked allegations of state discrimination against same-sex couples after recent news Jonathan Schumm and his wife, Allison, caring for more than a dozen children, face charges of aggravated battery, child abuse and child endangerment.
Ten of the Schumms’ 16 children are adopted, two were being fostered by them and four are their biological children. The children were removed from the Schumms’ home before police arrested Jonathan and Allison.
Walter Schumm said he wasn’t involved in his son’s custody case and doesn’t believe his son won because of the Wichita couple’s sexual orientation.
While on the stand in Florida, Schumm discussed his research indicating the children of same-sex couples are more likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Asked by attorneys why this matters, he cited the risk of suicide.
“If a child is gay, lesbian or bisexual, this is, in some sense, a life-threatening issue,“ he told the court. “There’s numerous scientific articles, published by a variety of scholars, that indicate that there’s an elevated suicidality risk among LGB youth.”
The American Sociological Association and American Psychological Association say research indicates children raised by same-sex couples don’t face adverse consequences.
In an amicus brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, the ASA said “clear and consistent social science consensus is that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different-sex parents.”
Schumm, a professor at K-State since 1979, also faced grilling in Florida about the validity of his work. Attorneys highlighted his references in some writings to his Christian faith, his lack of a psychology or sociology degree, his past statements on gays serving in the military and his service on the review board of a journal linked to researcher Paul Cameron.
Cameron is accused of anti-gay extremism by the Southern Poverty Law Center. His organization, the Family Research Institute, has a stated mission of researching threats to traditional families. Articles on the FRI website warn protecting homosexuals means protecting pedophiles, and homosexuals are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals are.
Attorneys also cited a book chapter Schumm co-authored in the 1980s that stated: “We disagree with homosexual practices.”
Schumm this week rejected implications his work is biased. He said research results on many LGBT matters are mixed and his investigations have yielded results that at times appear to support liberal arguments and at times conservative ones. He characterized himself as someone who doesn’t shy away from considering a wide range of viewpoints, “even those with which I may vehemently disagree or think are incredibly stupid.”
“I communicate with lots of people with whom I disagree,” he said.
He said his testimony in Florida was cited by attorneys on both sides as supporting their cases, and had he been called to testify on same-sex parenting research in his son’s custody case, he would have told the court, “There’s really no research evidence at all that lesbian mothers can’t handle infants as well as anybody else.”
But he also said of same-sex parenting, “there’s maybe some additional risks that merit some caution, and I don’t know how the law should address that.”
Schumm said his work has sparked criticism online, but scholarly responses are more telling and his 2010 and 2013 articles concerning same-sex parenting haven’t to his knowledge been targeted in academic journals. He described his methods as thorough, scrutinizing many more studies than other academics have included in their research reviews.
Brian Powell, chairman of Indiana University Bloomington’s Department of Sociology and a specialist in family sociology, said research is more likely to be critiqued if it is prominent or influential. Powell published research earlier this year responding to a highly publicized, controversial study by a University of Texas sociologist on children whose parents are in same-sex relationships.
On Schumm, he said: “I think the research he has written on the children of same-sex couples is not among the most visible in the field.”
Some of Schumm’s writings on family and LGBT issues appeared on a reading list presented by Sen. Forrest Knox to fellow lawmakers last month in his role as chairman of the Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy.