Two Dads or Two Moms: Gay and Lesbian Parents
September 30, 2015
Gay and lesbian parents have increased exponentially as more and more homosexual individuals and couples are choosing to have children. According to Gates, et al, in 2007 more than 1 in 3 lesbians have adopted or given birth to a child while 1 in 6 gay men have fathered or adopted a child. At the same time gay and lesbian parents were raising 4% of all adopted children and 3% of foster children. These percentages do not even count the number of gay and lesbian parents who are raising their biological children. In the last 11 years there has been an increase in the number of openly gay and lesbian couples who have children. Regardless if the children were from a previous relationship, adoption, foster care, donor insemination, or surrogacy, more and more children are being raised by gay and lesbian parents.
Historically, society has held many stereotypes of gays and lesbians and the effect their parenting would have on their children. Many of the stereotypes came out of the prejudices of many, including judges, legislators, professionals and the public (Patterson, 2005).
The most common prejudices against gay and lesbian parents are:
- The belief that gays and lesbians are mentally ill.
- That gay and lesbians are not fit parents.
- Gay and Lesbian parents will negatively affect their children’s sexual identity, gender identity, gender-role, and sexual orientation.
The social sciences have seen a marked increase in methodologically sound research into gay and lesbian parents and their effects on their children. In 1974 the American Psychiatric Association removed “Homosexuality” from their diagnostic manual. This removal of the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental disorder was based on research which did not support greater levels of psychopathology in gays and lesbians than in the general heterosexual population. In 1975, the American Psychological Association also came out with a position paper dispelling the myth that homosexuals by definition had a mental disorder. Patterson (2005) summarized a number of studies by stating, “There is no reliable evidence that homosexual orientation per se impairs psychological functioning, although the social and other circumstances in which lesbian and gay men live, including exposure to widespread prejudice and discrimination, often cause acute distress (p.7).”
Patterson (2005), in her review for the American Psychological Association entitled, “Lesbian & Gay Parenting” reviewed multiple studies which showed that Lesbians did not differ in their overall mental health or approach to child rearing from heterosexual women. Both gay and lesbian parents tend to divide the parent responsibilities evenly between the two parents. Johnson & O’Connor in 2002 studied homosexual parenting and found that gay and lesbian parents were more likely than heterosexual parents to use positive discipline techniques such as reasoning with a child rather than physical punishment.
Since the best interest of the child should always be the number one concern in family law, the psychological research has looked at outcomes of children reared by homosexual parents and compared those children to ones raised with heterosexual parents.
The gender identity refers to a person’s identifying themselves as male or female. Multiple studies have shown that children of homosexual parents have gender identity development along the same developmental course as children of heterosexual parents. The gender-role refers to the child’s activities and behavior that are regarded by the culture as masculine, feminine, or both. Patterson (2005) summarized the research which showed that children of lesbian mothers fell within typical limits for sex roles and that children raised by lesbians had similar toy preferences, activities, interests, and occupational choices as children raised by heterosexual parents. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s choice of sexual partners. The research has shown that the sexual orientation of children raised with homosexual parents does not differ from those raised by heterosexual parents.
Patterson (2006) reviewed further studies on the children of gay and lesbian parents. In terms of teenagers living with “same-sex” parents and those living with “other-sex” parents there were no significant differences when it came to self-reported assessments of psychological wellbeing. The studies looked at such variables as self-esteem; anxiety; school outcome; behavior problems at school; and family and peer relationships.
Farr, et al (2010) studied 106 families headed by 27 lesbian, 29 gay, and 50 heterosexual couples to assess child development and parenting in adoptive young children. The authors of the study wrote, “Measures of children’s adjustment, parenting approaches, parenting stress, and couple relationship adjustment were not significantly associated with parental sexual orientation.”
Goldberg (2010) wrote a concluding chapter in the document “Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle, Division 44: Contemporary perspectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology (pp.177-188)” that states:
“Notably, the research has suggested that children and adolescents with sexual minority parents, despite their vulnerability to heterosexism, are developing normally. Specifically, while there is some (inconclusive) evidence that the children of lesbian and gay parents may be more likely teased at certain points in their development because of family structure, their overall mental health does not appear to differ on average from that of children of heterosexual parents.”
In summary, the research has shown that the children of gay and lesbian parents are just like children reared by heterosexual parents. These children have the same challenges, be it academic, emotional, or social. The gay and lesbian parents are similar to heterosexual parents. Like all parents, some are great, some average, and some never should have had children. In family law cases the focus should always be on the individual parent and their ability to appropriately provide the love, support, discipline, and direction that their child or children need. The sexual orientation of the parent does not significantly add or take away from the healthy outcome for the child. Thus, attorneys, and ultimately the courts, should look beyond sexual orientation as a factor in determining the best interest of the child.
- Farr, Rachel H.; Forssell, Stephen L.; Patterson, Charlotte J. (2010) Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, Vol 14(3) pp. 164-178.
- Gates, G.J.; Badgett, M.V.L.; Macomber, J.E. & Chambers, K. (2007) Adoption and foster care by gay and lesbian parents in the United States. Los Angeles, CA UCLA School of Law Williams Institute.
- Goldberg, Abbie E. (2010) Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle, Division 44: Contemporary perspectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology (pp.177-188)
- Patterson, Charlotte J. (2006) Children of lesbian and gay parents. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, pp. 241-244.
- Patterson, Charlotte J. (2005) Lesbian & gay parenting. American Psychological Association Committee on Lesbian and Bisexual Concerns; Committee on Children, Youth and Families; and Committee on Women in Psychology.