If you are like me, born into an atypical family, and have four parents (divorced, both remarried, 2 straight, 2 gay) you might have spent some time wondering if those talking heads yammering on about the dangers of gay parenting actually know what they’re talking about.
Let me briefly set the stage:
We know that divorce CAN have a negative effect on children. We know that staying together (just) for the kids can also have a negative effect on children. We know this because those two things are quite common in today’s American culture….and so industrious interns, assistants, and students pulled together outcome research to inform the general public about the potential pitfalls of their daily lives.
It’s good to wonder about what kind of effect these things have on children. They turn into adults, and healthy well-adujusted adults contribute to our country’s economy (READ: Important. Our country is having some money trouble, if you haven’t heard). We wonder because we’re curious, and we hope for the best.
So I’ve been observing, over the last decade or so really, the ebb and flow of the conversation about LGBT parents. Should they be allowed to adopt? Should they get custody? Are their kids more likely to be emotionally unstable? Gay? Gender identity confused? Or other BAD stuff- will other bad stuff happen to them because of the exposure to their parents’ “lifestyle choice”?
I’m curious- why wouldn’t I be? I AM one of those kids. I have a mom and a step-dad too, but I’m half gay(raised)! (I think it’s comparable to being bi-racial, just for reader reference.)
In preparation for a few workshops, the GLSEN Summit, a sex and health event for LGBT high school students, I’m doing somewhat of a literature review on this very topic:
Do the children of LGBT parents SUFFER any ill effects because of their parent/s sexual orientation?
Well? Do they?
As briefly as I can, without glossing over information that explains the findings I’m sharing, I’ll tell you.
Let us consider the findings:
“Kids of gay parents fare worse, study finds”, study by sociology professor Mark Regnerus, of the University of Texas at Austin
- FINDINGS: This population-based study looked mainly at the children of lesbian mothers, the majority of whom had experienced divorce, single parenthood, or remarriage. Family instability is bad for children. Separation, divorce, and remarriage- these things can negatively impact kids. Having two good parents is best, having one good parent is better than having two bad ones, and having one bad parent is really not a good thing. The kids of these lesbian mothers were more likely to be on public assistance, or underemployed (not working full-time).
- REBUTTAL: This study, funded by “conservative groups The Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation” has been widely criticized by experts and advocacy groups alike. Their issue? Only 2 of the 175 children sampled lived in a home with two same-sex parents for all 18 years of their childhood. Because the study did not used a matched sample, it is impossible to discern whether or not the outcomes were due to having a LGBT parent or instability in the household.
- VERDICT: “What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people.” -William Saletan, Slate.com
“How Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?”, a study by sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz, of New York University and the University of Southern California, respectively:
- FINDINGS: The researchers reviewed 21 studies dating back to 1980, mainly looking at lesbian parents because there is more research to be had, and found that the children of same-sex couples showed some differences and some similarities to their heterosexually raised counterparts. What was similar? “Levels of anxiety, depression, self-esteem and other measures of social and psychological behaviors were generally similar”, says Biblarz. What was different? Children raised by same-sex parents were more likely to “buck stereotypical male-female behavior”. Boys raised by lesbians are less aggressive and more nurturing, while their girls are more likely to aspire to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and astronauts- traditionally male dominated professions.
- REBUTTAL: There are undeniable differences between children raised by same-sex couples. Their children were no more likely to be gay or lesbian themselves, or show differences in mental health, but they do show behavioral differences in their lack of adherence to traditional gender roles.
- VERDICT: This study found an effect- whether or not the effect can be considered negative depends on the attitude of the reader. I don’t see a problem with children feeling less restricted by gender-role expectations, but that’s just me.
“Why Gay Parents May Be the Best Parents”, Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer at LiveScience:
- FINDINGS: This article reviewed a variety of research on families headed by same-sex parents and found that, not only are worries about same-sex parents unsupported by research, these couples may actually make like, better parents. Why? A few reasons, first, gays and lesbians rarely become parents by accidents, compared to a 50% accidental pregnancy rate among straight couples. This translates to “a greater commitment on average and more involvement”. What else? While LGBT parents are not allowed children in every state (California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon,. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington DO allow it), when they can adopt, they are more likely to adopt difficult to place children, such as “older, special-needs and minority children”. What else? In a paper published in 2007 in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, researcher Goldberg found that children of same-sex couples report higher levels of open mindedness and tolerance, as well as less adherence to gender stereotypes.
- REBUTTAL: The article also reviewed a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family by Goldberg that found a disadvantage reported by the children of same-sex parents. They wish their parents could get married. An additional disadvantage found by sociologist Brian Powell, the author of ”Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family”. Powell shares that the children of same-sex may feel the sting of society’s rejection and experience homophobia.
- VERDICT: Lots of advantages in favor of LGBT parents, and a few disadvantages, none of which stem from the sexual orientation of parents, but instead from our culture’s negative attitudes and legal barriers to equal rights for LGBT parents.
IN SUMMATION: I may need to add to this list, because my three summaries can hardly be considered a review. I just didn’t think it was time efficient to keep summarizing study after study, article after article, 99% of which found no purely “negative” effects on children stemming from their experience being raised by a LGBT parent/s. That being said, there were multiple factors contributing to the positive results I found- see above.
We can see that: Family instability = bad. Actively choosing to become a parent = good. Differences between LGBT parented kids regarding gender roles = good or bad, depending on your beliefs. Bullying and legal barriers to LGBT families = bad.
But my curiosity has been satisfied- I feel like I can argue my point better, without being blind to my opponents valid (most of the time, really) opinions.
Go forth, and educate.