There continues to be much discussion in the United States and in societies throughout the world regarding the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, marriage rights, and the abilities of homosexuals to effectively parent children. The Supreme Court’s ruling, on June 26, 2015, in favor of allowing same-sex couples to become legally married in all states included the following statement in the majority opinion:
“A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. … Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. … the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.” (Supreme Court Ruling, 2015:3)
This court ruling and opinion therefore not only bestows universal rights of matrimony but also dramatically advances the parenting rights of same-sex couples. Still, the question remains: Are children raised by single gay or lesbian parents, or those raised by same-sex couples at increased risk of adverse outcomes in psycho-social-sexual development? Do homosexuals, either singularly or as a couple, make suitable parents? The verdict also appears to be in on this question. Studies unequivocally indicate that children parented by a single gay or lesbian person or same-sex couple have outcomes that are as similar and normal as children parented by single heterosexuals or heterosexual couples – neither group of children is better or worse off based on the sexual orientation of their parents (Frias-Navarro and Monterde-I-Bort, 2012:1275). A striking theme throughout the literature is that the welfare of children in same-sex families is at risk, not by internal forces of same-sex orientation, but by the external effects of discrimination and prejudice levied against homosexuals and their families. This paper will clearly demonstrate that, when it comes to risks of negative influences on the well-being and development of the children of gay or lesbian parents, heterosexism is the real threat, not homosexuality.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, there are still many in positions of power and influence who contend that homosexuals choose their sexuality and thus bring it upon themselves – all the discrimination, abuse and marginalization suffered for being different from the accepted societal norm. Ignorance and fear fuel the irrational belief and unfounded bias that is heterosexism – that heterosexuality is the only standard or natural option for human relationships and is thus superior to same-sex sexual orientation, i.e., only “straight” people are “qualified” to get married and raise children in a family unit (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1274). According to a variety of literature on the subject, homosexuals are often stigmatized as somehow “diseased” and characterized as selfish, irresponsible, uncommitted, sexually deviant, promiscuous, substance abusers and predatory, i.e. desiring to influence people’s sexuality. Ironically, these same characteristics are shared by a not-so-small percentage of heterosexual adults who, by societal default, enjoy the unquestioned right – if not always the quintessentially inherent ability – to be a parent. Moreover, because “heterosexual” is the master status of socialized sexual orientation and has an inherent privilege, these behaviors are largely invisible (Rosenblum and Travis, 2012:202) in the context of evaluating parenting rights. They do not invoke a desire for an examination of heterosexuals’ fitness to raise children.
Opponents of same-sex relations and families often argue the well-being of the children as a basis for objecting to such couples raising children. Many states have discriminatory and restrictive adoption laws (Ritenhouse, 2011:316) that can seriously jeopardize the well-being of children in same-sex parented families. Indeed, these states either do not allow adoption, do not recognize the non-biological partner as a legal parent, or only allow one partner to claim parent status in the event of a non-biological adoption (Ritenhouse, 2011:316). The heterosexist view asserts that a man and a woman, distinctly as father and mother, are necessary family components to raise well-adjusted children, no matter the degree of dysfunction in the household (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1284). Further heterosexist opinions that the origin of same-sex sexual orientation is a learned preference correlates with greater rejection of gay and lesbian parenthood (Frias-Navarro et al, 2012:1284). Intolerance of homosexuals as parents often leads to social and institutional ostracism of the parents and children and has also included horrific abuses of these children by other children in the “straight” majority. This would seem to indicate that it is not so much the ability of homosexuals to raise well-adjusted, healthy children that is problematic, but more so that a hostile heterosexual world can create adverse outcomes in a child’s well-being and development.
In comparing and assessing parenting affects, researchers often looked at six categories to determine outcome variances: (1) parent/child relationship quality, and the child’s (2) cognitive development, (3) gender role behavior, (4) gender identity, (5) sexual orientation, and (6) psychological adjustment (Fedewa, Black and Ahn. 2015:4). The American Sociological Association’s Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court included an evaluation of a multitude of studies relevant to the effects on children raised by gay, lesbian and same-sex couples. The report summarized a comparative analysis of five measurable outcome areas: (1) academic performance and cognitive development, (2) social development, (3) psychological well-being, (4) sexual activity, and (5) problem behaviors (Manning, Fettro and Lamidi. 2014:491). Findings were unanimous across all studies that children raised by homosexual individuals and couples were at least as well-adjusted and equivalent developmentally with children of heterosexual family units.
According to Judd Legum’s reporting (Legum, 2014), Dr. Simon Crouch, the lead researcher for a study of more than 300 children parented by homosexuals noted that same-sex couples often are more likely to share parenting activities that are most suited to their skills and interests as opposed to stereotypical gender roles. Crouch suggests that such a strategy often creates a more efficient and harmonious family unit that favors the health and well-being of parents and children (Legum, 2014). The big concern seems to be that these children will all “become” homosexuals, i.e., the learned choice theory, and thus spread their gayness and lesbianism beyond their immediate family. This has also been proven unfounded by empirical evidence in the studies of such children. An astute observer may ask, “Where did all these homosexuals originate from?” And the only plausible correct answer is, “The vast majority were initially born and raised by heterosexuals.” Which may explain why the heterosexual community favors the choice theory; it absolves them of responsibility and guilt as complicit in the creation of homosexuality. Still, those who oppose same-sex marriage often cite concerns about what happens when these children become adults (Legum, 2014); an argument also addressed by two studies of the adult children of homosexual and same-sex parents.
One such study was a documentary called “Gayby Baby” made by Maya Newell, the daughter of lesbian mothers. Newell shared her own experience and interviewed other children who were raised by non-heterosexual parents. All of the children reported positive family experiences and positive development outcomes, despite the challenges of navigating life in a “heteronormative” world. (Hosking, Mulholland and Baird, 2015:340-345). Several testimonies were very poignant in revealing the struggles they and their families endured. Kate Burns, the daughter of a gay couple, was afraid (not ashamed) for having two dads and thus kept one of them “hidden” at her social and sports events (Hosking et al, 2015:343). Brenna Harding, raised by lesbians, spoke to the cruelty of discrimination in making it so easy to be teased for having parents that society asserts are not good enough to get married (Hosking et al, 2015:343). (Both these, and many other personal testimonials, directly affirm the concerns outlined by the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage). The theme of the interviews was that it was not the sexual orientation of their parents that mattered, or whether they had a biological mom and a dad. What mattered was that they knew they were loved, had a stable home, and enjoyed a comfortable family life. Whether that love came from a gay or lesbian parent was irrelevant to their sense of well-being (Hosking et al, 2015:344).
Another study of adult children of non-heterosexual parenting experiences looked at resilience, i.e., overcoming significant adversity, as a measure of well-being outcomes (Titlestad and Pooley, 2014:331). Psychologist, Dr. Gregory Herek, states that prejudice and discrimination are significant factors that exert forces leading to “minority stress syndrome” – defined as “chronic social stress that results from belonging to a stigmatized social category and in addition to the general stressors of everyday life” (Titlestad et al, 2014:331). What makes this study and Newell’s work interesting is that they look at the non-quantifiable attributes of the human experience, not just the five or six factors defined in the majority of studies that were more accomplishments based. The study concludes that “parent-child relationships and family dynamics are more important than family composition” (Titlestad et al, 2014:349).
The results of these studies support the heterosexual mantra that good parenting is essential to a child’s development and well-being and would seem another strike against the heteronormative argument that the welfare of the child is at stake in a household parented by homosexuals. Indeed, the well-being of the child is at stake in any home regardless of a parent’s sexual orientation, which appears more and more irrelevant the more the subject is studied.
There is one “outlier” – a study by sociologist Mark Regnerus – that is a favorite canard of opponents of same-sex parented families to perpetuate ignorance and support the myth that children raised by a same-sex couple are worse off. Regnerus, whose work has been condemned by the American Sociological Association, didn’t study children raised by same-sex couples, but rather, those raised in “failed heterosexual unions” (Legum. 2014) where one parent had engaged in a homosexual relationship. The study lacked objectivity and sound design (Perrin, Cohen and Caron, 2013:334). This study was what credible studies try to avoid; the “muddying of the waters” with atypical and disparate situations that would sharply bias results.
In conclusion, the results of study after study indicate that children raised in same-sex couple families fare at least as well as those raised in traditional heterosexual couple families. Further, although quantitative and qualitative research exists proving that gays, lesbians and same-sex couples are suitable parents, such a microscope puts enormous pressure on both the parents and the children to “perform” and “act right” to be validated – a circus act from which heterosexuals are exempt (Hosking et al, 2015:339). Indeed, the major variable that would contribute to poorer outcomes is not internal to the subject family unit, but the external influence of the homophobic-driven prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors of the heterosexual community. In all areas of child development and well-being, homosexual partners were just as qualified and capable of raising healthy and well-adjusted children as were heterosexual partner families. The primary recommendation at the end of the assessment of homosexual parenting behaviors and child development is that the heterosexual community, if it is truly concerned for the children in homosexual parented families, must accept and support these non-traditional families. They must afford them the same rights and social standing as any other family unit. The hope is that, in consideration of the factors presented in this paper, society will “make room for” and accept “alternative” relationships and family arrangements as an equally legitimate context in which to exercise not only parental rights but marriage rights. This can only be accomplished by rescinding or amendment of discriminatory and prejudicial laws that inhibit the full exercise of familial freedoms to afford homosexuals the same full measure of rights and opportunities that heterosexuals enjoy.
Fedewa, Alicia L., Whitney W. Black, and Soyeon Ahn. 2015. “Children and Adolescents With Same-Gender Parents: A Meta-Analytic Approach in Assessing Outcomes.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 11(1):1-34, DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.869486. Journal article containing a “quantitative synthesis” of 33 studies that investigated the effects of parental gender and sexual identity on child and adolescent outcomes involving an aggregate of 5,272 children. Conclusions were that children of same-sex parents were not disadvantaged by family type.
Frias-Navarro, Delores and Hector Monterde-i-Bort. 2012. “A Scale on Beliefs about Children’s Adjustment in Same-Sex Families: Reliability and Validity.” Journal of Homosexuality 59(9):1273-1288, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.720505. Journal article about a study, sampling 212 university students, to assess adults’ beliefs about negative impacts on children who are raised by same-sex parents.
Hosking, Gipsy, Monique Mulholland, and Barbara Baird. 2015. “We Are Doing Just Fine: The Children of Australian Gay and Lesbian Parents Speak Out.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 11(4):327-350. DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2014.988378. Journal article reporting on a study of children based on personal interviews about experiences of having gay, lesbian and same-sex parents. The conclusion is that children are well-adjusted and suffer no ill effects of homosexual parenting.
Legum, Judd. 2014. “Major New Study Finds Kids Raised by Same-Sex Couples are ‘Healthier and Happier.’” Think Progress. Retrieved October 10, 2015 (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/07/05/3456717/kids-raised-by-same-sex-couples-are-healthier-and-happier/). Internet article discusses results of a study of 315 same-sex parents and 500 children done by Australia’s University of Melbourne that concludes that homosexuals make suitable parents due to positive outcomes of children in such families.
Manning, Wendy. D., Marshall N. Fettro, and Esther Lamidi. 2014. “Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families: Review of Research Prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief.” Springer Science+Business Media. DOI: 10.1007/s11113-014-9329-6. Journal article is a summary of literature regarding the well-being of children raised within same-sex parent families prepared by the American Sociological Association for a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief. The conclusion was that there is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just, as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households and differences that exist in child well-being, are primarily due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.
Perrin, Andrew J., Philip N. Cohen, and Neal Caren. 2013. “Are Children of Parents Who Had Same-Sex Relationships Disadvantaged? A Scientific Evaluation of the No-Differences Hypothesis.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 17(3):327-336. DOI: 10.1080/19359705.2013.772553. Journal article refuting the validity of a study done by sociologist Mark Regnerus who argued against same-sex parenting based on findings detrimental to child well-being in “failed heterosexual unions.” The Regnerus study was an “apples and oranges” comparison without adequate control measures to distinguish validity.
Rittenhouse, Damon. 2011. “What’s Orientation Got to Do With It?; The Best Interest of the Child Standard and Legal Bias Against Gay and Lesbian Parents.” Journal of Poverty 15(3):309-329. DOI: 10.1080/10875549.2011.589260. Journal article reporting on the disparity between the actual outcomes of children raised by homosexual parent(s) and the legal restrictions that pose the actual threat to the well-being of children and families.
Rosenblum, Karen E. and Toni-Michelle C. Travis. 2012. The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Disability. 6 Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. This sociology textbook addresses topics of social interest and explores them in story format within the context of Framework Essays that describe the key features discussed in the stories.
Supreme Court of the United States. 2015. “Slip Opinion for Obergefell Et Al. V. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department Of Health, Et Al.” No. 14-556. Retrieved November 3, 2015 (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf). The document includes the majority opinion striking down state bans on issuing same-sex marriage licenses and making matrimony available to all same-sex couples in all 50 states. Dissenting opinions are also included.
Titlestad, Angharad and Julie Ann Pooley. 2014. “Resilience in Same-Sex-Parented Families: The Lived Experience of Adults with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies 10(4):329-353. DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.833065. Journal article includes a summary of a study of outcomes in adult children of gay, lesbian and same-sex couples. Interviews with children of these parents indicate successful coping strategies that led to their well-adjusted development despite threats, adversities and other societal and institutional obstacles stemming from prejudice and discrimination.