According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 34.3 percent of lesbian couples and 22.3 percent of gay male couples were raising children. The Census data also found that same-sex couples raising children live in 96 percent of the counties in the United States. Although these families account for a sizable portion of the population, gay parenting continues to be widely contested, particularly by religious sectors that suggest it negatively affects children. However, in-depth research has begun to dispel many arguments used against gay parenting.
Most children who have at least one gay or lesbian parent were born within the context of a heterosexual relationship that either still exists or has dissolved, according to the report, “The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children” by Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Determining the direct effects of gay parenting is complicated because many children of gay parents are also affected by the separation of their biological parents.
Gay Parents vs. Heterosexual Parents
Few differences have been found between lesbian mothers and heterosexual mothers in terms of psychological functioning, self-esteem, depression, anxiety and attitudes and practices in child rearing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, lesbian mothers have been shown more commitment to finding male role models for their children than divorced heterosexual mothers, according to an article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Similarly, more likenesses than differences have been found in the attitudes and parenting styles of gay and heterosexual fathers.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry seeks to dispel common misconceptions about children raised by gay parents. First, it says children of gay parents aren’t more likely to be gay or more likely to be sexually abused than children of heterosexual parents. Additionally, children with gay parents and children with heterosexual parents show no differences in gender identity or gender role behaviors. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics says that grown children of gay parents might be more willing to consider having a same-sex partner, they aren’t more likely to identify themselves as homosexual.
Sexual orientation of parents has no bearing on children’s emotional, behavioral or psychosocial adjustment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because having gay parents poses no additional risks to children, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that any conscientious and nurturing adults, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, can make excellent parents and should receive equal benefits, rights and protections of civil marriage in order to bolster their strength as parents.
Tips for Gay Parents
Although the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that children of gay parents are as well-adjusted as other children, gay parents have an additional responsibility of helping their children cope with external issues such as discrimination and bullying. Gay and lesbian parents can help their children by openly communicating about their family, using media that show other non-traditional families, finding a support network, offering their children advice on responding to questions and teasing about their family, and living in a more accepting community.