Same Sex Couples and Parenting - Children Need Loving Parents, No Matter Their Sex
Someday, People Will No Longer Have to Ask if it's "OK" for Same Sex Couples to Raise Children
I came across this question, from woman who is in a lesbian relationship and raising a child with her partner, and my first thought was - obviously it's ok! There is no difference between a same sex couple and an opposite sex couple. Or rather, while there are of course differences between every couple, regardless of sex, there is nothing specific about being a same sex couple that makes you better or worse parents. In fact, there is some research to suggest that, on the whole, children of lesbian parents do better (more later on what that means) than children of opposite sex parents.
But what also struck me is the sad reality that somehow this fact is still not completely obvious in our society. Millions of children are being raised in the United States by same sex couples (estimates ranged from 1 to 6 million as of 2005), and it is incredibly important that there is a mainstream understanding that this is absolutely fine. To me, the most troubling part of a lack of understanding about this is when that translates into laws and policies that discriminate against same sex couples and their children. It is also troubling to think that anyone would discriminate in any way on a personal level against same sex couples or their children.
Despite the fact that mainstream acceptance is not fully realized, I am deeply encouraged by many recent trends, including the increasing acceptance of gay marriage, and am confident that by the time my son is grown, the question of whether it's ok for same sex couples to raise children will simply seem absurd.
I see three trends as particularly encouraging that there is increasingly a mainstream understanding of the fact that same sex parents are simply parents, and should not be thought of or treated any differently.
- The research showing that children are not at all harmed, and may in fact be helped, by being raised by same sex couples (and the inclusion of this research in court filings in cases around the country regarding gay marriage and gay adoption).
- The awareness of individual stories of children of same sex couples, and those families being able to have their own stories heard.
- The increasing prevalence of gay characters with children in TV shows and movies and other forms of mainstream media.
Books About Same Sex Parenting
There is a Wealth of Research Showing Same-Sex Parents Raise Well-Adjusted Children
The following articles all have one important thing in common - they are based on evidence. These articles cover one or more scientific studies of children raised by same-sex couples. These are not based on personal opinion, but look at what the evidence shows as far as the impacts on children of being raised by same-sex couples. The unanimous conclusion is put best by this quote from a researcher who performed a review of 81 studies on children of same-sex couples (link to USA article on the study below):
"Children being raised by same-gender parents, on most all of the measures that we care about, self-esteem, school performance, social adjustment and so on, seem to be doing just fine and, in most cases, are statistically indistinguishable from kids raised by married moms and dads on these measures."
A selection of just some of the articles covering the wealth of research on this subject:
- From USA Today (2010), on a massive study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family: Same-sex couples can be effective parents, researchers find. The study reviewed 81 studies of one- and two-parent families, including gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples. "No research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being," the researchers concluded.
- From Science Daily (2010): Children raised by gay couples show good progress through school, study shows. About a study based on census data comparing educational progress of children raised in same sex families and opposite sex families, that found no significant difference in achievement.
- From Science Daily (2007): Teenagers in lesbian families: Healthy and happy. About research findings published in the journal Pediatrics based on a long term study of children of lesbian parents, finding that "teenage children of lesbian parents in the United States exhibit healthy psychological development and have fewer behavioural problems than peers who grow up in heterosexual families."
- From WebMD (2005): Study: Same-Sex Parents Raise Well-Adjusted Children. Summarizes many large scale research studies (covers 15 studies on more than 500 children). "The vast consensus of all the studies shows that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way," the researcher told WebMD. "In some ways children of same-sex parents actually may have advantages over other family structures."
Policy statements of major psychological associations, based on research. I think these are particularly important in helping to overturn laws and policies that currently discriminate against same sex couples and their ability to adopt or take in foster children.
- Policy Statement of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2009): Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender Parents Policy Statement. Says that all decisions relating to custody or parental rights should be based on the best interests of the child, and there is no evidence that the sexual orientation of parents has any adverse effect on the child.
- Policy Statement of the American Psychological Association (2004): Sexual Orientation, Parents, and Children. Pretty dense statement, but includes references to tons of studies. Says that the results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.
There are countless videos out there now of children of gay parents, and gay parents, speaking about what it is really like. There were so many I could have chosen to include here, but I narrowed it down to two.
First Video: I urge everyone to take the three minutes to watch the video of Zach Wahls, an incredibly articulate 19 year old raised by two moms, speaking out in front of the Iowa legislature opposing House Joint Resolution 6, which proposed to end civil unions in Iowa. I dare you to watch this video and not get choked up. I also dare anyone to watch this and say that being raised by same sex parents is in some way damaging to a child.
Some of my favorite quotes:
- "Our family really isn't so different from any other Iowa family"
- "We just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government"
- He talks about how at his university, the question comes up if gay people can raise kids. He says I was raised by a gay couple, and I'm doing pretty well (99% on his ACTs, owns his own small business) - "If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I think I would make you pretty proud."
Second Video: This was put together by the ACLU and it tells a beautiful story of two men and their daughters who they hoped to adopt out of foster care. It also highlights the absurdity, and the harm to children, of laws that treat same sex parents differently than straight parents.
Same-Sex Parents in Mainstream TV Shows
Children's Books that Include References to Same-Sex Parents
Presence of Same Sex Parents and Their Children in the Mainstream Media (TV, Movies, Books)
Again, there is so much to discuss, but I honestly believe the most significant current depiction of same sex parents in the mainstream media is Cameron and Mitchell and their daughter Lily in ABC's Modern Family. I think what they are doing is incredibly powerful. They show a gay male couple raising a daughter (adopted from Vietnam in the first episode) and show them as a real family.
I was thinking about why it was that they included Lily in so many episodes, especially when she was young, even when she wasn't really part of the plot of a given episode. I figured it's probably expensive and a hassle to deal with babies, but I was so impressed that they included her. Visuals are incredibly powerful, and much of the research shows that knowing someone who is gay helps break down individual stereotypes. For better or worse, many people who watch TV feel that they "know" the characters. For this reason, I think it's so important to breaking down stereotypes that they show Cameron and Mitchell going through life as parents, dealing with the same issues that all of us face. I think this can be incredibly powerful. Interestingly, I found a video (to the right) of the actor that plays Mitchell making this exact observation, but more articulately!
There also seems to be some increasing depiction of same sex couples in movies, mostly illustrated by the recent movie, that received Oscar attention, "The Kids are Alright." I haven't seen the movie, so can't comment on its portrayal, but it is significant in and of itself that a movie that got widespread attention featured gay parents and their children.
There is also a wealth of excellent children books - those that reference same sex parents and their children in the context of discussing families in general, and also those that specifically feature same sex parents. I think this is incredibly powerful as well for children with parents of all sexual orientations to simply read about same sex parents as one type of the many types of families that exist in our world.
Obviously this is an issue that I feel strongly about, and I can share my own personal experiences to give some greater context. I have many dear friends who are in committed same sex partnerships, some of whom already have kids, and others who hope to in the future. It infuriates me to think that they or their children would ever be treated badly because of the fact that they have same sex parents. I also have dear family members who are gay and have suffered various forms of discrimination because of this. My son is very close to them, and was cared for by a same sex couple (family members of ours) when he was baby and I went back to work part time. It appalls me to think that I would ever have to explain to him that some people think that they shouldn't be able to get married or raise children on the same terms as me and my husband.
On a broader level, as a lawyer who has always worked for non-profits on childrens' issues, particularly foster care reform, it is difficult for me to stomach that people would pass laws or follow policies that harm children (e.g., not letting gay parents adopt or foster children) because of personal/religious beliefs that go against all the scientific evidence on a subject.
But as I have said, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction as a society, and that this will benefit all people, children and parents alike.
I welcome any comments or thoughts on the three areas of encouragement I noted in this article, and I'm sure there is a lot I have left out!