Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay. In 2011, a college student made national headlines when he testified in front of state lawmakers in Iowa who were considering a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Like so many debates on this topic, one question comes up over and over again: what about the children? Zach Wahl, then a student at the University of Iowa, was there to tell legislators that he was raised by two mothers and he was just fine.

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay
Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

In his 3-minute testimony which quickly went viral and landed him on both Letterman and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Wahl said that his family was like every other family — they ate together, went to church, and fought. They had happy times and struggles like the health of his biological mother who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000 and is confined to a wheelchair.

Working through the hard times so that they could get to the good ones, he said, is what makes him, his sister, and his mothers, a family. At one point, he addressed the chairman of the committee directly: I score in the 99th percentile on the ACT. I’m an Eagle Scout. I own and operate my own small business. If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I’d make you very proud. I’m not so different from any of your children. (Wahl, 2011)

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

Wahl finished his testimony, powerfully, by saying: In the next two hours, I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids. But not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple. (Wahl, 2011)

Wahl was no doubt correct about what followed his testimony. Opponents of same-sex marriage often argue that growing up in a household with two mothers or two fathers instead of the typical mother and father will have harmful effects on children. Nature, they say, obviously intended children to grow up with a male and a female, after all, only heterosexual couples can have kids on their own.
These opponents suggest that there is no way that children of gay and lesbian couples can do as well as those who grow up in traditional heterosexual relationships. Instead, children of gay or lesbian couples, they argue, will face psychological damage, poor parent relationships, stigmatization from peers, and increased rates of sexual abuse. There is also the fear that these children will be confused about gender identity and/or grow up to be homosexual themselves.

These arguments have been around for decades and have been used as reasons why same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry or adopt children as well as why a parent who comes out as gay or lesbian should not get custody of his/her biological children.
There is actually a good deal of research that has looked at the children of gay fathers and/or lesbian mothers and almost all of it comes to the same conclusion: these kids are no different from their peers with heterosexual parents. Before we delve into this research more closely, however, there are a few words of caution. In order to get a true understanding of whether the gender and sexual orientation of parents matter, an ideal study would compare children in same-sex families with children in similar heterosexual families.

An ideal study would also have a large sample size that was representative of same-sex families across the country in order to be able to generalize the results. For many reasons these studies don’t exist. Until recently, many same-sex parents kept a low profile in order to avoid stigma and discrimination. The census did not track same-sex cohabitating couples until 2000 which would have made finding a large sample of families to study quite difficult. The studies that do exist on the topic are, for the most part, quite small and use convenience samples. The results, therefore, are not necessarily generalizable to the entire population of same-sex families. Still, researchers believe that these studies are telling. In a recent commentary, Mark Amato, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania said: “If growing up with gay or lesbian parents were catastrophic for children, even studies based on small convenience samples would have shown this by now” (Pappas, 2012).

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

Another problem, at least for those who want to use the research to prove that same-sex marriage is either a good or a bad idea from the point of view of the children, is that for the most part the existing research does not look at children who were brought up in such relationships because the laws granting same-sex marriage rights are simply too new. While contemporary studies have looked at children being raised by committed same-sex couples, much of the available research focuses on children who grew up with divorced lesbian mothers (those who had previously been in a heterosexual marriage) and compared them with children of divorced heterosexual mothers. Few studies looked at children with gay fathers, most likely because these fathers often did not end up with custody of their children.

Finally, it is important to remember as you read through the results that no family exists in a vacuum. The psychosocial development of children is impacted not just by what goes on in their own homes, but by what goes on in their communities and beyond. The stigma faced by gays and lesbians and their children is an important component of how young people fare.
After all of those caveats, we repeat our summary of many decades of research: there is no discernible difference between kids raised by heterosexual parents and those raised by same-sex parents.

Gays and Lesbians Can Be Good Parents
The fears about same-sex couples raising children may stem from outdated and stereotypical views of lesbians and gay men themselves and the discriminatory belief that they’re simply not fit to raise children. Remember, historically it was not that long ago that homosexuality was believed to be a mental illness. Moreover, the clichés about lesbians suggests that they are not as feminine or nurturing as heterosexual women and gay men are often looked at as irresponsible and unable to settle into a monogamous relationship. These traits, some argue, make gay men and lesbians bad candidates for parenthood.

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

Sweeping generalizations about any group of people are usually wrong and this is no exception. A review of research on same-sex parenting conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2005 concluded that “beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit to be parents have no empirical foundation” (Patterson, 1995). Studies have found, for example, that lesbian women and heterosexual women are not particularly different when it comes to either their overall mental health or their approach to child rearing. Other research suggests that lesbian and gay parents may actually have superior parenting skills to those of matched heterosexual couples. Gay and lesbian couples, for example, have been found to be less likely to report physical punishment of children and more likely to report positive parenting techniques such as reasoning (Patterson, 1995).

Their Children Are Smart, Happy, and Have Good Relationships with Their Parents
Though opponents would like us to believe that these children suffer unduly because of their parents’ relationship, this theory is not supported by the research. A 2008 meta-analysis of studies published since the 1970s found that across 26 measures of psychological well-being, the children of same-sex couples were similar to those of opposite-sex couples. There was also no difference between the cognitive development of children of same-sex couples and that of their peers (Crowl et al., 1998). The APA review also suggests that there is no difference between these children and their peers in a number of categories, including separation/individuation, psychiatric evaluation, behavior problems, personality, self-concept, school adjustment, and intelligence (Patterson, 1995).

In fact, the only statistically significant difference that has been found suggests that lesbian and gay parents were more likely to report a positive parent–child relationship than heterosexual parents. Interestingly, however, while the parents reported better relationships their children did not. The children’s perception of the parent–child relationship did not vary between same-sex and opposite-sex families (Crowl et al., 1998). The authors suggest that gay and lesbian parents may feel very protective of their children, who they fear will be subject to homophobia, and as such perceive a closer relationship than heterosexual parents.

There are actually some data to suggest that lesbian parents do better than opposite-sex couples. Biblarz and Stacey point out that: “Lesbian coparents seem to outperform comparable married heterosexual, biological parents on several measures, even while being denied the substantial privileges of marriage” (Biblarz and Stacey, 2010).

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

The Kids Are Not Likely to Be Victims of Sexual Abuse
One of the fears that the APA looked into in its review revolved around sexual abuse and the assertion that children of same-sex parents were more likely to be victims. This outrageous assumption is likely based on a completely inaccurate belief that gay men and lesbian women are more likely to sexually abuse children (see Myth # 13 for more on this erroneous belief). Children of gay men and lesbians are more likely to know other gay adults which, if you believed this train of thought, would increase their risk of abuse.

In truth, sexual abuse by adult women (whether lesbian or heterosexual) is extremely rare. Most abuse is perpetrated by men, and gay men are no more likely to abuse children than heterosexual men. The APA review concluded that “fears that children in the custody of lesbian and gay parents might be at heightened risk for sexual abuse are without basis in the research literature” (Patterson, 1995).

The Kids Do Not Have Gender Issues
Arguments against gay and lesbian parents have suggested that kids will grow up not knowing appropriate gender roles and will have problems with their own gender identity.
As we’ve discussed in other entries, gender roles refer to the ways society expects men and women to act and the ways in which men and women are supposed to be different. Some people may fear that a young man growing up in a house without a father or a young woman growing up without a mother would not have anyone to model the behavior of their own gender. We should note that children grow up in households without either a mother or a father for many reasons (divorce, death, and desertion) that have nothing to do with sexual orientation. These children, like those in same-sex families, may find role models of their own gender outside their immediate family whether it’s a relative, a teacher, or a coach.

More importantly, though, children learn gender roles not just from their families, but from all aspects of society — television shows and movies constantly tell us how men and women should and should not act; magazines are aimed at women or men (but rarely both); and toy stores divide their content into a boy section and a girl section.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that children of same-sex couples are no more likely to have issues with gender roles than their peers. The APA review points to over 10 studies that have found that children of lesbian mothers “fall within typical limits for conventional sex roles” (Patterson, 1995). (This is one of the places where there is no research on children of gay men.) We think these concerns about the children’s gender have another origin as well — stereotypes that suggest lesbians are not real women and gay men are not real men. It’s not just that these children will grow up with two women and no men (or vice versa), it’s the idea that the women or men they do grow up with have gender issues of their own and will not model appropriate gender roles.

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

This is an unfair categorization. Sexual orientation is not about one’s own internal sense of maleness or femaleness (that’s gender identity) or outward appearance as male or female (that’s gender expression). Just because a man or a woman is in a same-sex relationship does not mean that he or she doesn’t otherwise conform to traditional gender roles and expressions. While some gay men may seem feminine, many don’t. Similarly, just like heterosexual women, some lesbians are more masculine than others but many are quite feminine.

So, again, it should come as no surprise that the meta-analysis carried out it 2008 found no statistically significant differences in the gender identity of children brought up by same-sex parents when compared with children of heterosexual couples (Crowl et al., 2008). The APA reports on research that found that children of lesbian couples are happy with their gender and had no wish to be a member of the opposite gender. Again, there are no similar studies of children with gay fathers (Patterson, 1995).

Most Kids Grow Up to be Heterosexual
We find this myth about young people who grow up with two mothers or two fathers to be particularly upsetting because it is predicated on the belief that homosexuality is a bad thing. The fear alone seems to suggest that if we discovered that most of these young people grew up to be homosexual like their parents we would have proof that same-sex couples should not raise children. We think that a child’s sexual orientation is far less important than his/her overall psychological well-being.

That said, it’s always nice to take the wind out of the sails of a ridiculous argument and the research does that for us here. The APA review looked at over 10 studies and found that the great majority of offspring of both gay fathers and lesbian mothers described themselves as heterosexual (Patterson, 1995). A 1995 study, for example, found that 90% of adult sons of gay fathers were heterosexual (Bailey et al., 1995, as cited in Patterson).

A 1997 study that compared 25 young adults with lesbian mothers with 21 young adults with divorced heterosexual mothers found that the offspring of lesbians were no more likely to describe themselves as being attracted to people of the same sex than those with heterosexual moms. There was one difference, however. Among the young adults who did describe same-sex attractions, kids with lesbian moms were more likely to both consider entering into a same-sex relationship and to have actually done so than kids with heterosexual moms (Golombok et al., 1997, as cited in Patterson).

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

Social Stigma
It is clear from the current debate over same-sex marriage that while the needle is moving, same-sex couples still face stigma and may feel ostracized from their families or communities. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to question what impact this has on the children of these couples. A 1998 study compared children born via artificial insemination to lesbian mothers with children born via artificial insemination to heterosexual mothers.

This study found that all of the children developed in a normal fashion and their “adjustment was unrelated to structural variables such as parental sexual orientation or the number of parents in the household.” The early research again focuses mostly on the children of lesbian mothers and finds that they did not fare worse than their peers whose heterosexual mothers
were divorced. A number of studies have found that they have similar friendships with peers and that their early romantic relationships are not different from those of their peers. One study did find that they were likely to have heard anti-gay remarks but noted that: “young adult offspring of divorced lesbian mothers did not recall being the targets of any more childhood teasing or victimization than did the offspring of divorced heterosexual mothers” (Gatrell et al., 2000, as cited in Patterson, 2005).

Here we think it is important to remember that if these young people were to be subject to more teasing than other kids and suffered as a result, it would not be their fault nor would it be the fault of their parents.

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay
Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay
Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

A Controversial Study
In the summer of 2012, a study was published in the journal Social Science Research that contradicted all of the previous research and suggested that children of gay and lesbian parents were more likely to have negative outcomes as adults including being on public assistance, in therapy, or unemployed (Regnerus, 2012a).

In an opinion piece published Mark Regnerus argued that his results showed that parents who had same-sex relationships represented an unstable environment for children. Contrary to prior research that claimed lesbian parents might actually have a leg up on heterosexual couples, he found mothers who had same-sex relationships to be the least stable and suggested that their children were most likely to have been in foster care at some point.
Regnerus writes: On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologicallyintact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents.
(Regnerus, 2012b)

Children of Same-Sex Parents Have Psychological Issues and Usually End Up Gay

In explaining (or defending) why his results were so very different from the decades of research before it, he claimed that he had a larger sample and better research methods.
Social scientists, however, were quick to point out that the study was deeply flawed and the results did not actually say anything about stable same-sex couples. While the study was based on a survey of almost 3000 18-to 39-yearolds, most participants had been raised by heterosexual parents and only a small number qualified as children of same-sex parents. In fact only 175 participants said their mother had at one point been in a lesbian relationship and another 73 had a father who had been in a relationship with another man. They represented less than 2% of the sample (Pappas, 2012).

Moreover, these respondents were not, in fact, raised by same-sex couples. Only two respondents in the whole study reported living with one parent and his/her same-sex partner for their entire childhoods. As such the study cannot really determine how children raised in a same-sex marriage would really fare and should not be interpreted as trumping or dismissing all of the positive research that came before. The rest of the participants in the same-sex parent category came from families that were not intact for reasons that the study did not examine. It is unfair to compare these children with those from “biologically intact mom-and-pop families” and then blame the outcome on the fact that one parent had a same-sex relationship at some point in his/her life.

The Same-Sex Parenting Debate
As we write this, same-sex marriage is being heavily debated in the United States. The Supreme Court recently struck down certain parts of a federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA was passed in 1996 and specified that the federal government will not recognize any marriage that is not between a man and a woman regardless of the law of the state in which the marriage took place. In declaring the law unconstitutional, the majority noted, among other things, that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” and “makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives” (United States v. Windsor).

This decision means that the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized such unions. It does not, however, mean that all state have to make same-sex marriage legal or that no
state can choose to ban the practice forever. There is still a lot of legal wrangling going on as lower courts across the country hear challenges both to laws making same-sex marriage legal in certain states and to attempts to ban same-sex marriage in others. It is likely that the US Supreme Court will have to hear some of these cases and make another ruling on same-sex marriage within the next few years.

Though much progress has been made recently, the debate about same-sex marriage in the United States is far from over and questions about how children of same-sex couples fare are still openly debated. More research needs to be done on children growing up in same-sex families in order to know if there are any differences in their outcomes compared with their
peers in similar, heterosexual families. It will be especially interesting to watch this first generation of children with married same-sex parents grow and determine what, if any, changes to their overall well-being occur as a result of both increasing support for same-sex marriage rights and the actual laws that recognize and legitimize their families.

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