Families with Lesbian or Gay Parents (page 2)
Researchers estimate that as many as 14 million children in the United States have lesbian or gay parents (Patterson, 1992). The majority of these children were born while their biological parents were still in heterosexual marriages and then one parent subsequently came out as gay or lesbian. An increasing number of lesbians, however, are using donor insemination to conceive biological children or are adopting or providing foster care for children. And more gay men are also adopting children, providing foster care, or fathering their own biological children.
Estimates of the numbers of children with gay or lesbian parents are probably low, because many parents conceal their homosexual orientation out of fear that they will lose custody, visitation, or adoption rights. Although different sexual orientations are becoming more widely accepted, many people still worry about whether gay and lesbian parents can give growing children a healthy environment. Discrimination also exists in the judicial system. In divorces, the gay or lesbian parent often loses primary custody of the children, and most states still discourage adoption by gay and lesbian adults.
Investigating the effects of gay and lesbian parenting, psychologist Charlotte Patterson (1992) conducted a thorough review of the research and came to this important conclusion: "Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents" (p. 1036). In her review, Patterson found that children raised by lesbian or gay parents showed no disturbances in gender identity. Compared to children raised by heterosexual parents, they were just as happy with the gender to which they belonged and had no wish to be the opposite sex. Children showed no differences in their toy preferences, activities, interests, or occupational goals. They also showed no differences in favorite television programs, TV characters, or games. One study did suggest that children of lesbian mothers showed more "psychological femininity" than did children of heterosexual mothers (Rees, 1979).
Sexual orientation also did not differ. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents were not more likely to become homosexuals themselves. This finding is particularly interesting in view of the fact that these children received significant portions of their genes from gay or lesbian parents and grew up in environments governed by those same parents. Still, as the children entered adolescence and early adulthood, their sexual fantasies were primarily heterosexual, and they were no more likely than other children to report being homosexual.
Like other children, children of gay or lesbian parents play mostly with same-sex peers. They show no differences in terms of popularity or other social skills. Other research has found no significant differences in sociability, hyperactivity, emotional difficulty, behavior problems, moral maturity, or measures of intelligence. In one study, children with lesbian mothers saw themselves as more lovable, and parents and teachers rated them as somewhat more affectionate, responsive, and protective of younger children than children raised by heterosexual parents (Steckel, 1987).
Lesbian mothers also seem to do a better job of fostering contact between their children and their children's fathers. Children with lesbian mothers are six times more likely to have weekly contact with their fathers than children of divorced and other single heterosexual mothers (Golombok, Spencer, & Rutter, 1983). When heterosexual mothers do arrange visits with fathers, they report significantly more conflict surrounding the visit than do lesbian mothers. Even beyond the fathers, lesbian mothers arrange more visits with other adult males and relatives for their children. This holds true especially when they live in committed relationships with lesbian partners (Kirkpatrick, 1987).
Finally, although courts often award child custody on the condition that the homosexual parent not live with his or her romantic partner, the research evidence actually shows advantages for children whose gay or lesbian parents live with committed partners (Patterson, 1992). One study documented higher self-esteem in daughters of lesbian mothers living with partners than in girls whose lesbian mothers lived alone (Huggins, 1989). We have already mentioned that mothers in lesbian partnerships are more likely to arrange male role models for their children. And in other research, lesbian couples who conceived children by donor insemination showed as much awareness of parenting skills as heterosexual mothers and more awareness than heterosexual fathers, and both lesbian partners were equally involved in the child's activities (Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph, 1995; Vanfraussen, Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, & Brewaeys, 2003). In short, the scientific evidence shows that lesbian and gay parents are perfectly capable of providing a healthy and caring environment for raising children.
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