Sexual and Gender Minority Families
The Families We Choose
In most cultures, families are portrayed as hierarchically structured groups of persons who are tied to one another by blood. Families who don’t seem to fit this definition are considered to be “unnatural” and, as a result, are viewed with suspicion. It is not uncommon for people to assume that harm will befall children who are reared by sexual minority parents. Gay male parents are suspect in some instances because of the deep-seated belief that the majority of sexual predators are gay men (Patterson, 2003). It is assumed that children reared by lesbian mothers will experience disturbances in their sexual functioning and/or sexual and gender identities because of the lack of male/ father figures (Bos, van Balen, & van den Boom, 2004; Patterson, 2003). Even those who are supportive of gay civil rights often experience discomfort with the issue of gay parenting because of fears that children will suffer from emotional and physical abuse by their peers.
It is necessary to explore ways in which sexual minorities create family connections, especially in instances where relationships between blood kin have become strained or severed because of sexual orientation. The term families of choice (Weston, 1991) was coined in order to describe families that are created outside of legal marriage. Families of choice comprise “a partner, adopted or biological children, and an extended network of friends, usually not exclusively lesbian and gay, who perform functions similar to those of close, extended biological families” (Laird, 1998, p. 198). According to Ryan, Pearlmutter, and Groza (2004), there are two categories of families of choice. The first, labeled “secondary” families, comprises those in which one or both adult partners have children from previous heterosexual relationships. The second category is called “planned” because it refers to families that consist of adult partners who decide to conceive children through natural or artificial means or to adopt. The next section explores the empirical research that has addressed various aspects of secondary families.
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