The Effects of Same-Sex Parenting on Children and Adolescent
In the past decade, the LGBTQ rights movement has made great strides. On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges fully established the idea of the fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry through the Due Process clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution. However, there exist those who advocate against gay marriage, often citing the risk that it may harm the institution (given that it is traditionally been between a man and a woman). A common proponent to this viewpoint is several religions do not support relationships of the same sex; its legalization therefore would result in the United States’ government imposing a religious belief onto its citizen— a direct violation of the First Amendment. One fascinating claim is that children need both a mother and a father. The idea is the “nurturing nature” of the mother acts in tandem with the stereotypical “tough love” of the father to fully develop the child as he/she grows up. The lack of one (i.e., two fathers/two mothers, one father/one mother, etc.) would, in theory, result in the child or adolescent lacking development cognitively and/or behaviorally.
Studies that support this claim will later be analyzed for their integrity in this paper. The research against same-sex parenting is in the minority. The majority of studies published demonstrate children with same-sex parents are not at a disadvantage due to their mothers’ or fathers’ sexual orientations. Limited studies in the area of the effects of same-sex parenting and child rearing mainly indicate a lack of negative impact in comparison to heterosexual parents. Environments, Gender, and Sexual Orientation of Children with Same-Sex Parents Opponents against the legalization of homosexual marriages also claim that children with gay or lesbian parents are more likely to be homosexual.
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With initial consideration, this claim has some merit which should be acknowledged. However, research falsifies this claim. The article “Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and America’s Children“ synthesized results of various research conducted; the authors suggest there “is no evidence that children of lesbian and gay parents are confused about their gender identity, either in childhood or adulthood, or that they are more likely to be homosexual” (Meezan et al. 103). Furthermore, lesbian and gay parents are almost just as likely as straight parents to provide similar care within “supportive and healthy environments for their children” (102).
In general, children raised in homosexual households show no difference in cognitive abilities or behaviors. The emotional development of conditions such as anxiety or depression appear to be neither more nor less frequent (103). Much of the current body of research reveals that in terms of environments, gender, and sexual orientation— children reared by same-sex couples appear no different. Adolescence and young adulthood are formidable periods in a person’s life, and the effect parents will have during this interval of time is critical. Because of this, it is important to study how the sexual orientation of the parents will affect the dynamic of the parent-to-teenager relationship. One study examined school outcomes, psychosocial adjustments, and romantic relationships of 44 adolescents from ages 12 to 18 who were parented by same-sex couples and 44 similarly aged 12 to 18 year olds parented by opposite-sex couples.
The participants of the study were selected based on demographic characteristics and drawn from a national sample. Multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) demonstrated no differences in adolescents’ psychosocial adjustment— which included factors such as depressive symptoms, anxiety, and self-esteem— between offspring of same-sex couples and those of opposite-sex couples. These reports from the adolescents concerning their family (two mothers/two fathers) and relationship processes displayed that of typical families, which included “parental warmth, care from others, personal autonomy, or neighborhood integration, as a function of family type” (Wainright et al. 1893). In other words, the overall relationship between an adolescent reared by same-sex parents was similar to a typical relationship of an adolescent raised by an opposite-sex couple. There were “no differences in the adolescent reports” (1894) of family relationship factors.
When analyzing the differences in romantic relationships, attractions and behaviors of children from same-sex and opposite-sex parents, both the sample of adolescents of same-sex and opposite-sex parents from the study had the same percentage in each that had ever engaged in sexual intercourse (34% of adolescents with same-sex and 34% of those with opposite-sex parents). This lack of statistical significance is also supported from the availability of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. It was determined that there were “no significant differences between teenagers living with same-sex parents and those living with other-sex parents” (Patterson 242) on the basis of self-reported psychological assessments and measures of school outcomes such as grade point average and disciplinary trouble in school. There also were no significant differences found “in self-reported substance use, delinquency, or peer victimization between those reared by same- or other-sex couples” (242).
In fact, the only statistical difference evaluated was that of those with same-sex parents felt a greater sense of connection to people at school. This difference may be due to some adults having a tendency to not be “inclusive” in their children’s birthday parties or connecting with other parents in their child’s extracurricular activities. Homosexuals who are raising children and/or adolescents may feel a stronger urge to instill “inclusivity” and “acceptance” in their children perhaps due to their own personal experiences.
Father Absence And Teenage Pregnancy Rates (In Relation to Lesbian Parenting Effects on Children) In understanding how homosexual parents affect the development of children, one can analyze other related studies and infer how their results could apply to the topic. Specifically, if a father (within a heterosexual household) was perceived as absent in a child’s life, how would it affect that child in adolescent years? One study examines samples from the United States and New Zealand which strive to discover how a father’s absence affects their child’s risks of teenage pregnancy. Through a set of questionnaires asked in intervals over the course of the child’s lifespan (at birth, 4 months, annual intervals until 16, 18, 21), participants, whether to the parents or directly to the children/adolescents/young adults were asked questions classified as covariate factors . This included areas such as early conduct problems, father’s occupational status, family living standards and life stress, marital conflict, and early mother-child interaction. Additionally, in adolescent years, school qualifications, mental disorders, and high school grade point average were also taken into account. The timing of onset father absence (early father absent vs. late father absent vs. father present) in relation to early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy was assessed.
According to Bruce J. Ellis, statistical significance within the data through “a series of regression analyses” ( Child Development 12) revealed a high correlation between the timing of the father absence and teenage pregnancy when adjusted for the covariate factors. In the study, both the United States and New Zealand samples’ showed that “Early father-absent girls had the highest rates of both early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy, followed by late father-absent girls, followed by father-present girls” (17). In a lesbian household, children who are raised under their jurisdiction will naturally not have a literal “father figure,” so it is important to determine how Ellis’s study relates to the effects of homosexual parenting. Admittedly, the study’s usage of cross-national research design (i.e., two samples in the United States and New Zealand yielding similar results) demonstrates how well-constructed it was. Though his study revealed that “father absence was discriminantly associated with early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy” (17), the research Ellis conducts fails to take into account any homosexual couple in the U.S. nor the New Zealand sample.
Without specifically studying lesbian and/or gay couples with children, the lack of a father’s absence in a male and female relationship should be reasonably restricted to the experiences of a child with heterosexual parents. Moreover, it is reasonable to suggest that a lesbian dynamic would have potential to imitate a balance of nurture and discipline. One mother could be more authoritative and be in charge of establishing rules for her children, while the other mother may moderate by being more gentle or comforting. Homosexual parenting may be significantly different when compared to heterosexual parenting. It is in best interest to mainly apply research that studies homosexual parents.
Interests and Perceptions of Children Reared By Same-Sex Parents The effects of same-sex parents may also be seen in the child’s interests and perceptions; Charlotte Patterson, a professor at the University of Virginia and an expert in the field of homosexuality in society, sought to discover if these children differed through her Bay Area Families study. Patterson “studied a group of 4- to 9-year-old children who had been born to or adopted early in life by lesbian mothers” (Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents 241), and measured those children’s self-concepts and preferences for same-gender playmates and activities through the responses from in-home interviews and questionnaires.
The results Patterson yielded were mostly ordinary; the children she talked to seemed to have preferences and activities that “were much like those of other children their ages” (241). Additionally, the standardized measures of social competence and of behavior problems such as the Child Behavior Checklist determined that the children Patterson interviewed “scored within the range of normal variation for a representative sample of same-aged American children” (241) at the time the Bay Area Families study was conducted in the 1990s— a decade where, when compared to today, open support of homosexuality was not as widespread. If the children of these parents were measured on a scientifically-accepted scale and indeed shared a similar range of social competence and behavioral problems representative of children raised by heterosexual parents in the nineties, then it may suggest that generally, same-sex parents lack any form of negative impact on their children solely based on the sexuality of either parent.
Patterson also connects her research with the Sperm Bank of California. The two found that within the sample of 55 lesbian and 25 heterosexual parent households with children who participated, “measures of children’s adjustment were unrelated to parental sexual orientation” (242). Whether it was one mother and father, or two mothers— the results remained the same: Parental sexual orientation was not related to children’s adaptation. To even out the inaccuracies and discrepancies among the small body of research in the developmental outcomes for children with same-sex parents in comparison to children of opposite-sex parents, Alicia Crowl, Soyeon Ahn, and Jean Baker strive to perform a meta-analysis to come to a more statistically sound conclusion. In total, 19 studies were incorporated in the meta-analysis. Six outcomes of the children were evaluated to see if there existed a statistically significant difference.
The outcomes were: “(a) parent and child relationship quality; (b) children’s cognitive development; (c) chil- dren’s gender role behavior; (d) children’s gender identity; (e) children’s sexual preference; and (f) children’s social and emotional development” (Crowl et al., A Meta-Analysis of Developmental Outcomes for Children of Same-Sex and Heterosexual Parents 390). After analyzing the mathematical models, it was revealed that the only category to display a significant statistical difference was parent and child relationship quality. This single difference demonstrated that parent and child relationship quality was perceived more positively from the perspective of same-sex parents as opposed to heterosexual parents’ perception of their relationship with their children. The rest of the categories were perceived statistically to have no difference from children from heterosexual couples.
Limitations Though the research available about children and adolescents reared by same-sex parents currently support homosexuals raising children, it is important to acknowledge the limitations. The methodology used in the majority of studies available had problems, some of which mentioned that participants were often found by relying “on word-to-mouth referrals” (Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and America’s Children 101) and the resulting children in these studies were from “small, hard-to-locate populations” (97). Upon beginning the research of this topic, several sources were found that had apparent biases. Initial studies were from several religious institutions and organizations— immediately establishing a bias against homosexual participating in the “sanctity” of marriage. Of course, these studies were not used.
The research that lacked bias for the topic became relatively limited, so it will be important to continue conducting more unbiased, scientific studies in the future. Additionally, Charlotte Patterson’s methods raised questions about its results’ integrity. For instance, her Bay Area Families study was only restricted to the aforementioned “Bay Area” of California. Despite seeming as if the children Patterson studied were representative of American children, the Child Behavior Checklist on which it is based off of may not be completely accurate due to this somewhat miniscule and perhaps nonrepresentative sample. Moreover, her research with the Sperm Bank of California consisted of a sample of 55 lesbian and 25 heterosexual parent households with children. The lack of gay (two male) parent households studied along with the relatively small and skewed sample of 80 household participants may not be representative of a population. Yet the implications of Patterson’s studies are clear; if there were any negative effect of homosexual parents on their children, it would have appeared at least once in any of the studies she conducted.
Limitations also extend to the results of the meta-analysis. One such instance cited by the authors is the publication bias. This bias “arises when the probability that a study is published depends on the statistical significance of its results” (Crowl et al. 394). In other words, studies are more likely to be published if the results are significant— which can lead to a lack of studies which would have provided less desirable or lack of results. The study of school outcomes, psychosocial adjustments, and romantic relationships also bears its own limitations. There lacked a question for the adolescent offspring about their sexual identities and the absence of observational data in the questionnaire. However, as long as the researchers account for these limitations— it is perhaps acceptable to take other findings as relevant.
What makes it difficult to analyze the development of children from homosexual family households is how the children come into them. Same-sex couples cannot procreate, so if gays and lesbians want children, the children are “obtained” through other means. Adoption and surrogate motherhood for gay parents are the two that are the most common. Older children, especially who have gone through the fosterhood system, will most likely already have developed experiences within the system. Conclusion Though the body of research concerning child and adolescent rearing from same-sex parents is limited, overall there appears to be no negative impact for those with homosexual parents when compared to those of heterosexual parents. Within each household is a unique, family dynamic which may differ due to a variety of factors. Though sexuality may be a fascinating aspect to evaluate, researchers must not forget that other categories exist such as race, socioeconomic class, and geographical location. The outcomes of an African-American child raised with gay parents living in the slums of south side Detroit will be significantly different than a Scandinavian child with a single mother who both reside in Calabasas, California— and each child’s development in their environments will almost never be due to one factor.
Replication of current studies and more research funding should be invested into the impact of gay marriage and its effects as to further bring light to the debate and perhaps lessen the heat around the argument. The public opinion for gay marriage in the past two decades, fortunately, has been growing overwhelmingly positive: with a nearly two-to-one margin (62% support vs. 32% against), “more Americans now say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry than say are opposed” (Pew Research Center). A recognized union could lead to material well-being, durability and stability of the parental relationship, and social investment. Almost every parent or guardian— whether biological or not— wants the best for their child(ren). The research demonstrates gay and lesbian parents have the capacity to be just as loving for their children as straight parents. The legalization of gay marriage may indeed allow for this care to continue.