The Effects of Same-Sex Parenting on Children and Adolescent

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In the past decade, the LGBTQ rights movement has made great strides. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges fully established 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, those who advocate against gay marriage often cite the risk that it may harm the institution, traditionally between a man and a woman. A common proponent of this viewpoint is that several religions do not support same-sex relationships; its legalization, therefore, would result in the United States government imposing a religious belief onto its citizens— a direct violation of the First Amendment.

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One pervasive claim is that children need both a mother and a father. The belief is that the “nurturing nature” of the mother paired with the stereotypical “tough love” of the father fully develop the child as they grow up. Lack of one parental figure (i.e., two fathers/two mothers, one father/one mother, etc.) would, in theory, result in the child or adolescent lacking cognitive and/or behavioral development.

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 primarily indicate a lack of negative impact compared to heterosexual parents. Critics against the legalization of homosexual marriages also claim that children with gay or lesbian parents are more likely to be homosexual.

At first glance, this claim has some merit which should be acknowledged. However, research disproves this claim. In their article “Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and America’s Children,” the authors synthesize the results of various research conducted; they 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 nearly 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 compared to their counterparts. The emotional development and incidence 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 significant periods in a person’s life, and the influence parents exert during this interval of time is critical. For this reason, it is important to study how the sexual orientation of the parents affects the dynamic of the parent-to-teenager relationship. One study examined school outcomes, psychosocial adjustments, and romantic relationships of 44 adolescents, aged 12 to 18, 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 characteristics typical of families, including “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 by 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 opposite-sex parents” (Patterson 242) based on 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 opposite-sex couples” (242).

In fact, the only statistical difference evaluated was that children with same-sex parents felt a greater sense of connection to people at school. This difference may be due to some adults’ tendency to exclude children from birthday parties or be uninvolved with other parents in their child’s extracurricular activities. Homosexuals raising children and/or adolescents may feel a stronger urge to instill “inclusivity” and “acceptance” in their children, potentially 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, then at annual intervals until 16, 18, 21), participants, whether parents or the children/adolescents/young adults themselves, answered questions categorized as covariate factors. These included areas such as early conduct problems, the father’s occupational status, family living standards, life stress, marital conflict, and early mother-child interaction. Additionally, in the adolescent years, factors like school qualifications, mental disorders, and high school grade point average were also taken into account. The timing of the onset of a father’s 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’s 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, where children are naturally without a literal “father figure,” it becomes important to determine how Ellis’s study relates to the effects of homosexual parenting. Admittedly, while the study’s usage of a cross-national research design (i.e., two samples in the United States and New Zealand yielding similar results) demonstrates its robustness, it fails to take into account any homosexual couple in the U.S. or the New Zealand sample.

Without specifically studying lesbian and/or gay couples with children, the conclusions drawn about the absence of a father figure in a male-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 the potential to imitate a balance of nurture and discipline. One mother could be more authoritative, holding the role of establishing rules for the children, while the other mother may balance this by being more gentle or comforting. Homosexual parenting may be significantly different when compared to heterosexual parenting. It is in our best interest to apply research that studies homosexual parents primarily.

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 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 based solely 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 one 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) children’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.

Though the research currently supports the notion of children and adolescents being reared by same-sex parents, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations. The methodology used in the majority of these studies has been called into question. For example, participants were often found by relying on “word-of-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 initiating research on this topic, several sources that had apparent biases were discovered. Initial studies came from religious institutions and organizations, which likely established an inherent bias against homosexuals participating in the “sanctity” of marriage. Naturally, these studies were not used.

The unbiased research for this topic became relatively limited, so it will be crucial to continue conducting more impartial, scientific studies in the future. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the reliability of Charlotte Patterson’s methods. For instance, her Bay Area Families study was exclusively restricted to the aforementioned “Bay Area” of California. Contrary to appearance, the children Patterson studied might not represent the overall population of American children, because the Child Behavior Checklist on which it is based may not be completely accurate due to its somewhat minuscule and possibly unrepresentative 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 absence of gay (two male) parent households in the study and the relatively small and skewed sample of 80 household participants may not represent the general population. Nevertheless, the implications of Patterson’s studies are unambiguous; if there were any negative effects of homosexual parents on their children, it would have surfaced in the studies she conducted.

Limitations also apply to the results of the meta-analysis. One such limitation, 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 with significant results have a higher likelihood of being published, which can lead to a lack of studies that may have provided less desirable or insignificant results. The study of school outcomes, psychosocial adjustments, and romantic relationships also poses its own limitations. There was an absence of questions about the sexual identities of the adolescent offspring in the questionnaire, and a lack of observational data. However, as long as researchers account for these limitations, it might be acceptable to consider other findings as relevant.

What makes the analysis of children from homosexual households challenging is how the children come into these families. Given that same-sex couples cannot procreate, if gays and lesbians want children, they must procure them through other means. Adoption and surrogate motherhood are two of the most prevalent methods for gay parents. Older children, especially those who have navigated the fostering system, will most likely have developed experiences within that system. In conclusion, though the body of research concerning child and adolescent rearing by same-sex parents is limited, overall, there appears to be no negative effect on children of homosexual parents compared to those of heterosexual parents. Each household has a unique family dynamic which may vary due to a range of factors. While sexuality is an interesting aspect to study, it is crucial for researchers not to overlook other vital factors such as race, socioeconomic class, and geographical location. The experiences of an African-American child raised by gay parents living in the slums of South Detroit will significantly differ from a Scandinavian child living with a single mother in Calabasas, California. Each child’s development in their respective environment will hardly ever be attributable to a single factor.

Further replication of the current studies and more research funding should be invested into exploring the impact of gay marriage and its effects on children, to further the debate and perhaps alleviate the surrounding controversy. Over the past two decades, public opinion on gay marriage has overwhelmingly tilted towards the positive side, with a nearly two-to-one margin (62% support vs. 32% against) now being in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry, according to Pew Research Center. A recognized union could lead to improved material wellbeing, durability and stability of the parental relationship, and enhanced social investment. Almost every parent or guardian — whether biological or not — desires the best for their child(ren). The research shows that gay and lesbian parents have the capacity to be as loving and nurturing as heterosexual parents. Legalization of gay marriage might further foster this capacity.

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The Effects of Same-Sex Parenting on Children and Adolescent. (2019, Sep 01). Retrieved from