According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), “Studies estimate that between 1 and 9 million children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay.” The AAMFT goes on to say that in 2000, there were approximately 594,000 households with same-sex partners and children were living in about 27 percent of those households (per the 2000 Census). It’s safe to assume that those numbers have only been growing since 2000, especially since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States.
Even though the 2000 Census came up with the above figures, it’s highly likely that those numbers are underreported because many same-sex couples are quiet about their sexual orientation because they’re afraid of discrimination, anti-gay hate crime, losing their job, losing custody of their children, and other similar fears.
What Same-Sex Families Look Like
Same-sex families don’t look a certain way; they’re not all the same. Often, one of the spouses or domestic partners has a child from a previous heterosexual relationship, and sometimes both parties have a child from an earlier relationship. Other times, the couple welcomes children into the relationship by adopting, using a surrogate, or through donor insemination. One of the spouses can adopt a step-child as well, providing the child’s other biological parent is willing to give up their parental rights.
In recent years, same-sex couples have been starting families more than ever before, in part because society has shifted its views about same-sex parenting. As American culture has accepted same-sex unions, the options available to same-sex couples have increased accordingly. Even though many same-sex couples have biological children from previous heterosexual relationships, adoptions, surrogacy, donor insemination, and foster care have helped childless couples have families of their own.
How Children Are Affected By Same-Sex Families
According to the AAMFT, “Most research studies show that children with two moms or two dads fare just as well as children with heterosexual parents.” The AAMFT goes on to explain how one comprehensive study found that children who were raised by same-sex parents did not differ emotionally or behaviorally than children raised by heterosexual parents. The study also found that children raised in same-sex households did not differ in regards to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender role behavior.
One study found that children raised in same-sex households were more compassionate, tolerant, and resilient, the AAMFT reports. Going further, same-sex couples are faced with the same issues when deciding to start a family. They too ask themselves: “Can we afford to raise a family? Do we have time to dedicate to our children? Will we be good parents?” Likewise, same-sex couples face the same challenges as heterosexual parents while raising children, such as:
- Being honest
- Setting limits
- Household chores
- Healthy conflict resolution
- Teaching morals and values
- Teaching open communication
- Building self-esteem and confidence
- Teaching the value of self-discipline
Though same-sex parenting is very similar to parenting among heterosexual couples, same-sex families face additional issues that do not afflict same-sex families. Some of the key difference involve contending with the social stigma, and dealing with biological parents or extended family members who may not agree with the lifestyle. While big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York tend to be accepting of same-sex families, the parents and children can still be confronted by homophobic beliefs in their neighborhoods, schools, and communities.
Lack of support from peers at the children’s school can cause distress in same-sex families, but fortunately there are many therapists who specialize in same-sex families. Such therapists can provide same-sex families the encouragement and support they need to deal with same-sex parenting issues.
Types of issues that can be addressed with a therapist:
- The possibility of discrimination in a child custody case. Parents can also seek the support of a family law attorney.
- The issues faced by same-sex couples who have a biological parent from a previous relationship who is involved in the child’s life.
- Problems that arise when one of the parents is a non-biological parent. For example, one of the women conceived the child through donor insemination. Complexities can arise when one of the moms are not biologically related to the child.
- Discrimination from extended family members, including: brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, moms and dads, and cousins.
- Explaining the couple’s “relationship status” to school officials, medical doctors, neighbors, religious institutions, and new friends.
Recent Study on Same-Sex Parenting
CNN published an article entitled, ‘No differences’ between children of same-sex and opposite-sex parents. The article’s author, Nadia Kounang said, “Despite the ongoing cultural debate around same-sex parenting, the new study finds the children of same-sex parents are just as healthy emotionally and physically as the children of different-sex parents.”
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Nanette Gartrell said, “It is the only study to compare same-sex and different-sex parent households with stable, continuously coupled parents and their biological offspring.” Essentially, the study determined that when children were raised in same-sex households, there weren’t any differences in their physical and emotional health, learning, or coping behaviors.
While the studies have proven that there is no difference in children’s outcomes when they are raised by same-sex couples, there are still legal complications, especially when the same-sex parents are not married. Cathy Sakimura, the Deputy Director and Family Law Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the New York Times in June, “You can be completely respected and protected as a family in one state and be complete legal stranger to your children in another. To know you could drive into another state and not be considered a parent anymore, that’s a pretty terrifying situation.”