Disclaimer: First, this is a 13 page paper; I’ve warned you. Secondly, I failed this class my freshman year because I tried to say that all religions worship the same God, and I couldn’t find one source for that paper and had to bullshit 13 pages of trash. So, I retook this class my sophomore year and was stuck between the exploitation of African-Americans in Medicine and the lasting effects of that, or the Defense of adoption by the LGBTQIA community; I chose the latter. When I wrote this paper, I was hesitant to do so, given my religious background but also my relationship with God. I prayed fervently over this topic, and it never left my mind. It opened my eyes to orphans in this country and really the dynamics of families and how children are raised. Some of us don’t come from a two parent (biological mom and dad) household: single mom, single dad, mom and grandma, mom and aunt, dad and aunt, aunt and uncle, older sibling, step-parent, etc. From that perspective, I wrote this paper.
Homosexual Parenting: The Kids Are All Right
In 2011, The Kids Are All Right was nominated for Best Picture at the 83rd Academy Awards. This movie revolves around the lives of Nic and Jules Allgood, a lesbian couple. Together, through artificial insemination, they have two kids, Joni and Laser; both their kids have the same father. When the father, Paul, wants to enter his kids’ lives, things go awry. In the United States, the idea of homosexuals raising children is considered taboo. It is thought that children raised by homosexuals may encounter problems later on in their adolescence, like ostracization or depression. However, having gay/lesbian parents has no negative effects on the development of children and adolescents.
In 2010, there were more than 500,000 children living in the child welfare system and about 100,000 children waiting to be adopted (Farr, Forssell, and Patterson 164); these numbers are quite high, considering the number of families that are not able to have children naturally. Yet, the process of being able to adopt children is a lengthy one. There are background checks on each parent and extensive interviews with those who are friends of the parents to validate that the potential guardians are capable of adopting children. When it comes to homosexuals wanting to adopt, the process can be unbearable at times. Despite this, in recent years, many homosexual couples have stepped up to the plate of adopting. If adoption doesn’t work, then gay/lesbian couples may find other ways of having children through artificial insemination, or they may already have children from a previous heterosexual marriage. Unfortunately, in the United States, it is an individual state’s rights and not the country’s as a whole to grant custody to these couples. For the gay/lesbian couples that are able to nurture children, many researchers have focused on how these children develop psychologically, emotionally, and socially, as compared to the children of heterosexual couples.
Many believe that gays/lesbians are not suitable parents because a “normal family” consists of one mom and one dad. Nevertheless, in these “normal families” events happen, such as parents getting divorced, passing away, or “coming out” as gay or lesbian. When these gay/lesbian adults have kids, it can become problematic. Over the years, many stigmatizations have risen as to why homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to raise children. Wendell Ricketts, author of Lesbians and Gay Men as Foster Parents, writes that common fears associated with homosexuals and their children are that the parents are mentally ill, perverted, child molesters, and that the children will grow up to be homosexuals themselves (47-48). This argument really has no value because many heterosexuals, too, are perverse and ill natured. Disappointingly, “the myth of gay men and lesbians as child molesters… is so powerfully ingrained in the psyche of most people in Western Society that the idea that [homosexuals] would be allowed to parent seems, to some, to be almost unbelievable,” states Gerald P. Mallon, professor of child welfare at Hunter College (3). These myths find their way into courtrooms and persuade the judge and jury to believe that the children’s morals will be harmed if they live with a homosexual parent (Mallon 4). Regardless of these false accusations, a relationship between a child and his or her parent(s) is very crucial to a child’s development.
The relationship between a parent and child is more important than the parent’s sexual orientation. According to Stephen Erich, a professor at the University of Houston and his colleagues Sharon K. Hall, Heather Kanenberg, and Kim Casey, “the quality of a parent/child relationship is conceptually understood as a reflection of the attachment bond between the child and parent(s)” (153). Jennifer Wainright, a senior research analyst in Richmond, Virginia, ran a study with Charlotte Patterson examining 44 adolescents parented by heterosexual couples and 44 adolescents parented by same-sex female couples, by measuring the students’ peer relationships, friendship networks, and family relationships. Wainright and Patterson discovered that “participants expressed strong love, loyalty, and protectiveness toward their [lesbian] mothers… [But] also described concerns about losing friends and […] attempts to control information about their mothers’ sexual orientation” (118).
Another study that focused on the parent/child relationship was directed by Rachel H. Farr, Stephen L. Forssell, and Charlotte J. Patterson, entitled, “Parenting and Child Development in Adoptive Families: Does Parental Sexual Orientation Matter?” The main claim to this study was that the sexual orientation of a parent does not necessarily affect a child’s adjustment in a family but that the regular strains of parenting do, such as how a parent disciplines his or her child. To study this hypothesis, there were three objectives for this study: examine associations between parental sexual orientation and a child’s development, examine associations among parental sexual orientation and parenting styles, and examine the associations between child outcomes and family process variables; the opinions of outside caregivers (teachers or babysitters) were considered as well. When it came to associations between parental sexual orientation and a child’s development, family type was not of importance, and the caregivers’ reports were consistent with that of the parents. If the caregivers were consistent with what the parents revealed, then this means that the caregivers saw no problem associated with children being raised by homosexuals. The stresses of parenting styles were directly related to the child’s age; however, homosexual adoptive families reported less stress than that had by heterosexual adoptive families (175).
Erich et al. also researched children adopted by homosexual couples in their study entitled “An Empirical Analysis of Factors Affecting Adolescent Attachment in Adoptive Families with Homosexual and Straight Parents.” The purpose of the study was to examine factors related to adolescent attachment found in adoptive families of lesbians/gays and heterosexuals (402). The study consisted of 11-19 year old adolescents and one adoptive parent (150 parents and 210 adolescents) each taking a questionnaire either by mail or on the website Survey Monkey. The results showed that “adolescent life satisfaction was positively related to adolescent attachment to parents but unrelated to parent sexual orientation” (402). One factor that stood out in this study was the correlation between the parent’s relationship with the child and the number of placements preceding adoption. It is a well-known fact that children who move from foster home to foster home have a harder time adjusting to new families because they don’t have time to form relationships with the adoptive parents. Due to this factor alone, the study explained that the adolescent’s relationship with the parent was inversely related to the adopted child’s previous placements before being adopted, which affects the relationship between the parent and adopted child; the relationship becomes less favorable the older the child is (402). Based on this research, it can be seen that a relationship with a parent is vital to a child’s well being. Keeping children in a foster home for too long can negatively affect a child’s relationship with an adoptive parent. Susan Golombok states, “Whether children are happy or sad, confident or shy, outgoing or withdrawn, depends, to some extent at least, on the type of relationship they have with their parents” (63). If they don’t have parents, no matter the sexual orientation, then the child may not develop healthy personality traits.
Children living in a homosexual home have few, if any, differences from children reared in heterosexual homes when it comes to psychological development. The psychological development of children is very important, especially during the adolescent years (11-21 years of age). Charlotte J. Patterson poses the question, “What kinds of home environments best foster children’s psychological adjustment and growth?” (241). As seen from previous studies, it is not a foster home. The psychological development of a child pertains to self-esteem, anxiety, and overall well-being. When it comes to children being raised by lesbian/gay families, the words coping and stigmatization are well known. Stigmatization is defined as, “an outcome of negative attitudes toward those who differ in some way from culturally agreed-upon norms” (van Gelderen et al. 1000). Coping is when adolescents find ways to deal with these stigmatizations because these adolescents are not raised in culturally agreed-upon homes. It is important to study how stigmatization affects the psychological health of these adolescents and how they cope. Tamar Gershon, a psychiatric pediatrician in California, along with colleagues Jeanne M. Tschann and John M. Jemerin, conducted a study called “Stigmatization, Self-Esteem, and Coping Among the Adolescent Children of Lesbian mothers.” Gershon, Tschann, and Jemerin interviewed 76 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18 to examine the perceived stigma, coping, disclosure, and self-esteem of children with lesbian mothers (437). They made three hypotheses: greater perceived stigma would be related to lower self-esteem among adolescents with lesbian mothers, adolescents with effective coping skills would have better self-esteem, and adolescents who disclosed more would have better self-esteem even if they perceived higher stigma (438). The 76 adolescents were interviewed for about one and one half hours by trained interviewers. The results showed that “greater stigma was related to lower scores on self-perception of social acceptance, self-worth, behavioral conduct, physical appearance, and close friendship” (Gershon, Tschann, Jemerin 440). Yet other results showed that adolescents who could make better decisions when coping had better self-esteem. So, if adolescents develop good coping strategies, then the stigma really has little effect on their psychological well being. It was concluded that the more social support an adolescent has, the lower their self-esteem is, but decision-making coping was a better way of dealing with the stigmatizations. By decision-making coping, it is understood as disclosing to others, which is telling others about one’s personal life.
Another study entitled “Stigmatization Associated with Growing Up in a Lesbian-Parented family: What Do Adolescents Experience and How Do They Deal with It?” was run by Loes van Gelderen, Nanette Gartrell, Henny M.W. Bos, Floor B. van Rooij, and Jo M.A. Hermanns. The purpose of their study was to understand how adolescents deal with negative reactions associated with the sexual orientation of their mothers (999). Van Gelderen noted that the study done by “Gershon et al. focused on the coping strategies of adolescents [using] quantitative [measures] rather than qualitative research methods (1000). It may be possible to measure in numbers how many adolescents felt a certain way (quantitative), but one can only ask the adolescents themselves how they really feel and deal with stigmatization (qualitative). Continuing with the study, 78 adolescents were interviewed using a secure questionnaire on a website. The questionnaire contained multiple choice questions and open-ended questions (van Gelderen et al. 1001). The adolescents who answered “yes” to the question “Have you been treated unfairly because you have a lesbian mom?” were retained for further questioning pertaining to where and how they had experienced stigmatization (1001-1002). One female respondent stated:
My only real encounter with homophobia was when I was researching gay and lesbian parenting in my local library. I was telling a friend of mine some stories about my family, and I guess a woman sitting next to us overheard me. At one point she got up from her table to leave, and as she walked by us she turned to me and said with a straight face ‘You are the spawn of Satan’…(van Gelderen et al. 1002).
This story is quite odd considering that research shows most adolescents mainly experience scorn from peers. Plus, for a grown woman to belittle a child based on her parents’ choices is quite absurd on its own.
It is important to mention two types of coping skills: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive coping was defined as a positive way to cope, which included being optimistic, confrontational, or receiving social support from friends and family. One female respondent stated, “I Let people know when they have said or done something that I do not believe is acceptable or appropriate, and I make sure they know why I think so…” (van Gelderen et al.1003). The other coping strategy, maladaptive coping, included retaining information about their families and avoiding confrontation. A male respondent stated, “I haven’t told all my friends about my parents. I sometimes lie about the houses I go to; for example, I might say I’m going to my dad’s house, when I ‘m really going to my other mom’s house…” (1003). While these adolescents seem like they are having a difficult time disclosing information, it was mentioned that most of the stigmatization was received in elementary school, and that the amount of bullying reported by gay/lesbian raised children did not deviate from those reported by adolescents in heterosexual families (1004).
Henry Bos along with Nanette Gartrell conducted a study investigating the impact of homophobic stigmatization on the well being of 17-year old adolescents (559). They wanted to expand their understanding of factors that influence healthy psychosocial development by using three factors: family connection, family compatibility, and preparation for homophobic stigmatization, hypothesizing that homophobic stigmatization would have an adverse effect on the psychological well being of these adolescents (Bos and Gartrell 561-562). After conversing with the 78 adolescents, the results showed that 41% of adolescents had experienced stigmatization based on homophobia. It was concluded that the relationship with the mother is what diminishes the negative effects of homophobic stigmatization (567). Yet again, it’s proven that it is the relationship with the parent that encourages positive development in an adolescent. When the adolescents feel comfortable in the relationship with their gay/lesbian parents, then they feel comfortable disclosing information to peers, possibly opening the door to new and better friendships.
It is believed that children adopted or raised by lesbian/gay parents have a difficult social life. Susan Golombok, a professor of psychology in London, writes that children with lesbian mothers are teased and bullied at school because of their parents’ sexual orientation (55). Because of this, “adolescents…[have] lower self esteem in five of seven areas, including social acceptance, self-worth, behavioral conduct, physical appearance, and close friendship” (Gershon, Tschann, and Jemerin 442). However, this data was quantitative, and it is preferred for this subject that the data be qualitative.
Mark Gianino, Abbie Goldberg, and Terrence Lewis also conducted a study taking into consideration how the parents deal with their child’s stigmatization. It was discovered that the adolescents they interviewed found middle school as the hardest time of their lives (214). While this is true, it should not be understood as only adolescents raised in homosexual homes have difficult times in middle school; all adolescents experience bullying independent of their parents’ sexual orientation because “adolescence is generally considered a difficult transitional stage of life” (Bos and Gartrell 567). Most importantly, these adopted adolescents found it easier to talk about their families after consulting with their parents (Gianino, Goldberg, Lewis 221). Here, we have another example of how important it is for adolescents to have strong relationships with their parents. Gianino, Goldberg, and Lewis, though, found that around middle or late adolescence, most children were able to have a group of friends who accept their family structure (227). Wainright and Patterson found through their study of 88 adolescents that they had positive peer relations and an average of about five friends (121). Despite living in a gay/lesbian home, these adolescents with same sex parents were able to have at least five close friends, indicating that the parent’s sexual orientation doesn’t play a role. In fact, this study “revealed no significant differences in adolescent peer relations as a function of family type…and relationship variables such as the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship were significantly associated with several aspects of adolescent peer relations (Wainwright and Patterson 124). Again, another study shows that the better relationship an adolescent has with his or her parent, no matter the sexual orientation, the better the relationships with their peers. Wainright and Patterson concluded that whether the adolescents lived with same-sex or opposite-sex couples didn’t matter as long as adolescents had a close and satisfying relationship with parents because this warranted “better peer relations, more friends in school, and greater centrality within their friendship networks…” (125). Despite this evidence, many courtrooms use the notion that children of gay and lesbian couples will be harassed or ostracized to deny these very couples the right to adopt (Johnson and O’Connor 36-37). If that is the case, then many heterosexual parents should be barred the right to adopt because their children might face harassment for simply being adopted. It may seem that homosexual adoption is not the ideal option for adolescents, but good can be found in everything.
Living in a gay/lesbian home can have its advantages. During the teenage years, many are confused about their sexuality. Some are even ostracized by their parents for their sexual orientation. In spite of that, adolescents who grow up in gay/lesbian homes don’t have to agonize over the idea that their parents might not love them anymore based on their sexual preferences. Lisa Saffron, an author of many parenting books, notes that teenagers with gay/lesbian parents find the process of coming out easier because it is less painful, and adolescents are faced with less parental rejection than a teenager with heterosexual parents (39). Nowadays, the homosexual lifestyle is a hot topic. However, behind closed doors, many families forbid to talk of such an illicit subject. In gay/lesbian homes though, “young adults with lesbian mothers [seem] to be more at ease in relation to talking about lesbian and gay issues” (Saffron 40). As previously mentioned, too many children reside in foster care, and foster care can be detrimental to a child’s psychological health. According to Richard R. Bradley, a lawyer in Texas, allowing gays/lesbians to raise children gives children the benefit of being in a permanent home instead of the insecure environment of foster care (139). If foster care systems and child welfare providers put their thinking caps on, they would realize that the LGBT community is an “untapped resource” and would greatly reduce the foster care population (Mallon 3). Another advantage to being raised in a gay/lesbian home would be the diversity. In today’s world, there is so much diversity it’s unfathomable. Children raised by gays/lesbians would have a “greater acceptance of differences in lifestyles, types of families, cultures, religious beliefs […]” (Saffron 45). Also, if children were to be raised in a lesbian-headed home, the children would understand the independence of women. Children would see the inequality typical in heterosexual relationships. Says one adolescent, Katrina:
Other girls my age aren’t able to hold their own because they’ve been brought up by dominating fathers. They can’t stand up to boyfriends that bully them. My Mum is assertive and strong. She just won’t be pushed around. I’ve learnt that from her. I’ve got confidence in myself. I’d say I’m more emotionally stable than many of my friends who are living with both their mum and dad (Saffron 45).
To say the least, children raised in gay/lesbian homes would just be more open-minded and tolerant of others. In this day and age, many of those people are needed.
As previously mentioned above, the movie The Kids are All Right, had a pretty suspenseful plot. After the sperm donor, Paul, enters the lives of Joni and Laser, he grows closer to them as he continues to visit. This bond he forms with his children starts to bring strife upon the family, particularly Nic. Worse comes to worse, and Jules, the other mother in the relationship, has an affair with Paul. Turmoil unfolds, and the family faces a dilemma: will Jules leave her wife for a husband? In the end, the family ends up rejecting Paul; the kids do as well, and the family overcomes a near break-up. This movie showed that lesbian/gay couples go through what an average heterosexual couple goes through: raising children, dealing with conflict, and overcoming those conflicts. However, this was a Hollywood version of what the audience wanted to see. In reality, these gay/lesbian couples fight for their right to raise children. These couples struggle against biased courts, or those who come out as homosexual already with children struggle to obtain custody of their own offspring. Children are precious gifts. The catch to receiving a gift, though, is that you can choose to receive them or reject them. Children who are declined are usually put into foster care; they reside there in a desolate wasteland with no parents there to tell them they are loved. These gifts wallow away, marking time for someone to come along and open up their box of love that will surely overflow. Thankfully, there are the few who have a heart for adopting these children, many of whom happen to be homosexuals. Many homosexuals whether single or in a relationship, are ready and willing to become parents.
Psychotherapists Damian McCann and Howard Delmonte suggest that lesbians and gay men desire to nurture children because they “enjoy having children around and want them to have a valued place in their lives” (334). And for the parents that come out as homosexual and divorce their husband or wife, still love their children. So why can’t they see them anymore? Is society afraid that the children will become gay/lesbian themselves? It doesn’t matter to a child whether the parent is straight or homosexual; what matters is that the parent loves them, cares for them, and is always there for them. Even if the child did come out as homosexual, we live in a society where homosexuality is starting to become accepted as a lifestyle. The laws preventing homosexuals from raising children should be abolished so that the children in need of adoption can have permanent homes. Let the child with a gay dad or lesbian mom continue to see their parents; don’t rip them from love.
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