Have you ever noticed that kids raised by two mommies or two daddies tend to be especially wonderful? Sensitive, empathetic, nonjudgmental, socially competent and creative are some qualities that come to mind. Unfortunately, most Americans are not aware of that array of favorable attributes and instead fear same-sex couples will raise children who, at best, grow up with social and emotional deficits and, at worst, turn out gay themselves (God forbid, right?).
Studies estimate that between 1 million-9 million children in the United States have at least one LGBTQ parent, and approximately a quarter of all same-sex couples are currently raising children. There is not a “usual” gay family. Some same-sex couples may decide to have a child within their relationship, while others may bring children from previous heterosexual or same-sex unions. Although most children of same-sex couples are biological children of one of the parents, a growing number are the result of donor insemination, surrogacy, foster care and adoption. In fact, LGBTQ individuals are six times more likely to adopt, and four times more likely to adopt from foster care, than their heterosexual counterparts.
But, there are still at least four states — Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina — that do not allow same-sex couples to adopt (several others have laws that are unclear). Opponents believe same-sex couples will raise gay children and argue same-sex parents fail to provide kids with appropriate role models of the gender absent in the home. In reality, same-sex couples are no more likely to raise a child who turns out LGBT than any straight couple. Most research has shown that children raised by same-sex parents differ very little, if at all, with regard to performance in school, including grades and behavior, emotional functioning, social skills and likelihood for mental illness. A recent study from the University of Melbourne found that, of 300 same-sex parents surveyed, their children actually scored higher in general health and family cohesiveness than children of their heterosexual counterparts; a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians have lower behavioral problems and higher self-esteem.
While children with gay or lesbian parents may contemplate their sexual orientation and gender identity in a more concerted way and at a younger age than their peers with heterosexual parents, there has been no evidence to reveal any marked difference in gender-role behavior or expression of gender identity and sexual orientation. While some cite this as a point of contention, there’s little footing for this argument as same-sex parents generally raise children to have more of a willingness to discuss and resolve challenging subjects with a greater level of resilience.
Another difference between kids of same- and opposite-sex parents is the unfortunate fact that the former are susceptible to being bullied for having two mommies or two daddies. Additional challenges may include lack of acceptance by extended family, neighbors and parents of other children. Other complicating factors may exist due to many same-sex couples raising children in blended families and, therefore, facing custody battles, among other issues, from a third parent outside of the primary household. Of course, there is also the issue of marriage equality.
Marriage provides an array of obvious legal benefits that protect families, without which children will likely sense the lack of security, as well as of society’s refusal to acknowledge the love and commitment of their parents. It is because of this psychological and emotional harm that the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Psychoanalytic Association and American Academy of Pediatrics expressed their support for same-sex couples’ right to marry in publications and by filing amicus briefs in support of Edith Windsor in the case that led to the fall of Section III of the Defense Of Marriage Act.
Children raised by gay or lesbian parents should have access to a variety of social supports: counselors, empathetic teachers and, depending on circumstances, psychotherapists or psychologists. In Philadelphia, one example of such supports is Philadelphia Family Pride, which hosts the Family Matters Conference, potlucks and picnics and other meet-ups for parents and kids. Another community support is Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which hosts weekly support meetings, in addition to education and advocacy.
Despite the challenges that children raised by same-sex couples experience, as our country evolves, kids raised by LGBTQ parents will have even more of an opportunity to thrive while experiencing less and less adversity. In the meantime, kids of same-sex couples will continue to prove day after day that they are intelligent, open-minded, psychologically evolved and, perhaps most importantly of all, that they love, respect and admire their parents regardless of anything else.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist specializing in issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community in addition to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. Her private practice, Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, offers both individual and couples sessions (www.lgbtphillytherapy.com).