Are Gay Parents “Better” Than Straight Parents?
On Sunday, I saw The Kids Are All Right, a new film directed by Lisa Cholodenko. I enjoyed the film for many reasons, but perhaps the most significant one is that I loved watching a mainstream movie depicting lesbian parenting as completely normal. The family is never overtly politicized, and none of the characters question the validity of same-sex parents. It was refreshing to see a lesbian couple experiencing the same joys and struggles as any other couple raising two teenage children, without their identity as lesbians being the story’s focus. It gave me hope that the United States is progressing to a point where the idea of gay parents isn’t just accepted by the mainstream but also viewed as downright mundane.
Coincidentally, the film opened just after two studies on the successes of gay parenting were released. AlterNet reports that both “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” and “US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents” conclude that gay and lesbian couples are just as adept at parenting as straight couples — perhaps even more so. According to AlterNet, the former reveals that gay fathers are “more likely than straight to put their children before their careers, make significant changes in their lives to accommodate a child, and to strengthen bonds with extended families after becoming parents,” while the latter indicates that children raised in lesbian homes are “more likely to succeed academically, and [are] less likely to have social problems, break rules or exhibit aggressive behavior” than their peers. This data drastically contradicts the myths perpetuated by anti-LGBT organizations that insist that only children raised by a man and a woman grow up to be well-adjusted.
What advantages may gay and lesbian parents have over straight parents? Ellen Friedrichs offers some ideas:
As many have observed, gay men and lesbians typically do not become parents accidentally. Most have made conscious and complicated decisions in order to parent. And while having children intentionally doesn’t automatically mean one will do a better job at it…it sure gives these parents a leg up.
Additionally, multiple studies have demonstrated that the children of gay parents tend to be raised in financially stable households with fewer rigid gender divisions, by parents who are typically more involved with their children. These parents, studies have found, are also more likely to discuss issues like sexuality and discrimination, have support systems in place, and enjoy a more egalitarian relationship with each other. All of these issues appear to create healthier long-term outcomes for kids.
I hesitate to say that gay couples are intrinsically “better” parents than straight couples (and I use “better” in quotation marks, because it is an entirely subjective term). Every parent is different, and one’s ability to love and raise a child has nothing to do with one’s sexual desires. However, the uniqueness of same-sex couples does affect the environment in which their children are raised, and these studies suggest that those environments can yield positive results. In Western society, while the terms “mother” and “father” connote specific gender-based expectations and roles in heterosexual parenting, gay and lesbian couples have the flexibility to more freely define their own roles. The societal pressure to conform to the ideal of the nuclear family does not exist for gay parents in the same way that it does for straight parents. This does not mean that straight parents cannot model healthy egalitarian relationships for their children — only that such an egalitarian balance may come more naturally to couples who do not already fit a socially constructed script about parenting.
I believe that good parents are characterized by their ability to love and respect their children and cultivate a child’s development into maturity and adulthood. Those qualities have nothing to do with a parent’s gender or sexual orientation. That being said, all people are influenced by their own identities, and one’s gender identity and sexuality can certainly play a role in the way one decides to parent. My hope is that the recent studies about gay parents, and mainstream movies like The Kids Are All Right, will demonstrate that gay and lesbian couples are more than qualified to be parents — or, at the very least, equally as qualified as their straight counterparts.