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Are Gay Parents “Better” Than Straight Parents?

July 20, 2010

Image courtesy of eurout.org

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.

24 Comments
  1. Hannah Nicholls permalink
    July 20, 2010 7:32 am

    I am really happy to see the results of these studies, and can fully believe that the concious decision element of becoming a parent contributes! I also believe that flexible gender roles and openness towards sexuality are seriously important elements of raising a happy child.

    I wonder how big a part the socioeconomic standing and affluence of the parents plays. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK children of wealthier parents achieve better at school, and may fit other criteria better for what makes a ‘well adjusted’ child. Adjusting for income is a fairly simple thing to do in studies like these, and I am sure that they have.

    As the barriers and costs of adoption and surrogacy fall for same sex couples (assuming that they do), I wonder if these differences will remain in lower income families, and if they do what lessons straight parents will take from the parenting of gay and lesbian couples. It could mean that children not only in same sex parent families are better adjusted, but all children feel the benefits of the wider prevalence of same sex parents!

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      July 20, 2010 8:10 am

      You raise a really good point. Socioeconomic status definitely plays a role, at least in what data is available. In the U.S., adoption is expensive for all couples (gay and straight), and though I don’t know the costs of artificial insemination or surrogacy, I can’t imagine they’re cheap by comparison. Unfortunately, this means that there is probably not a lot of data on lower income gay and lesbian families, because the costs probably prevent a lot of gay and lesbian couples from becoming parents in the first place. I would be curious to see if specific studies about lower income LGBT families exist and what that data suggests.

      • Hannah Nicholls permalink
        July 20, 2010 8:53 am

        Yes, I would be interested too. The effect of intersectionality of income and sexuality in parenting I predict would throw up some very interesting issues.

        (My master’s thesis was on the intersectionality of gender, poverty and disability, I could wax lyrical about this stuff all day!)

      • Carrie Polansky permalink
        July 20, 2010 9:44 am

        Well, if these are issues you enjoy writing about, have you considered becoming a GAB contributor? We’re always looking for new writers!

      • Hannah Nicholls permalink
        July 20, 2010 10:12 am

        Actually, yes I submitted a pitch a little while ago, and I am currently writing an article! I am really excited about my first post, on the EU’s gender and development action plan.
        Thanks Carrie!

      • Carrie Polansky permalink
        July 20, 2010 10:20 am

        Oh, excellent! Looking forward to reading it!

  2. July 20, 2010 8:18 am

    i don`t think that gay parents are better as parents. i wonder how the sexuality of those children is going to be oriented. i support gays but this is a bigger issue! i don`t know, maybe we should think about the sexuality of the kid, the things that are normal and those that are not.
    the minorities tend to be repressed, and repression came with resentment i don`t want a child to be raced in resentment against the “normal” society

    • Hannah Nicholls permalink
      July 20, 2010 8:47 am

      Casandra – there are so many issues with what you say.

      What is ‘normal’? How do you qualify such a vague, variable, subjective, and socially constructed notion? And why is ‘normal’ something inherently ‘good’?

      And you suppose that children raised by same sex parents will be homosexual, which under your definition of ‘normal’ also appears to be ‘bad’? Then how, exactly, do you explain the many many children raised by straight parents who are gay?

      And instead of a child being raised in resentment – didn’t you read the article? Happier, well adjusted children… if that is the result of resentment, then resent away I say.

      One of the huge issues I have with these sorts of arguments is that they use such circular logic: gay people are oppressed (and therefore resentful apparently), as a result of this oppression they OBVIOUSLY make worse parents (even though they don’t), therefore justifying further oppression – rinse and repeat!

      It is not up to homosexual people to take responsibility for their own repression and therefore not have children, just on the off chance the children suffer. It is the rest of society’s responsibility to stop behaving repressively. And if you think about it the argument that a child might suffer so gay people shouldn’t have children is totally stupid anyway. Any child can suffer, in a huge multitude of ways, so if parents started thinking about that before they had kids, no one would have children! It is just this discriminatory society we live in that it makes it somehow okay to deny gay people rights supposedly on the behalf of the child’s welfare.

      Sorry for v long comment.

      Hannah

      • July 21, 2010 6:49 am

        Hannah! hi,
        there is a very clear definition of normal, if we are agree with it? that other thing!

        NORMAL definition: Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical/ Biology Functioning or occurring in a natural way; lacking observable abnormalities or deficiencies./The usual or expected state, form, amount, or degree./Correspondence to a norm./usually; most often.
        i was referring to these meanings. which I think are very clear!
        if the “normal” is about to change? i don`t doubt it!! and i hope so…
        but as well as there are studies of how wonderful gay parents are, there are some studies of minorities and repression and resentment, check this out http://www.chssp.columbia.edu/events/ms/year4/pdf/sh_Meyer%20IH.pdf.
        i repeat i am not against homosexuality, but there are things that are no 2+2= 4
        i`m sorry but normal is quite well defined
        k

      • Carrie Polansky permalink
        July 21, 2010 7:30 am

        casandra,

        You are right that we can all agree on the definition of the word “normal.” But that does not explain why the sexuality of one’s parents would have an effect on one’s own sexuality, or how a parent’s resentment of oppression would effect that parent’s ability to raise a child.

      • Hannah Nicholls permalink
        July 21, 2010 7:39 am

        I agree with Carrie. Defining what the word ‘normal’ means in the dictionary is far from proving that what is ‘normal’ for one person is ‘normal’ for everyone else, or even that that norm is desirable.

        And besides, you can point to other studies which talk about resentment, but how do you then explain that these studies show that children of gay and lesbian parents are happy? I don’t see why that is so hard to accept.

        And again, you are using the circular logic – discrimination leads to bad parenting, therefore use that as an excuse for further discrimination. Bit of a catch 22.

      • July 21, 2010 9:36 am

        Carrie and Hannah hi,
        i would like to read the article about the happy children of gay parents, do you have the link?
        thanks for the feedback! i`m going to think about that, and about the “bit of catch 22”
        very nice article but better discussion! have a nice day girls!
        k

      • Carrie Polansky permalink
        July 21, 2010 10:05 am

        Hi Casandra,

        The links you’re looking for are in the second paragraph of the post.

      • July 21, 2010 10:30 am

        those links are about studies on the way and about the gay parents adapting to being parents, but thanks i`ll recheck those! this is a very delicate issue!
        thanks again for the opportunity for sure i mis understood the article!

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      July 20, 2010 9:46 am

      Casandra,

      If straight parents can raise gay children, what makes you think gay parents can’t raise straight children?

      • July 20, 2010 3:14 pm

        funny how both of my parents are straight and I turned out gay!

    • July 20, 2010 3:11 pm

      I agree with what Hannah, what exactly is normal? And why is it normal?

      Why is a heterosexual person somehow more qualified to raise children than a LGBT person?

  3. tania! permalink
    July 21, 2010 7:01 am

    gay people CAN`T BE GOOD PARENT`S

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      July 21, 2010 7:23 am

      tania!,

      I disagree.

      Also, please take a moment to review our commenting policy. Debate and dissent are welcome on GAB, but disrespectful comments that do not contribute to the discussion are not. Please take that as a moderator warning.

  4. tania! permalink
    July 21, 2010 9:07 am

    i was told this was a feminist blog NOT A GAY BLOG! is that the same? if you wAnt all the women in the world to think your way YOU ARE NOT A FEMINIST!

    • July 21, 2010 9:40 am

      tania! hi,
      you should respect PLURIPOTENT COMMENTS AND thinking! that`s how feminism started!

    • July 21, 2010 9:44 am

      Tania,

      This is not your blog, first of all. Secondly, we will not tolerate your accusatory tone on this blog. And finally, your comment is borderline derailing from the discussion. Note that your comments from here on out will be moderated closely. Read here for our comments policy.

  5. tania! permalink
    July 21, 2010 12:53 pm

    i would like to know the relation between feminisms and gay?

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