Opponents of gay marriage and adoption often frame their criticisms in terms of what's best for children. Allowing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples to raise boys and girls, they may attest, endangers healthy child development in myriad ways. In 1998, for instance, the Alabama Supreme Court transferred child custody from a lesbian mother to the child's heterosexual father, on the grounds that her sexual orientation morally jeopardized her ability to parent [source: Doe v. Pryor]. In that way, negative views on same-sex parenting tend to liken a couple's sexual orientation to a bacterial contagion that's passed along from adults to kids, thus altering the younger generation's self-perceptions of gender and setting them up for social and psychological problems along the way.
Certainly, since that 1998 decision, homosexuality has become increasingly accepted, and courts are less likely to rule against plaintiffs solely on the basis of their sexual orientations [source: Stacey and Biblarz]. Nonetheless, social resistance to gay parenting still simmers, often hinging on bygone stereotypes. In August 2010, for instance, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council that promotes heterosexual marriage, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that "no evidence" existed that children raised by gay parents fare as well as those raised by straight ones [source: Media Matters]. But when it comes to the following five myths about same-sex parents and their families, scientific evidence actually has told a different story. To kick things off, let's go ahead and fact-check Perkins' televised claims.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins isn't the first or only person to posit that scientific evidence doesn't support same-sex parenting. Many a wary eye has been cast on published academic research that's found no adverse risk associated with gay parenting, under the assumption it's tainted with liberal biases [source: Kix]. But the body of research conducted on LGBT parents and their children has been overwhelmingly positive enough for a host of respected professional organizations to issue public statements giving gay parenting their stamp of approval. They include the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry [source: Gottleib].
Take a 2002 policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics that was reaffirmed in 2010. It reiterated that, based on scientific literature, "children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual" [source: Perrin]. None of the organizations have since rescinded their positions on same-sex parenting, either, rendering the case of scant scientific evidence null and void.
The first wave of legal challenges to same-sex parents came during the so-called "lesbian baby boom" in the 1980s [source: Gottleib]. Women who came out after being in heterosexual marriages and having children with heterosexual partners frequently encountered roadblocks in the court during subsequent custody battles. Today, though legal obstacles are still an issue, lesbians are more likely to have children than gay males, because the hurdles to gay men becoming fathers -- adoption, foster care and surrogacy -- remain higher by virtue of their biological sex. Out of legal and social lesbian mothering debates have come the contention that, in order to thrive, a child needs both a mother and a father.
In heterosexual household contexts, studies have linked the absence of dads to higher rates of delinquency, drug abuse and lower educational attainment [source: National Center for Fathering]. But as New York University sociologist Judith Stacey pointed out in her 2010 study on gender and parenting, conflating single motherhood with lesbian motherhood is inaccurate. As the American Psychological Association has similarly stated, Stacey's meta analysis of 33 studies found that parental gender had little bearing on kids' well-being. The most influential variables were resources and childcare commitment, and those hold even greater sway than the number of parents in a home [source: Pappas]. In other words, two invested parents are the best case scenario, but even one involved parent is better than a detached couple -- no matter their sexual orientation.
Even if LGBT couples create an enriching home environment, what happens to the kids when they venture from the roost? By one 2010 estimate, 41 percent of 10-year-old children with gay parents encountered bullying or isolation [source: Park]. That doesn't, however, imply that they're at greater risk of becoming depressed or forming fewer friendships than other peers on the playground. The University of California at San Francisco researchers who collected that bullying data went back and checked in with the same adolescents seven years later and found no lasting psychological damage from any parent-related persecution [source: Park].
In addition, 25 years' worth of studies consistently debunk theories that psychological and social pitfalls are in store for children of lesbian and gay parents. Outcomes of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and socialization aren't markedly different for kids raised in gay- or lesbian-headed households compared to those from heterosexual-headed households. Repeated analyses have found that parents' sexual orientation isn't a factor [source: Patterson]. In other words, kids can -- and clearly do -- grow up with good heads on their shoulders regardless of their parents' sexual orientation [source: Patterson].
One of the most common anxieties regarding LGBT parenting is that the children will, inevitably, come out as homosexual. To that, University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte J. Patterson points out that such anxiety is unfounded, since non-heterosexual orientation was long ago eliminated as a disorder or illness. Still, regardless of whether homosexuality is viewed as a negative outcome for a child, the statistics indicate that children don't necessarily inherit the identical gender and sexual identities of their parents.
Research on kids raised by lesbian couples (data on gay male parenting remains relatively sparse) has found that they conform less to pink-and-blue divided gender roles and stereotypes, but a majority ultimately identify as heterosexual in adulthood [sources: Park, Patterson]. For example, in one 1989 study of adolescents raised by lesbians and heterosexual parents, the only participant to identify as homosexual belonged to a hetero-headed household [source: Patterson].
A controversial 2010 study from Kansas State University family studies professor Walter Schumm did suggest that gay and lesbian parents may sway their children's orientations toward non-heterosexuality [source: Schumm]. In his examination of 262 children of gay fathers and lesbian mothers, the number of those who identified as LGBT spanned from 16 to 57 percent. Schumm's research did, however, come under fire from other academics who criticized the study' small sample size of 262, which may have inadvertently inflated the results [source: Kix].
The idea that same-sex couples raise children and manage households identically to straight parents might seem like something gay parenting advocates would want to preserve, but it simply isn't accurate. And that isn't a negative thing.
Until the early 2000s, research on gay parenting and child development outcomes were largely focused on drawing parallels between LGBT and heterosexual parents as a way to remove sexual orientation as some sort of dangerous ingredient in the complicated stew of child rearing. But, as New York University sociologist Judith Stacey points out, differences don't equate deficiencies in this case [source: Stacey and Biblartz]. Research has highlighted some unique hallmarks of lesbian parenting, including more equal division of chores and childcare and greater parent-child emotional openness [source: Belkin].
Of course, just as not all heterosexual couples make identical decisions and establish uniform household rules, neither do LGBT parents. But since data have clearly demonstrated that kids raised by gay and lesbian parents grow into successful, well-adjusted young adults, parents of all stripes can take away an important lesson: There is more than one road to raising a happy, healthy child.
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Author's Note: 5 Gay Parenting Myths
Negative stereotypes about gay and lesbian parenting are beginning to fall by the wayside as the social definition of "family" has broadened beyond the heterosexual nuclear unit. While some moral objections remain, scientific research also has reiterated that children raised by gay or lesbian parents turn out just as healthy and happy as their peers. Maintaining objectivity on politically dicey topics like gay marriage and parenting can be a challenging tightrope to navigate, whereas myth-busting based on data and fact is a much more straightforward endeavor. And though science can't explain away lingering moral or religious anxieties about such non-normative households, it can offer plenty of empirical evidence to debunk stuck-in-the-mud stereotypes, like the preceding Top 5 Gay Parenting Myths.
- Doe v. Pryor. U.S. 02-14899. United States Court of Appeals. United States Courts. Sept. 11, 2003. (April 11, 2012) http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/200214899.pdf
- Belkin, Lisa. "What's Good for the Kids." The New York Times. Nov. 05, 2009. (April 11, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/magazine/08fob-wwln-t.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1333735758-jLAoshXv+QHhwPVVXBgykg
- Biblarz, Timothy J. and Stacey, Judith. "How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?" Journal of Marriage and Family. February 2010. (April 11, 2012) http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/biblarz-stacey.pdf
- Gottleib, Andrew. "Media Reviews." Journal of GLBT Family Studies." Aug. 02, 2010. (April 11, 2012) http://www.choicesconsulting.com/assets/pro_writing/gay-and-lesbian-parents-review.pdfg
- Kix, Paul. "Study: Gay Parents More Likely to Have Gay Kids." AOL News. Oct. 17, 2010. (April 11, 2012) http://www.aolnews.com/2010/10/17/study-gay-parents-more-likely-to-have-gay-kids/
- MediaMatters. "Tony Perkins' fearmongering about same-sex parenting is refuted by medical consensus." Aug. 08, 2010. (April 11, 2012)
- National Center for Fathering. "The Extent of Fatherlessness." (April 11, 2012) http://www.fathers.com/content/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=336
- Pappas, Stephanie. "Gay Parents Better Than Straight Parents? What Research Says." LiveScience. Huffington Post Science. Jan. 16, 2012. (April 11, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/16/gay-parents-better-than-straights_n_1208659.html
- Park, Alice. "Study: Children of Lesbians May Do Better Than Their Peers." TIME. June 07, 2010. (April 06, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1994480,00.html
- Patterson, Charlotte J. "Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents: Psychology, Law and Policy." American Psychologist. November 2009. (April 11, 2012) http://people.virginia.edu/~cjp/articles/p09b.pdf
- Perrin, Ellen C. "Technical Report: Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents." Pediatrics. February 2002. (April 11, 2012) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/109/2/341.abstract?fulltext=&searchid=QID_NOT_SET
- Schumm, WR. "Children of homosexual more apt to be homosexuals? A reply to Morrison and to Cameron based on an examination of multiple sources of data." Journal of Biosocial Science. November 2010. (April 11, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20642872