How Gay Parenting Works

Are gay parents all that different?

Teens raised by lesbian moms may actually fare better than their peers.
Teens raised by lesbian moms may actually fare better than their peers.
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Gauging the number of gay parents in the United States can be tricky because different population tallies yield varying headcounts. That said, the 2010 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau identified 594,000 same-sex couples in the United States, or roughly 1 percent of household couples nationwide [source: American Community Survey Briefs]. More than 19 percent of those couples reported having kids, whether biological, stepchildren or adoptive children. The American Community Survey didn't track the number of kids in each gay household, but independent surveys and social scientists have posited that between 1 million and 9 million American boys and girls under 18 years old are living with gay parents [source: Drexler].

As the first generation of children to grow up in openly gay households ages into adulthood, social and psychological research on their outcomes has been increasingly positive. A major contention against gay parenting has historically drawn dubious parallels between same-sex couples rearing children and issues related to fatherlessness and single parenting. Commonly cited studies have correlated lack of a father figure in single parent homes to higher rates of drug abuse, poorer academic performance and lower socioeconomic statuses [source: National Center for Fathering].

Yet, apples-to-apples comparisons of households headed by heterosexual husbands and wives and those overseen by same-sex couples provide more accurate and realistic assessments of gay parenting outcomes. A 2010 meta analysis of 33 parenting studies led by New York University sociologist Judith Stacey amended those methodological oversights and landed on a striking conclusion: Parental gender makes little to no difference in terms of child outcomes [source: Biblarz and Stacey]. Based on that cross-study examination spanning two decades of investigation, kids' successes hinge more on the number of parents in a household -- two, in a harmonious relationship, rather than one -- than parents' gender, sexual orientation and marital status. Homosexuality did, however, impact domestic division of labor, with both lesbian and gay male couples divvying up childcare and housework more evenly -- regardless of partner income discrepancies -- than heterosexual parents [source: Solomon, Rothblum and Balsam].

Additional studies have suggested that kids with gay moms and dads are not only all right, but may even excel beyond their peers from more traditional parental arrangements. Culling data from the National Longitudinal Family Study started in 1986, a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed that 17-year-olds raised by lesbians actually exhibited better self-esteem, confidence and academic performance, compared to teens of heterosexual parents [source: Gartrell and Bos]. Moreover, those higher marks persisted even in lesbian households where the couples split up [source: Park].

Similar studies on gay male parenting aren't as readily available, since expanding their families is often more of a legal, than a reproductive, challenge. Lesbians have historically encountered legal issues with child custody rights and adoption as well, but there are more childbearing options open to them by virtue of being women. Either way, that necessary commitment to parenting may underlie the empirically supported success of same-sex couples as parents. Whereas 50 percent of heterosexual couples' pregnancies are unplanned, for instance, same-sex couples without previous biological sons or daughters must carefully plan and decide far in advance about entering into parenthood [source: Pappas]. Adoption, surrogacy and donor insemination are a few options available to same-sex couples wishing to expand their families. But the legal hurdles they encounter along the way can be far more formidable than any labor pains.