FactCheck: are children ‘better off’ with a mother and father than with same-sex parents?

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Many of the studies on this question examine the outcomes for children in same-sex parented families where both parents are women.
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Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, interviewed on Sky News, August 13, 2017.
YouTube

Optimally, you’ve got the input from both [a mother and a father] and the children brought up in those circumstances are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not.

… whether it’s in terms of health outcomes, mental health, physical health, whether it’s in terms of employment prospects, in terms of how this is generated from one generation to another, the social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard. – Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, excerpts from an interview on Sky News, August 13, 2017.

Public campaigns for and against same-sex marriage have been heightened by the Turnbull government’s plan to conduct a $122 million voluntary postal survey asking the nation whether same-sex couples should be able to marry under Australian law.

Discussing his opposition to same-sex marriage during an interview on Sky News, Liberal MP Kevin Andrews said children who are brought up with a mother and a father “are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not”.

Andrews also said the “social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard”.

Let’s look at the research.

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support his statements, a spokesperson for Kevin Andrews told The Conversation:

Mr Andrews wrote a book called “Maybe I Do”. You might also like to look at the 2011 report, For Kids’ Sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney and studies by Douglas Allen (2015) in Canada and Paul Sullins (2015) in the US.

Verdict

Kevin Andrews’ assertion that children who are brought up with a mother and father are, “as a cohort, better off than those who are not” is not supported by research evidence.

The majority of research on this topic shows that children or adolescents raised by same-sex parents fare equally as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents on a wide range of social, emotional, health and academic outcomes.

Response to Kevin Andrews’ sources

First of all, let’s look at the sources provided by Andrews’ spokesperson to support his statements. A summary of Kevin Andrews’ book on the National Library of Australia website says it:

… reviews the evidence on the benefits of marriage for society, children, and adults. It argues that healthy, stable, and happy marriages are the optimal institution for promoting individual well being and healthy societies.

It’s true that there is a large body of evidence to show that stability in marriage and family life is beneficial for children, particularly in early childhood. Some research has shown that these benefits are associated with higher average income and education levels among married couples, rather than marriage itself.

But these studies didn’t involve comparisons between opposite-sex and same-sex married couples, so they do not defend the argument that heterosexual marriage leads to better outcomes for children than same-sex marriage. In fact, some research suggests same-sex marriage would provide benefits for children being raised in these families.

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Patrick Parkinson’s report, For Kid’s Sake, links rising rates of divorce, family conflict and instability in parental relationships with increasing psychological distress among young people in Australia. One of Parkinson’s conclusions was that:

the most stable, safe and nurturing environment for children is when their parents are, and remain, married to one another.

There are studies that support these assertions. This research supports the importance of family stability, quality relationships between parents and children, and the need for access to socioeconomic resources – but not the need for parents to be heterosexual.

Douglas Allen’s 2015 paper is a critical, but not systematic, review of more than 60 studies relating to same-sex parenting and/or child outcomes. This paper does not present findings related to child outcomes.

Rather, Allen says that, due to sampling bias and small sample sizes in the existing body of work, there is currently no conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that children raised by same-sex couples do better or worse than children raised by heterosexual couples.

Andrews’ spokesperson also pointed to 2015 research from Paul Sullins. Sullins’ 2015 analysis of data from the US National Health Interview Survey indicated that children raised by same-sex parents were more than twice as likely to experience emotional problems than those raised by heterosexual, married parents who were biologically related to their children. But this analysis was criticised for not taking into account the stability of the family environment.

The author combined all children in same-sex families into one category, while placing children in opposite-sex families into separate categories – including different categories for step-parents and single parents, for example. So the comparison made was between all same-sex parented families, and a selection of stable heterosexual families.

Research on outcomes for children in same-sex parented families

Now let’s look at other studies that have been conducted around the world. Many of these studies examine the outcomes for children in same-sex parented families where both parents are women. There has been comparatively little research on families in which both parents are men. It can be difficult to achieve adequate sample sizes of children raised in two-father families, given the small number of these families. There is no research showing that children raised by gay fathers fare worse than other children.

A study published in 2016 using data from the US National Survey of Children’s Health for 2011-12 compared outcomes for children aged six to 17 years in 95 female same-sex parented families and 95 opposite-sex parented families.

The study found no differences in outcomes for children raised by lesbian parents compared to heterosexual parents on a range of outcomes including general health, emotional difficulties, coping behaviour and learning behaviour.

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A paper published for the American Sociological Association in 2014 reviewed 10 years’ of scientific literature on child well-being in same-sex parented families in the US. The literature review covered 40 original published studies, including numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies, many of which drew on nationally representative data.

The authors concluded there was clear consensus in scientific literature that children raised by same-sex couples fared as well as children raised by opposite-sex couples. This applied for a range of well-being measures, including:

  • academic performance
  • cognitive development
  • social development
  • psychological health
  • early sexual activity, and
  • substance abuse.

The authors noted that differences in child well-being were largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010 combined the results of 33 studies to assess how the gender of parents affected children. The authors found the strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appeared to the same degree in families with two mothers and potentially in those with two fathers.

The meta-analysis found no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fared worse than children raised by opposite-sex couples on a range of outcomes including:

  • security of attachment to parents
  • behavioural problems
  • self perceptions of cognitive and physical competence, and
  • interest, effort and success in school.

This review included studies from Europe, the UK and the US. The authors said that scholars had achieved

a rare degree of consensus that unmarried lesbian parents are raising children who develop at least as well as their counterparts with married heterosexual parents.

In Australia, a large study published in the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health Journal in 2014 (and of which I was one of five co-authors) surveyed 315 parents representing 500 children. 80% of children had a female same-sex attracted parent, while 18% had a male same-sex attracted parent.

The results did support previous research showing that stigma related to a parent’s sexual orientation is negatively associated with mental health and well-being.

But, overall, the study found children and adolescents raised by same-sex parents in Australia fared as well as children of opposite-sex parents, and better on measures of general behaviour, general health and family cohesion.

A follow up paper published in 2016 found there was no difference between children raised in female same-sex parent households and children raised in male same-sex parent households.

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Further work from the same project reported on surveys and interviews with adolescents raised by same-sex parents. This study (of which I was one of four co-authors) did find that some adolescents with same-sex parents reported experiencing anxiety relating to fear of discrimination, which was linked to poorer well-being.

A US study published in 2011 found adolescents raised by lesbian mothers were more likely to have reported occasional substance use, but not more likely to have reported heavy use, than other adolescents.

A 2010 analysis of data from the 2000 US census found that children raised by same-sex couples had no fundamental deficits in making normal progress through school compared to children raised by opposite-sex couples.

When parents’ socio-economic status and the characteristics of the students were accounted for, the educational outcomes for children of same-sex couples couldn’t be distinguished with statistical certainty from children of heterosexual married couples.

Analysing studies that show different results

Some studies have indicated that adults raised by same-sex parents fare worse on some educational, social or emotional outcomes. But the majority of research does not support this. There are also studies that have been published and later discredited, but continue to be used as references.

The 2012 US New Family Structures Study, also known as the “Regnerus study”, is often cited by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

The study looked at outcomes for adults aged 18-39. It compared outcomes for adults with a parent who had had a same-sex relationship, with outcomes for adults raised by still-married, heterosexual couples who were biologically related to their children. It showed the adults with a gay or lesbian parent or parents fared worse on a range of social, educational and health outcomes. But this study has been very widely criticised.

In a brief filed in the US Supreme Court in 2015, the American Sociological Association said:

The Regnerus study … did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.

As outlined by the American Sociological Association, the study removed all divorced, single, and step-parent families from the heterosexual group, leaving only stable, married, heterosexual families as the comparison. In addition, Regnerus categorised children as having been raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship

regardless of whether they were in fact raised by the parent … and regardless of the amount of time that they spent under the parent’s care.

A subsequent reanalysis of the data, using different criteria for categorising respondents, found the results inconclusive, or suggestive that “adult children raised by same-sex two-parent families show a comparable adult profile to their peers raised by two-biological-parent families”.

Strengths and weaknesses of evidence on outcomes for children

The “gold standard” for research on child and family outcomes are studies that involve randomly selected, population-based samples. This has been difficult to achieve in research on same-sex parenting because many population-based studies don’t ask about parents’ sexual orientation. Even where they do ask, not all studies include a sample of children or adults raised by same-sex parents that is large enough to provide for reliable statistical analysis.

This has led to criticism of the quality of evidence on outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents, because most studies have relied on convenience or volunteer samples, which are not randomly selected, and so may include bias.

However, there are methodological limitations in all studies. And, as outlined earlier, recent analyses of population-based data sets have supported the finding that children or adolescents raised by same-sex couples do not experience poorer outcomes than other children. So there is no clear basis to the argument that convenience samples lead to “incorrect” findings due to bias. – Jennifer Power

Review

This FactCheck gives a good broad overview of the research and scientific consensus in regard to child health and well-being in same-sex parent families. The studies included, on balance, represent the current understanding of academics and child health experts on child health and well-being outcomes in same-sex parent families.

The National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides additional evidence to support the verdict of this FactCheck. As a well established and methodologically robust longitudinal study, the National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides important additional insights.

In the Australian context, the 2013 Australian Institute of Family Studies review of same-sex parent families also supports the overall verdict of this FactCheck.

It should be noted that research has indicated that same-sex parent families experience stigma and discrimination, and when they do it can impact on child health and well-being.

Overall, however, the verdict in this FactCheck is appropriate based on current research. – Simon Crouch


The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit is the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

The ConversationHave you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Legalising same-sex marriage will help reduce high rates of suicide among young people in Australia

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In Australia, same-sex attracted young people are six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than their heterosexual peers.
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Jo Robinson, University of Melbourne; Eleanor Bailey, University of Melbourne, and Pat McGorry, University of Melbourne

Australia remains one of the last English-speaking countries in the developed world not to legally recognise same-sex marriage. If the upcoming postal survey indicates public support for marriage equality, a conscience vote will be held in parliament. If not, it’s unlikely that same-sex couples will be able to marry for as long as the current government remains in office.


Further information – Mathias Cormann on the same-sex marriage postal survey


This would be quite a harmful outcome for the health of same-sex attracted couples, who are already at higher risk of poorer mental health outcomes and suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. This is directly associated with the stigma and discrimination to which they are exposed on a daily basis.

Research shows that in countries and jurisdictions that have legalised same-sex marriage, there is a much smaller gap between the rates of poor mental health among same-sex attracted and heterosexual people. This is particularly the case with young people, for whom suicide rates have a been a significant national concern for decades.

Just this week, a national study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that 10% of 14-15-year-olds reported that they had self-harmed in the previous 12 months, and 5% had attempted suicide. Legalising same-sex marriage will go a way towards lowering suicide rates in this group, as well as across the board.

Negative health impacts where same-sex marriage is banned

Young same-sex attracted people in particular already experience feelings of social discrimination, which could increase if same-sex marriage is not legalised. Same-sex-attracted young people are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, more than six times more likely to have thoughts of suicide, and five times more likely to make a suicide attempt than their heterosexual peers.

These inequalities are exacerbated in jurisdictions that do not support same sex marriage and where discrimination is therefore institutionally endorsed.


Read more: Why do so many gay and bisexual men die from suicide?


For example, a US study found that psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders, as well as problems with alcohol, increased significantly among same-sex-attracted people who lived in states that banned gay marriage during the 2004 and 2005 elections. There was no such increase among people living in states without such constitutional amendments, or among heterosexual people living in those same communities.

Another US study found that sexual minority people (whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority) living in communities that were highly prejudiced against them showed substantially elevated rates of both physical and mental illness, as well suicide. It also showed the average age of suicide among sexual minority individuals was significantly younger in these “high-prejudice” communities when compared to other areas.

Health benefits where same-sex marriage is legalised

Such inequalities – between the mental health of homosexual and heterosexual people – do not necessarily exist when same-sex couples are afforded the same rights with regard to institutionally recognised marriage. This finding persists among middle-aged men and young people.

There are positive impacts on the mental health of same-sex attracted people in places where there is marriage equality.
from shutterstock.com

In Denmark same-sex married men experienced a
reduction in rates of premature death after the implementation of a registered partnerships law in 1989. Similarly, in the United States, implementation of same-sex marriage policies has been associated with a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide. The association was strongest among sexual minority students.

Based on figures from the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing this would equate to almost 3,000 fewer suicide attempts made by Australian secondary school students per year. These benefits are not necessarily attributed to marriage per se, but rather the legal right to marry. They are also not restricted to mental health, but have also been reported in terms of financial factors, physical health and health care costs.

The likely effects of a ‘no campaign’

A small number of studies have also examined the impact of plebiscites and their associated “no campaigns” on the mental health and well-being of communities. These consistently report that exposure to repeated negative messaging about same-sex marriage creates a unique form of social stress resulting in poorer psychological outcomes.


Read more: Did the suicide rate decrease during Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage?


While the specific impact of these campaigns on suicide related outcomes remains unknown for the time being, the relationship between minority stress, mental illness and suicide is well established. It is therefore likely that risk will increase throughout this process. Indeed, mental health and crisis support services are already reporting an increase in the rate of contacts, an increase that has been attributed to the debate currently underway.

The Australian government has given a significant amount of attention and resource to the treatment of mental ill-health and prevention of suicide, including among young people, over recent years. Yet, the institutional inequalities and the already toxic debate currently underway (despite assurances on the part of government that any debate will be respectful) will undoubtedly increase the risk of both. This risk needs to be taken extremely seriously over the coming months.


If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 44.


The ConversationNote: The first sentence has been amended to reflect that Australia is not the “only” English speaking developed country to not yet recognise same-sex marriage.

Jo Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne; Eleanor Bailey, Research Assistant, Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, and Pat McGorry, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Same-sex parented families in Australia

This research paper reviews and synthesises Australian and international literature on same-sex parented families. It includes discussion of the different modes of conception or family formation, different family structures, and the small number of studies on bisexual and transgender parents. Particular attention is paid to research on the emotional, social and educational outcomes for children raised by lesbian and gay parents, and the methodological strengths and weaknesses of this body of work.

Key messages

About 11% of Australian gay men and 33% of lesbians have children. Children may have been conceived in the context of previous heterosexual relationships, or raised from birth by a co-parenting gay or lesbian couple or single parent.

Overall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.

Some researchers have concluded there are benefits for children raised by lesbian couples in that they experience higher quality parenting, sons display greater gender flexibility, and sons and daughters display more open-mindedness towards sexual, gender and family diversity.

The possible effect of important socio-economic family factors, such as income and parental education, were not always considered in the studies reviewed in this paper.

Although many Australian lesbian-parented families appear to be receiving good support from their health care providers, there is evidence that more could be done to develop policies and practices supportive of same-sex parented families in the Australian health, education, child protection and foster care systems.

Additional key messages, relating to specific family structures and psychosocial outcomes for children raised by lesbian and gay parents, are included throughout the paper.

Source:Child Family Community Australia

A “reality check” for the Regnerus study on gay parenting

Three years ago, against the strong consensus of social scientists and professional child-welfare groups, University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus concluded that children of gay parents fare worse than children raised by married opposite-sex parents. In the face of intense criticism and a scorching assessment from a federal judge (“not worthy of serious consideration”), Regnerus doubled down on his conclusions and filed an amicus brief against gay marriage in federal court.

But a new critique of Regnerus’ work by Professors Simon Cheng (University of Connecticut) and Brian Powell (Indiana University), published in the same journal as his original study, Social Science Research (available free to most academics and for a $35.95 fee to the general public), suggests that Regnerus misclassified a significant number of children as being raised in same-sex households. Based on a re-evaluation of the data, it concludes there are minimal differences in outcome for children raised by same-sex parents and married opposite-sex parents.

Source: The Washington Post

Minority stress, experience of parenthood and child adjustment in lesbian families

Abstract

The aim of this study was to explore the relationship of minority stress with experiences of parenthood (e.g. parental stress and parental justification) and child adjustment in lesbian mother families. Three components of minority stress were examined, namely, experiences of rejection as a result of the non‐traditional family situation, perceived stigma, and internalized homophobia. A total of 100 planned lesbian families (100 biological mothers and 100 social mothers) were involved in this study. Data were collected by means of a written questionnaire. The lesbian mothers in this sample generally described low levels of rejection, they perceived little stigmatization, and they also manifested low levels of internalized homophobia. However, minority stress was significantly related to experiences of parenthood. Lesbian mothers with more experiences of rejection experienced more parental stress, and appeared to defend their position as mother more strongly (e.g. parental justification). Furthermore, mothers with higher levels of perceived stigma and internalized homophobia felt significantly more often that they had to defend their position as mother. Finally, mothers who reported more experience of rejection were also more likely to report behaviour problems in their children. Our findings emphasize the importance of the effect of minority stress on the lives of lesbian mothers and their children.

Source:  Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology

GroundUp: Married transgender people can change their official sex, court finds | Daily Maverick

Home Affairs’ approach is “coloured by the persisting influence of the religious and social prejudice against the recognition of same-sex unions” says judge.

By Safura Abdool Karim for GROUNDUP.

Photo: The Western Cape High Court. Photo Masixole Feni.
Photo: The Western Cape High Court. Photo Masixole Feni.

The Western Cape High Court ruled on the rights of married transgender people to change their gender with Home Affairs last week.The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, 2003 allows you to apply to the Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs to change your sex (or “sex descriptor” as it’s called in the act) on the birth register. Specifically, the Act allows for your sex to be changed if you have undergone surgical sex reassignment, have experienced a natural evolution of your sexual characteristics or you are intersex. Any rights and obligations you held before the registration, are still valid after the change. You are also entitled to a new birth certificate reflecting your amended sex.

Source: GroundUp: Married transgender people can change their official sex, court finds | Daily Maverick

How Does the Gender of Parents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family

Abstract

Claims that children need both a mother and father presume that women and men parent differently in ways crucial to development but generally rely on studies that conflate gender with other family structure variables. We analyze findings from studies with designs that mitigate these problems by comparing 2-parent families with same or different sex coparents and single-mother with single-father families. Strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appear to the same extent in families with 2 mothers and potentially in those with 2 fathers. Average differences favor women over men, but parenting skills are not dichotomous or exclusive. The gender of parents correlates in novel ways with parent-child relationships but has minor significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.

Abstract: Journal of Marriage and Family 

Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families

Recent legal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States were challenging federal definitions of marriage created by the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s voter approved Proposition 8 which limited marriage to different-sex couples only. Social science literature regarding child well-being was being used within these cases, and the American Sociological Association sought to provide a concise evaluation of the literature through an amicus curiae brief. The authors were tasked in the assistanc

Source: American Sociological Association

Natural Law, Natural Sex, Natural Families.

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation. Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from, well, you know – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite.  In a famous exchange, Anita Bryant once remarked that the things that homosexuals do were so disgusting that “even barnyard animals wouldn’t do it.” When it was pointed out to her that actually, barnyard and other animals do “do it”,  as is well known to farmers, she simply replied, “Well that still don’t make it right”. No, and it don’t make it wrong, either.  On sexual ethics, “Nature” is morally neutral.

“Anita Bryant, Reality Denier”

Some time ago I embarked on an investigation (which still continues) into just what we can learn from “nature” about sexuality and natural sex, reading up on sexual practices as observed in the animal kingdom, and also in non-Western and pre-industrial human societies from different periods and geographic regions. The results have been truly bewildering, and the time has come to share with you some of my findings and conclusions. In particular, there is clearly no single pattern of sexuality that can possibly be described as “natural” in all societies, human or animal.  What is “natural” depends entirely on culturally determined social practices, which vary extraordinarily.
In modern Western debates about gay marriage, we often hear arguments about “traditional” marriage, as based on the Bible, or on “Judaeo-Christian values”. The Biblical family was headed by a male patriarch, who controlled an assortment of wives, concubines, children and slaves, as well as his adult sons and their wives.
We commonly assume that most people are either “heterosexual” (the majority) or “homosexual” in orientation. But in many societies, men may be engage in sex with both men and women, either sequentially, at different phases of their lives, or at the same time. (In Chinese culture, there has always been powerful social expectations that men should marry and raise children – but that in no way prevents them taking male lovers as well. In a famous Chinese painting, two men are engaged in erotic play, while the wife of one watches from behind a screen. )


We assume that in a “traditional” family, the husband is male, the “wife” is female. In many traditional African cultures, numerous ethnographic studies have shown that the “husband” is the one with the wealth and the power. Where a woman was able to acquire sufficient wealth and could pay the bride-price, it was entirely acceptable for her  to marry wives, and take on the role of “husband”. (In these families, procreation and child-bearing were necessarily arranged outside of the family – but were raised inside it, and recognised the female head of the family as “father”. In one remarkable instance, Nzinga was a woman who came to the throne by military skill – but only men could be kings, so necessarily she was accepted as male. As king, she required a harem of wives – but as she was entirely heterosexual in orientation, she had no need of female wives, and instead kept a harem of male wives.(“Africa’s Female Kings and husbands”). Elsewhere in Africa, some wealthy men also included a male or two among their wives, valuing their strength for certain household tasks.
Nor do all cultures think only in terms of two genders. Commonly in South Asia, North America, and in some parts of Africa, societies accepted as a distinctive third gender biological males who took on female roles, or females who took on male roles (possibly but not necessarily included the corresponding sexual roles.) In the animal kingdom, especially among fish, there are many species with more than one gender, or where the physical appearances of some biologically male individual males resembles that of females or vice versa, or where individuals quite literally change biological sex, in an animal counterpart to human cross-dressers and transsexuals.
We also tend to assume that same sex interactions, where they occur, apply to a minority of individuals, or to a relatively brief period in their youths, before settling down to “normal” married life. But in some New Guinea societies, “natural” sex requires that as young boys, they first go through a period whereby they act as recipient partners in sex with older boys, because it is believed that the essence of manly virtue is contained in the semen – which they need ingest in regular doses before they can become real men. As they grow older, they adopt the active role in sex with younger boys, completely avoiding heterosexual intercourse until they are strong and manly enough to withstand the “debilitating” effects of women that they will be exposed to in marriage. In one specific group, the combined period of partnership with males typically lasts about thirty years, before he marries at around forty. In this culture, homosexual sex is certainly a far greater portion of a man’s life-long sexual experience than heterosexual experiences. For them, it is homosexual actions that are “natural”.
The Vatican claims that homosexual “act” lead people away from God.  Many
societies take the exact opposite view, believing that “homosexuals” generally, and the third gender exemplars in particular, have extraordinary spiritual gifts. Frequently, it is they who will take on the roles of religious leaders or spiritual guides. (Is it any surprise that a disproportionately high proportion of Catholic and Anglican priests are believed to be gay?) In some places, this association of spirituality and male-male sex combines with a variant of the New Guinea practice – young men become  sexual partners of religious leaders in order to ingest their spiritual wisdom.
We also often equate “masculine”, macho virtues with heterosexuality, and homosexuality with effeminacy. Among both humans and animals, this is not always so. For the ancient Greeks, the Japanese samurai, and many others, homosexuality was especially associated with the military. There have been times even in European history where “effeminate” dandyism was characteristic of rampant heterosexuality. Among bighorn sheep, most rams are exclusively homosexual in their activities, and the few that have heterosexual intercourse display remarkable submissive, behaviour – that in humans we might describe as “wimpish”.
It is also simply not true that in the natural world, even heterosexual sex is exclusively directed at procreation. Non procreative sexual activity is commonplace, including full intercourse during pregnancy, immediately after giving birth, or outside fertile periods Some primates females reaching sexual maturity, and begin sexual activities, several years before becoming fertile and capable of giving birth. Also common are  mounting behaviour without penetration or ejaculation, oral sex and masturbation (alone or with another). Some animals even make dildos and masturbation aids – or use natural objects for the purpose.
So what is the “purpose” of sex in nature?
Writing about Bonobo Chimps, Joan Roughgarden puts it neatly, in describing “at least six” situations that lead to sex
  1. Sex facilitates sharing (for example, reducing conflicts over food supplies)
  2. Sex is used for reconciliation after a disput
  3. Sex helps to integrate new arrivals into a grou
  4. Sex helps to form coalitions
  5. Sex is candy – females sometimes barter sexual favours to obtain gifts of food from males
  6. “Oh, I almost forgot – sex is used for reproduction”

Recognising the diversity of sexual and gender expressions in “nature” is not a licence for a code of “anything goes”. There still remains a need for a coherent system of sexual ethics, but the study of “nature” does not help us to find one. There simply is no sexual “law of nature”. To construct sexual ethics, we must look elsewhere.

See Also:

Gay Soldiers? Role Models, at the Foundation of Democracy.

Gays in the Military: Japan

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

Same Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered

Natural Law, Laysan’s Albatross,  and the Question of Evidence

The Wildlife Rainbow

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros


Books:

Same-Sex and Different-Sex Parent Households and Child Healt… : Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics

Results: No differences were observed between household types on family relationships or any child outcomes. Same-sex parent households scored higher on parenting stress (95% confidence interval = 2.03–2.30) than different-sex parent households (95% confidence interval = 1.76–2.03), p = .006. No significant interactions between household type and family relationships or household type and parenting stress were found for any child outcomes.

Conclusion: Children with female same-sex parents and different-sex parents demonstrated no differences in outcomes, despite female same-sex parents reporting more parenting stress. Future studies may reveal the sources of this parenting stress.

Source:Developmental/Behavioural Pediatrics