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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
- Sex facilitates sharing (for example, reducing conflicts over food supplies)
- Sex is used for reconciliation after a disput
- Sex helps to integrate new arrivals into a grou
- Sex helps to form coalitions
- Sex is candy – females sometimes barter sexual favours to obtain gifts of food from males
- “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.
- Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)
- Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
- Naphy, William G: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)
- Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
- Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective
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.
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.
Full report: The Conversation
A step forward for equal LGBT rights in Africa. Last week, the influential Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) published a study on the science of human sexual diversity.
A comprehensive review of recent scientific papers on the subject, it concluded that sexual behaviour is naturally varied, and discrimination unjustified. It stated that there is no evidence that orientation can be altered by therapy or that being gay is contagious.
The report also sets straight the idea that homosexuality is a Western malaise: “There is no basis for the view that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ either in the sense of it being a ‘colonial import’, or on the basis that prevalence of people with same-sex or bisexual orientations is any different in African countries compared to countries on any other continent.”
Going further, the report asserted not only that tolerance of sexual diversity benefits communities but it positively affects public health, civil society and long-term economic growth.
More: New Scientist
Back in 2000, an eminent and otherwise respectable biologist declared that except for a few instances observed among primates, there was no evidence of homosexuality among animals:
This was breathtakingly inaccurate. Just the previous year another biologist, Bruce Bagemihl,had published a book summarizing previously published scientific papers which described homosexual behaviour in over 300 species of animals and birds (listing dozens of papers for each), and also listing additional species of reptiles, amphibians, fish and even insects – over a thousand species in all, and tens of thousands of peer-reviewed articles. The first recorded observations of animal homosexuality were two millenia ago, by the ancient Greeks. In modern times, the first formal publication of scientific observations go back over 150 years. Photographic evidence of male swan couples has existed since the mid-nineteenth century.
How could there be so much scientific ignorance- especially as same -sex mountings are so well known among domestic livestock, that serious research efforts have been underway for years to try to prevent activities which are so uneconomic (to the farmer)?
Such wilful blindness by a professional would be ludicrous, if it were not also a sign of the ignorance shared by many others, in the scientific community as well as the wider population. It typifies the widespread assumption that underlies the popular pseudo-religious belief that homosexual relationships are unnatural, that biological “plumbing” dictates only one form of legitimate sexual expression, and (for the Vatican) that the “purpose” of sex is procreation, and so sexual activity not geared to making babies must be rejected. How does this ignorance persevere? In addition to Bagemihl’s book, two more major works of the last decade (Roughgarden, Sommer and Vasey) have atempted to explain this widepread ignorance. All three reach similar conclusions.
First, please note that the number of species where such behaviour has been described is certainly an underestimate. Detailed, close-up observation of any animal sex is difficult and rare. Frequently, where sexual activity is observed, there has been a simple assumption that this is between two different sexes – unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. One scientist after observing whales had the grace to publish his mistaken assumptions:
…..after about twenty minutes I realized that what I was watching was three males involved in most erotic activities! Then one, two, and eventually three pene appeared as three males rolled at the same time. Obviously, all three were males! It was almost two hours after the first sighting …. and up to that point I was convinced I was watching mating behaviour.
In many other cases, observers mistakenly identify biological sex and gender behaviour. Where one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the mounter is male, the one being mounted female – even in the complete absence of corroborating evidence. More detailed observations have recorded how frequently this assumption can be wrong: males also mount other males, females mount females.
Mistakes in observation are understandable, even if the observers should take more care assessing their assumptions. Other factors are less excusable. One of these is a deliberate avoidance by some researchers of any attempt to publish their observations, out of a fear that they will be assumed by colleagues to be gay themselves – a form of academic closet keeps their observation hidden. Even after publication, a form of closet keeps the facts hidden – the anthologies and text books that usually introduce specialist papers to a wider scientific audience routinely ignore references to homosexual behaviour.
Although the first reports of homosexual behaviour among primates were first published >75 years ago, virtually every major introductory text on primatology fails to even mention its existence.
More serious than mere burying of the evidence, is the attempt to deny its nature, in contorted attempts to explain it away as something other than it plainly is. Some researchers for example, attempt to explain their observations of two male birds involved in intercourse as “mistaken identity”. Do they really suppose that although they as human observers are able to correctly identify the sex of the chosen partner, the poor ignorant bird can not, and has chosen an “inappropriate” partner by mistake?
They also attempt to explain it away as a result of numerical imbalance, suggesting that males do it themselves when there are not enough females to go around – quite ignoring the observations that show the same phenomenon where females are abundant.
Others recognize what they are seeing, but simply deny that the bahaviour is sexual. Perhaps the most risible is this explanation of Orang-utan oral sex:
Two males regularly mouthed the penis of the other on a reciprocal basis. This behaviour, however, may be nutrively rather sexually motivated.
Got that? An Orang-utan blow-job is for – nutrition?
Other explanations attempted to explain sexual behaviour as aggression or dominance displays, rather than what it plainly was – pleasurable sex. Here’s another researcher, writing about bighorn rams, who eventually had to face the facts with honesty:
I still cringe at the memory of seeing old D-ram mount S- ram repeatedly. ..True to form, and incapable of absorbing this realization at once, I called these actions of the rams aggrosexual behaviour, for to state the males had evolved a homosexual society was beyond me To conceive of these magnificent beasts as “queers” – Oh God! I argued for two years that, in wild mountain sheep, aggressive and sexual behaviour could not be separated. I never published that drivel and am glad of it. Eventually I called a spade a spade and admitted that rams lived in an essentially homosexual society.
Here is the key point – heterosexual assumptions are so deeply embedded in some people that they cannot believe the evidence of their own eyes that homosexuality is entirely natural, and must instead explain it away. There is extraordinary circular reasoning here: the starting point is an assumption that only heterosexual behaviour is natural, and that becomes drummed into us as a moral imperative. That assumption then colours our perspective, so that what we see is assumed to be heterosexual – unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. When it is acknowledged to be not heterosexual, it is explained away as not actually sexual, but something else – aggression, or pseudo-sexual, or mistaken identity, or some such. Anything, in fact, that allows to continue with our insistence that only heterosexual, procreative intercourse is natural. And so the conventional widom continues to tell us, in the face of all evidence, that only opposite sex interaction in the animal world is natural … and that humans homosexuality is “contrary to nature”.
But the most ludicrous of all comes from those observers who cannot avoid acknowledging that what they are seeing is clearly sexual behaviour, and clearly between individuals of the same sex – and then describe it, in anthropomorphic terms, as “immoral”, degenerate, or – “unnatural”!
In these snippets, note the adjectives – “perverted”, “unnatural”, “aberrant” – my italics.
This might be mistaken for fighting, but perverted sexuality is he real keynote.
Three unnatural tending bonds were observed a two-year old bull closely tended a yearling bull .. with penis unsheathed.
Among aberrant sexual behaviours, anoestrous does were very occasionally seen to mount each other.
That’s right, folks. If we accept the assumption that homosexuality is unnatural, then any evidence to the contrary must be – unnatural, or immoral.
I close with the priceless words of W J Tennant, who as late as 1987 published the classic paper
“A Note on the Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in the Lepidoptera.”
It is a sad sign of our times that the National newspapers are all too often packed with the lurid details of declining moral standards and of horrific sexual offences committed by our fellow Homo sapiens; perhaps it is a sign of the times that the entomological literature appears to be heading in the same direction.
So: we dare not publish reports of animal homosexuality – because we should not draw attention to the poor moral standards of butterfles?
Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective
Poani, Aldo:Animal Homosexuality: A Biosocial Perspective