A quick run through some news on lesbian and gay parents

Again, my apologies for the lengthy silence.  First I was travelling and in my travels, I managed to contract the H1N1 flu.  I’m prepared to affirm that it is a nasty bug.   I am not yet out of quarantine, but at least I am feeling human again.  

A couple of recent items on lesbian and gay parents.  (I actually think there were more than two, but I’ve lost track.) 

First, here’s a current item from France.   France permits single people to adopt, including single lesbians and gay men, does not permit lesbian and gay couples to adopt.   The rationale?   The absence of a different sex role model in a lesbian or gay couple.  

Of course, a single parent doesn’t provide a different sex role model either.   But perhaps one can hold out the hope that in time, the single parent will couple with someone of a different sex and thereby provide the missing link.    Really, though, if you felt strongly about this, you would probably not let a single lesbian or gay man adopt either. 

Emmanuelle B. was not willing to take the easy way around this restriction, which was just to check the box that said she was single.   Instead she spend 11 years fighting in court, during which time she did not adopt a child.   Now she has prevailed. 

Although the rationale is different, this is somewhat reminiscent of those states which have a similar adoption restriction–single men and women OK, no matter sexual identity, same sex couple not okay.    I’ve discussed these earlier.   In the US, the restriction usually requires a couple that is adopting to be married.  Of course, since many states will not recognize marriage between people of the same sex, this effectively excludes same-sex couples from adopting.   The policy is then justified by the supposed stability marriage brings to a couple.    

In either event, the resulting policy is very strange.   While there are doubtless many many happy single parent families, people who wish to be co-parents will probably be happier (and more successful) if they are allowed to do so.   Thus, it seems like it must be better for the kids to have the actual arrangement legally recognized, with all the attendant rights and obligations.  

The second story was in this past Sunday’s NYT Magazine and I assume it has been widely circulated.    In this article Lisa Belkin reviews some of the social science literature on lesbian and gay parents and their children.   (Although I don’t think it is mentioned in the NYT piece, much of this work probably should be traced back to a paper by Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz entitled “(How) Does The Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter” that was published in the American Sociological Review in 2001.  It’s really worth a read.) 

Belkin opens with an observation I think is mistaken–she says it is “striking how comparatively rarely children are mentioned as an argument in favor of gay marriage.”   Now I’ve followed this issue for some time and I’ve been struck by how frequently children are mentioned as an argument in favor of access to marriage.   Indeed, the issue about children lies at the very center of most of the litigated cases.  

This, however, is a comparatively nit-picky point.   The main point of the article is that there are differences between children who have two parents of the same sex and children who have two parents of different sexes.  

If you really stop to think about it, this must be so.   Parenting is deeply gendered in our culture.   Having two parents the same gender is bound to be different from having two parents of different genders, even if the parents seek to undermine traditional gender roles. 

And what differences result?   Unsurprisingly, children have more flexible ideas about gender roles.   Thus, girls raised by lesbians are more likely to think it possible they can take on a “male” profession like being a lawyer or a doctor.   Also unsurprisingly,  children of lesbian parents are more generally tolerant of difference.  

For many years litigation strategy in lesbian and gay parenting cases depended on the assertion that it made no difference whether parents were lesbian or gay or  not.  (I’m thinking here of cases from years ago when lesbians and gay men had to fight for custody rights against their previous heterosexual spouses, but these cases do extend to today.)    The notion that it would indeed make a difference was treated as a form of heresy.    Now the readers of the New York Times are introduced to the idea that lesbians and gay men may, in some ways, be superior parents. 

Because each family is different and the results here are generated from a meta-study (a study of studies) I wouldn’t want to make this into any specific claims about this family or that family.    And of course, there’s no absolute measure of better parenting.    But it is interesting to watch this idea make its way into the mainstream (if you can call the New York Times mainstream, that is.)

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2 responses to “A quick run through some news on lesbian and gay parents

  1. I wonder how this research on children of gay and lesbians was gathered. Was it done through support groups? Were these self selected samples or randomly drawn? The samples also seem very small. I’m curious to know what type of questions were asked to drawn the conclusion that these children are doing well (and as you suggested, better in some/many cases?). I just found this article: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article6917212.ece which shocked me, then I found this article in response and it really made me question many of these “studies”: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/spin_cycle_the_lesbian_parenting_story_that_wasnt/

    • Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this comment. There was quite a flurry of activity on the blog and I’ve been catching up.

      The earliest research on lesbian families (and it was primarily on lesbian rather than gay families) was mostly quite small scale and was conducted by people who had an interest in that sort of family. Thus, it is undoubtedly subject to some criticism, though I’m not in a position to comment on the methodology itself. (Not my field.)

      As time has passed there is an increasing body of research conducted by a wider range of researchers. The most recent studies that have made news are, I think, meta-studies–which means they are studies of studies. This is one of those, I believe. http://www.apa.org/pi/parent.html And here is another. http://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract/2005/06000/Lesbian_Mothers,_Gay_Fathers,_and_Their_Children_.12.aspx (I’m sorry to say this one isn’t free access.)

      The link you’ve got (to Mercator) considers this meta approach to be a weakness because it is “recycled’ research, but I think this is a pretty standard methodology, to try to survey a field of research and look for patterns, consistent findings, etc. (The general methodology of the studies is reviewed as a part of a meta study.)

      The alternative to meta-studies is a larger/longer term study, but there are few of those. Here is the site from the largest and longest study of which I am aware. http://www.nllfs.org/

      All of this said, the topic of lesbian and gay parents is highly politicized and so perhaps it is just as well to view much of the research with some skepticism. No one is neutral (I noticed that the author of the Mercator piece is founder of the Ruth Institute, which seems to be dedicated to promoting one man/one woman marriages (and hence, opposing access to marriage for lesbian and gay couples) so I wouldn’t count her as neutral either.

      I do try to keep up on the literature and as far as I know it has been running very heavily towards the “lesbian parent is fine parent” view for a while. Which is not to say that you cannot find a contrary study or two (though I haven’t seen one in the last few years.)

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