Thinking about the Children–Lesbian/Gay Families More Common in the South

This is in the old news category.   (It was in the New York Times last week.)  From my purposes here, the main point here is that lots of lesbian and gay couples who live in the southern US are raising children–something like 32% of the gay (NYT word choice–I take it this includes lesbians) couples in Jacksonville, FL, for instance.   Apparently this percentage is the second highest in the country–the highest (34%) being in San Antonio, TX.   

I’m not concerned with exactly how many children this amounts to, but surely there are a large number of children with two lesbian or gay parents in the southern tier of the US.   I’ve been thinking about that in conjunction with two other stories I commented on last week.  

One is the continuing saga of Adar v. Smith, where a gay male couple completed a joint adoption of a child from Louisiana and now wants a new birth certificate listing their names.  Louisiana won’t give it to them.    The second is the denouement of Martin Gill’s case challenging Florida’s ban on adoption by lesbians and gay men.  

Both of these cases are victories for lesbian and gay parents (at least thus far) who happen to live in the southern tier.    The cases establish stronger legal rights for lesbian and gay parents.  But the postings on both cases also document strong and continuing resistance to lesbian and gay parental rights.   

The New York Times article reflects the same pattern–on the one hand growing tolerance for lesbian and gay families, but on the other hand continuing concerns about community responses.   (I’m thinking here of the mother on the second page of the article who tells  no one at her child’s school that she is a lesbian because her partner teaches at the school.) 

 It’s easy to think about the law in grand sweeps and discuss the trends you can see here or there.   But if you look beneath the grand sweeps there are individual children.   So, for example, there’s the daughter mentioned in the NYT who gets mixed messages at her school.    It seems to me that the hostile attitude of state officials in Louisiana and Florida cannot help but take a toll on these kids.  

I don’t mean to suggest that these parents should up and move to some more supportive jurisdiction.   Rather, I just want to remind myself that all the high-profile news stories and major cases don’t tell us the whole story.  

As I noted in the last post about Martin Gill’s adoption, those opposed to lesbian and gay parents would rather keep the discussion general.  They’d rather we not think too hard about Martin Gill’s children, because who could look at them and say it would be better if they weren’t adopted?  In the same way, they don’t focus on the thousands of kids who are living with lesbian and gay parents and whose lives are made more difficult by these sweeping public statements.  

For me, this harkens back to a point I made a long time ago.   The environment in which we live shapes how we feel about our families.   If a child finds her or his family is of a type commonly portrayed as unhealthy, unnatural and/or undesirable, then it cannot really make her/him feel good about her/his situation.   

My recollection is that this point came up before with regard to donor-conceived children–if they are made to feel like freaks of nature it cannot possibly help matters.    I’d say the same thing with regard to children of single parents.  

I don’t mean to suggest that the discussion of family forms is off limits and shouldn’t be part of the public discussion.   Rather, I just think we should be mindful that even if we think we’re talking generally, there are people out there who will find it has greater meaning in their lives.

7 responses to “Thinking about the Children–Lesbian/Gay Families More Common in the South

  1. I feel like I need to make a point here: Nobody is saying anywhere that Lesbians and gays can’t be parents right? Only one woman in a 2 woman couple is the actual parent of the child being raised by both of them – the child has a mother and a father. The father may or may not have custody or partial custody. Whatever the social arrangements are inside the household is entirely their private business, but I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the vast majority of that 32 or 34 percent is raising their own offspring and nobody should be challenging that right on the basis of sexual orientation. I think you are talking about a much smaller portion of that percentage that is looking for legal recognition as being the parent of a child that is someone else’s offspring either through adoption or their partner conceived with an anonymous male etc. There are just tons of people who are raising their own kids who happen to be gay or lesbian, at least here in California that is hardly newsworthy its downright commonplace.

    • I think what you flag is that there is a lot of complexity beneath the statistics. In some instances–even many instances–you might think of these families as what could be called step or (consistent with last week’s post) blended families. That is–one woman or man is a parent by virtue of some previous (often heterosexual) relationship and the other woman or man is present because they formed a relationship with the initial parent. The initial parent might have been a single parent, too.

      Then there are what are often called planned lesbian/gay families–families where the relationship between the two men or the two women was formed and then the couple wanted to add a child and figured out how to do it.

      On top of all that, there is the legal structure of the family and the relationship between legal structure and social structure. So there are some families where there is only one social parent and only one legal parent, while there are others where there are two social (and two psychological) parents but only one legal parent and some where there are two social and two legal parents.

      I don’t think anyone has a handle on how the overall numbers of lesbian and gay parent in the southern tier breakdown. Maybe it would be good to know. Many people think that the blended family model is more prevalent among older lesbians and gay men because they were more likely to have been closeted, which might, as the article notes, make it more prevalent in the southern tier.

      But without getting into that complexity right here an now, the larger point I wanted to make is this: There are lots of children living in homes that have two adult parent-like figures who are the same sex. Official pronouncements that homes like these are not good places for children to be cannot possible be good for these kids. As you say, no one is talking about moving these kids–many of them don’t have any other (better) place to be. So I do worry about the effects of the political rhetoric.

    • Like Julie, I don’t have statistics on this and I agree the matter is complex. But the one statistic we do have is what percentage of the clientele of fertility clinics is lesbian couples and those statistics have increased enormously in the past decade. I live in Vancouver, Canada, so will rely on the stats for Vancouver’s clinics. In 2001, when the BC Human Rights Tribunal handed down a decision that allowed a lesbian co-mother to appear on a child’s birth certificate (Gill v Murray), 28% of the clients of the largest Vancouver fertility clinic were lesbian couples. I don’t know the latest stats officially, but the estimate from that clinic is that in 2010 about 45% of their clients were lesbian couples. So I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of the lesbian women raising young children (under the ten perhaps?) conceived those children in the context of a lesbian relationship.

      A second point worth making is that in regions where there is significant acceptance of lesbian and gay couples, lesbians and gay men come out at a much younger age, typically in their early to mid teens. Those individuals are obviously likely to have children within a same-sex relationship. In most areas of the southern United States, where homophobia is still rampant, you would probably find a higher number of lesbians raising children who were conceived within a heterosexual relationship. So it’s also important to note that there may be demographic differences according to the region one is talking about.

  2. Ok, I see the aspect of this that you want to focus on and I agree with you this time. There are lots of children living in a household where there are 2 people of the same sex with equal social authority over the child (the child thinks of both people as equally parental be that a loving thing or an annoying thing in the eyes of a child). Anyone pronouncing that their lifestyle is bad or substandard or somehow wrong needs to go kick rocks because its that family’s private business. Of course I will always lean control to (in the case of a lesbian relationship) the woman who is related maternally to the child as having the ultimate decision making authority over her child and who is in her child’s life up to and including cutting off ties with an ex-partner that may have had a significant roll in her child’s life. Certainly to me even as rigid as I am, those situations are open for discussion most especially if the child voices a desire to continue a relationship with the ex because that child has grown up viewing the ex as a parent equal in force to the woman maternally related. Still I will lean towards that woman’s right to determine what she thinks is best for she and her child when it comes to cutting off contact between her child an adult that is not one of the child’s biological relatives. I don’t think there are many instances where a parent male or female should in prevent contact between a child and any of the child’s relatives (barring abuse, of course), but if I had to pick I’d say maternal and paternal authority trumps even other genetic relationships (makes me wince- but I’ll go there for authority over an under age person)

  3. But still there really is no artificial reproduction, its all human reproduction between a male and female even if a 3rd party mixes the ingredients together and even if a 4th party gestates and delivers the child the child still originated from its mother and father even if one or both is anonymous. There are many women where I live who are married to other women (San Francisco) and I grew up with kids that had “2 moms” one was essentially a step mother. You bet when those relationships break up just like a heterosexual relationship – The maternally related female plays her trump card with regard to custody. And she should. I know several women who really did not want to continue the awkward relationship of visiting with a child they lived with for a few years as the 2nd mom, it was not their child really. Its unfortunate for the step parent who invests a lot emotionally, but their relationship with the child will almost always exist at the descretion of the parent that is either maternally or paternally related to the child. There is a couple at my office that has two babys they each carried the other ones pregnancy to try to make them as connected as possible to the genetically unrelated child, The fathers of the children were anonymous thru the big clinic here. These women are married like on paper legitmate. I have no idea what the birth certificates say but they are splitting up and they want custody of the child they are maternally related to and because the wrong woman is named mother on the certificate, they are just working through the arrangement amicably at the moment. I would think they should have the birth certificates corrected to name the appropriate woman but then again, its not an accurate reflection medically of who gave birth, Its a mess. Luckily they are both nice reasonable people and still live in the same city. I know they visit with the child they gave birth to occassionally but its dwindiling as they move into other relationships The kids are toddlers about a year apart. Real smart real cute – very whacked situation though, Its a good thing its happening here where they’ll never get poked fun of. But in time, nobody will know anyway, they will just be living with their single mothers.

    • While I don’t doubt that you’ve come across these situations, the research I’ve done on lesbian families in Vancouver that had separated all ended up in joint custody arrangements! And some of these have endured for over a decade.

      What will be interesting is whether the legal changes that are proposed in BC and that have been implemented in places like Victoria, Australia, which treat the non-bio Mum has a presumptive mother at birth, will change the situations you are describing Marilyn. That is, will the automatic recognition from birth of the non-bio mother as a legal parent shape what happens when those parents separate.

      On another note, research on men who father children in short term relationships or marriages that end when the child is only a few years old also disproportionately result in the father losing contact with the child or having a minimal relationship at best. Yet these men are biologically related to the offpsring they abandon. This would seem to suggest that what’s happening in the lesbian couple situations you describe is more complex than biological connection.

  4. Well I’m not entirely surprised – that is if they were ever married, I’d hate to see your run of the mill ex-live-in-girl or boyfriend be granted visation rights over either the mother or fathers objections. As a purely unscientific observation not backed by facts I’d agree with you – by in large men seem to have an easier time emotionally detaching themselves from their offspring than women do. I don’t necessarily think pregnancy is the reason women are less inclined to detach either, which would support the idea that the unrelated spouse of a lesbian woman might be as emotionally attached as any biological father. Its whether she has any right to interfere with the mother’s decision making about what s right for her kid or whether she would be obligated to pay child support forever on a child that is not related to her and her family and she only lived with that kid for a year and the kids mom is batsht crazy and she’d like to move on wit her life. I think if women in these relationships want to secure their legal status as a parent with full rights they probably need to go through the step parent adoption process if they can – given the laws about marriage etc.
    Oh I almost forgot those women at my office I forgot the children are actually related to each other. Well at least they believe they are according to the clinic the children’s father is the same man. I don’t know if they had it confirmed with a DNA test or anything, but as far as I know they chose one man to father both of their kids to really make them all an inseperable family. So the children are siblings who share a father but have different mothers and live seperately. And I bet their birth certificates still say that they are the child of their siblings mother. I don’t even know if you can get that changed. Its aweful. Its a good thing they are nice reasonable people otherwise it would be just a nightmare.

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