By Naomi Ishisaka
“And I believe children can receive love from gay couples, but the ideal is – and studies have shown that – the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman.”
– George W. Bush, in interview with The New York Times, 2005
“Anyone who wishes to examine the 20 years of peer-reviewed studies on the emotional, cognitive and behavioral outcomes of children of gay and lesbian parents will find not one shred of evidence that children are harmed by their parents’ sexual orientation.”
– Carol J. Trust, director, National Association of Social Workers, 2006
For those anti-gay opponents who say same-sex parents lack the commitment and “family values” to raise healthy children, meet the families in our cover story. Olivia and Sarah; Benjamin and Frank; Alex and Jim; and single mom Bookda overcame enormous obstacles to realize their dream of becoming parents. Unlike many of their heterosexual counterparts, parenting for them was the result of careful deliberation, huge expense, painful uncertainty and vulnerability to institutional forces beyond their control. Gay and lesbian parents formulate their parenting plans over weeks, months and, even years, paying thousands of dollars for adoptions or surrogacy or in vitro treatments.
And once these children are born or adopted, their joy is tempered by the social consequences of raising a family with same-sex parents. There’s outright bigotry and hatred coming vociferously from the right as well as more subtle insinuations of pity for the child from the mainstream. In society, the families must weather daily questions about how their children came to be and worry about how their kids will be treated by their peers. Moreover, the lack of state and federal recognition of same-sex relationships puts these families on uneasy ground, as they must craft careful legal arrangements to ensure their rights as parents.
In an era when half a million children are in the U.S. foster-care system alone, the level of consternation over families who actually want to adopt or raise children can be puzzling.
Yet love for each other and desire to share that love with a child has propelled millions of couples to endure the obstacles and build their families. Today, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, there are an estimated 2 million children being raised in same-sex families.
And while the religious right ties itself in knots over the impact on the “American family” – the same institution that currently enjoys a 50 percent divorce rate – reputable academic and scientific research on parenting repeatedly shows no negative impact on children raised by same-sex parents. As the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in 2002, “A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.”
A 2005 study by the American Psychological Association, supported that, reporting, “(N)ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.” The study also found that “the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.”
Unfortunately, researchers have said the only exception to the positive mental health outcomes are the negative attitudes and behaviors of others toward the children. But since when did we craft social policy to accommodate bigotry and prejudice?
In an era when pregnancies are accidents and children are forsaken to foster care, what matters in the case of gay and lesbian parents is their honest, intentional, conscious and painstaking choice to be parents and raise their kids in a loving atmosphere despite all kinds of challenges. We hope these stories will engender greater awareness and openness to families of all kinds.