By Stephen “Arch” Erich, PhD, LCSW
|Research on Families With Gay and Lesbian Parents|
|Research on Children Adopted by Gay and Lesbian Adults|
The numbers of gay and lesbian adults and couples who are adopting children is increasing dramatically; at the same time, the number of adoption agencies willing to place children with gay and lesbian adults and couples is also increasing notably. What does this mean for children in need of healthy family environments? What does the research tell us about families with gay or lesbian parents, including those created through adoption?
First, a little background information about children awaiting adoption and the size of the adopter pool (parents interested in adopting). The number of children not living with their biological parents is at unacceptably high levels. Research suggests that there were 542,000 children in foster care in the United States in 2001 and as many as one third of these children may be eligible for adoption.
Many gay and lesbian adults and couples are interested in adopting children. However, discrimination has made it difficult for gay and lesbian adults and couples to complete the adoption process (Brodzinsky, 2003). Excluding gays and lesbians as potential adopters is not only discriminatory but it limits the number of potential adults available to adopt the thousands of children eligible for adoption.
Although it is not commonly known, the research regarding parenting by gays and lesbians is very positive. The following list shows the important findings from research on families with gay and lesbian parents:
- Lesbian mothers have been found comparable to heterosexual mothers in their desire to be parents (Kirkpatrick, Smith, & Roy, 1981; Lewin & Lyons, 1982; Osterweil, 1991).
- Lesbian mothers have been found comparable to heterosexual mothers in their warmth toward children (Golombok, Tasker, & Murray, 1997).
- Lesbian mothers have been found comparable to heterosexual mothers in their parental behaviors (Harris & Turner, 1986).
- Lesbian couples have been found equal to or superior to heterosexual couples in dividing responsibility for chores equally, in financial cooperation, decision-making, relationship satisfaction and emotional expression (Brewaeys, Ponjaert, Van Hall, & Golombok, 1997; Chan, Brooks, Raboy, & Patterson, 1998).
- Gay fathers have been found comparable to heterosexual fathers in involvement with their children, intimacy with their children, provision of recreation, encouragement of autonomy, problem-solving and parental satisfaction, but superior in the way they respond to child needs, and communication of reasons for appropriate behavior (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1989a; 1989b; 1992; Peterson, Butts & Deville, 2000).
- Gay and lesbian couples value and desire commitment in relationships to the same extent that heterosexual couples do (Kurdek, 1995; Peplau, Veniegas, & Campbell, 1996)
- Children raised by gay and lesbian parents have no apparent adjustment problems that have been found to be related to their parent’s sexual orientation (Chan, Raboy, & Patterson, 1998; Flaks, et al., 1995; Patterson, 1994; 1997).
- In comparison to children raised by heterosexual parents, children raised by gay and lesbian parents have been found comparable in intelligence, behaviors, moral development, and peer relationships (Allen & Burrell, 1996; Falk, 1994; Flaks, et al, 1995; Tasker & Golombok, 1995; 1997).
There is a limited number of studies involving children adopted by gay and lesbian adults and couples but once again the results are very positive. The following shows important findings from research on adoptive families with gay and lesbian parents:
- Adoptive families with gay and lesbian parents have been found to have positive family functioning, well-behaved children, and helpful family support networks (Erich, Leung, & Kanenberg, 2005a).
- There were no significant differences between gay and lesbian adoptive parents and heterosexual parents in terms of family functioning, their children’s behavior problems, and their family support networks (Erich, Leung, & Kanenberg, 2005b).
- In a study involving three groups of adoptive families, “parent’s sexual orientation” was not found to be a significant predictor of how well families function (Leung, Erich, & Kanenberg, 2005c).
This research provides clear support for the well-being of children being reared in homes with gay and lesbian adults or couples. In concert with the National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics which prohibits discrimination in any form, these findings direct social workers to support the practice of adoption by gay and lesbian adults and couples.