Updated: Aug 17, 2020
By Kate V, 2020: All rights reserved
When you’re a little kid, you don’t understand that some people might not like some aspect of you or your family—especially if you’re as outgoing as I was at age four. Flying to see my grandmother in Oklahoma, I would proudly declare to everyone seated around me, “Hi! I’m Kate, and I have two moms!” No one at the time said anything to me or my mom behind me as we continued to shuffle to our seats. Most people probably just hoped that this hyper child wasn’t going to be seated behind them, put on their noise cancelling headphones, and moved on with their lives.
My first and second grade classes sometimes had holiday parties, for which my mom often volunteered. As she helped distribute snacks, a nearby classmate declared, “Kate shouldn’t have two moms! That’s a sin!” We were only six.
Having two moms has undoubtedly changed the perspective I have on the world. However, in many ways, my family has not changed my perspective on the world, or at least, no more than anyone’s family does. Rather, the world’s perspective on my family has changed me. In fact, having same-sex parents isn’t much different than having any other family. For one, same sex couples are not necessarily more or less inclined to create perfect marriages. As for child-rearing, studies throughout the years have shown that kids raised by same-sex couples generally end up no better or worse than those raised by a man and a woman. Additionally, children of same-sex couples are only slightly more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than the rest of the populace. What makes my perspective and experience in the world different isn’t how I was raised, but how the world thinks I was: the assumptions made about me and my family.
In terms of marriage stability, same-sex couples have ranked widely on various studies. Because in America, same-sex marriage nationwide is so new, the data on divorce for married couples is skewed and difficult to interpret. A study from the UCLA William’s Institute found that the rate of divorce among same-sex couples in the United States was almost the same as different-sex married couples. The Netherlands, which was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001, reported different trends. Lesbian couples were most likely to divorce, then different-sex couples, and finally couples of two gay men, who were least likely to divorce. The same trend of lesbian couples being more likely than gay men to divorce was also found in the United Kingdom, as reported by The Independent. It’s hard to say, with only five years of data since the federal legalization of same-sex marriage in the US, but based on the current data it would appear that same-sex couples get divorced at about the same rate as heterosexual couples. This means that their children are not disproportionately affected by divorce and the hardships that it brings. So as far as marriage stability, same-sex parents aren’t better or worse than other couples. Hopefully, that’s not terribly surprising; all relationships are made of human beings who can make mistakes, whatever their gender.
As far as parenting goes, same-sex couples don’t do it much differently either. Reviews by Cornell University and Columbia Law School of dozens of studies over many years overwhelmingly show that kids raised by two parents of the same sex fare just as well as any others. A long-term study of children raised by lesbians found that they ranked the same in psychological adjustment and prosocial behavior. One study of children raised by same-sex couples in Italy, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, concluded exactly the same. The Guardian reported the same of Australian children raised by same-sex couples. Another study found that children of same-sex couples did better in school than others. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America. Studies have long supported the parenthood of same-sex couples. Studies finding that having same-sex parents hurts children have been criticized for their data and largely debunked, especially one by Regnerus that was widely publicized: “The Regnerus study compared adults raised by a gay or lesbian parent in any family configuration with adults who were raised in stable, heterosexual, two-parent family environments, which may have distorted the outcomes." The Southern Poverty Law Center continued, “Since the study’s release, it has been completely discredited because of its faulty methodology and its suspect funding." In fact, almost all criticism of same-sex parenting is about family structure, including the oft-cited idea that kids should have both a mom and a dad. Speaking from personal experience, I know I’ve had many male role models in my life: other family members, my friend’s fathers, teachers, coaches, and more. One of the most important long-term studies of children raised by lesbians, the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, discussed this. “About half of the young people in the study, both boys and girls, report having a significant male role model in their life, even though they have two mothers. But there was no difference in psychological well-being between those who have such a role model and those who do not. There was also no evidence that the presence of a male role model affects traits commonly associated with gender roles or that boys require a male role model to be well-adjusted,” reports The Advocate about the study. Another study about this by Rachel H. Farr, et al. found the same thing: “It therefore appears that having both a male and female role model in the home is not necessary for facilitating typical gender development among adopted children, nor does it discourage gender nonconformity." Across the board, researchers have concluded that family processes and parenting skills matter far more in the long-term health and success of kids than family structures.
Something else important to consider in parenting skills and family process is what it takes for same-sex couples to have children. I realized this when I heard people talking about being ‘accidents.’ In some cases, one or both members of the couple may come into the relationship with children, but when a couple decides to have children, it takes a lot of work. Having kids when you are in a relationship with someone of the same gender takes work and money. You have to find a donor, or a surrogate, or plan an adoption, and find the money to finance those things, including the medical costs those could incur—all on top of raising a child. If anything, I have grown up knowing that I was wanted, which is something that not all kids can say.
Finally, one thing that is often assumed, or, at least debated, about the children of same-sex couples is that they will also be gay or otherwise identify as LGBTQ+. A study by William R. Schumm and a long term study of children raised by lesbians found that, in fact, children of same-sex couples are more likely to identify with the LGBTQ+ community than others. NBC News reported on that long term study’s results, saying “Of those people raised by lesbians, 70 percent of females and 90 percent of males identified as ‘heterosexual or straight,’compared to 88 percent of females and 98 percent of males in the demographically matched NSFG group." The lead author of the report on that long term study explained that having been raised in an accepting environment with a more expansive view of sexuality might contribute to this, as well as genetics and other factors. As was mentioned previously, having same-sex parents also does not contribute to gender identity or gender nonconformity. It’s also worth stating that the percent of the population that identifies as LGBTQ+ is not static. In the US, 4.5% of the population identified as LGBT in 2017, which was 0.4% more than just one year before that and a whole percentage point more than in 2012. In Europe, that is 5.9%, with Germany having the highest at 7.4%. Overall in Europe, when respondents could identify their sexuality on a scale, 10% identified as not only straight. The important thing here is that there isn’t a set percentage of people that identify with each sexuality. In any case, a large majority of children raised by same-sex couples are heterosexual. Just as LGBT children are born to straight couples, straight children are born to same-sex couples.
That being said, I find that many times people assume that I’m a lesbian. Based on many societal assumptions, can they be blamed? I’m not especially feminine, I have LGBTQ+ friends who I love and accept, I’ve been active in Pride and activism at my school, I own way too many flannels, and I have two moms. This is only one of the assumptions people like to make about me and other kids of same-sex parents. In fact, the aforementioned study of Australian children with same-sex parents found that the largest threat to their wellbeing was not how they were parented, but the discrimination they face. NBC News reported that 3 million people in the US have one LGBT parent—at least. Three million people, adults and children. Some estimates place that number at more than six million. Two hundred thousand children today are being raised by same-sex couples. How many of those kids have grown up seeing the world in terms of the places they don’t belong, or the places that won’t welcome them? Churches shutting their doors to the parents they love, businesses refusing to cater to their families, politicians and lawmakers declaring by their votes that their parents are a violation of family values, and their peers assuming that they, too, deserve the bigotry and hatred that has made their parents so hard-pressed for rights in this country. One study found that half of children raised by lesbians reported homophobic discrimination.
There are some resources for kids of same sex parents, namely COLAGE, which refers to children of lesbians and gays as ‘queerspawn’ at times. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to be said with a straight face (I find it hilarious), but overall, it’s good to see that society has somewhat warmed up to the LGBT community over the last few years. Support for LGBTQ+ Americans and same-sex marriage has grown recently, according to a Pew Research study; however, that remains sharply divided along party lines, with Democrats or liberal-leaning people being far more likely to support LGBT people and same-sex parents than Reepublicans or conservative leaning people. Many of us have a sense of half-belonging. We are deeply rooted in the LGBT community and the struggles they face, but the vast majority of us—70% to 90% of us—aren’t a part of that ourselves. We want to help and be leaders and allies—but, as I was once told at a Pride Club meeting, “Why should you be leading us? You’re not even gay.” The way in which we are raised is not what makes us different. It’s the way in which society sees us.
I know that I have a great deal of personal advocacy inherent in this topic; however, I believe understanding the children of same-sex couples and the struggles they face is important outside of my own experiences. As I mentioned previously, millions of children today are growing up with at least one LGBTQ+ parent—and that number will continue to grow as more LGBT people feel free to marry and have children in America. In 2017, just two years after the legalization of same-sex marriage, Gallup reported that 10.2% of LGBT Americans were married to a same-sex spouse. Those couples, or at least some of them, will choose to have children, and those kids will grow up in the same society we live in today. They will be our friends, our students, our children’s friends, our colleagues, our leaders, and our fellow citizens. Understanding their upbringing is important—but more important is the fact that it likely wasn’t very different at all.
My mom once described me as a ‘bridgemaker’ between the LGBTQ and straight communities. I’m straight, but I have gay parents. I have deep connections in both of those identities. Maybe that’s what having same-sex parents should mean. Not prejudice, but bridge-building. To reconcile those party-lines divisions and bring people together. I have grown up seeing the world through a lense both of diversity, in the struggles my moms have faced, and of privilege, in my own position to advocate for the people I love. Maybe, then, my perspective is not different because of my parents. Maybe it’s doubled.