The Lack of Differences Between Gay/Lesbian and Heterosexual Parents: A Review of the Literature
Kevin F. McNeill
University of California, Riverside
Questions concerning this manuscript should be directed to the author via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The (Lack of) Differences Between Gay/Lesbian and Heterosexual Parents: A Review of the Literature
A review of current demographics of families in the United States reveals that the traditional intact, two-parent family is yielding in prevalence to a myriad of other family forms (Flaks, Fischer, Masterpasqua, & Gregory, 1995). While impossible to portray accurately, it is estimated that somewhere between 3% and 10% of the adult male population in the United States identifies as exclusively homosexual (Patterson, 1995a; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1983). If we extend these percentages to females, it can be estimated that there are between 7 and 15 million gays and lesbians in the United States today. Further extending these estimates to include the immediate family members (brothers, sisters, parents, and perhaps even children), reveals that at least 50 million Americans are either themselves homosexual, or have a close family member who is (Bozett, 1989; Miller, 1979) . While these estimates may be somewhat suspect, they do reveal that gays and lesbians are becoming significantly more prevalent in our society or, at least, more visible.
Lesbians have been bearing and raising children for a long time, and they choose to parent for many
of the same reasons as heterosexual women (Pies, 1990). Yet, when a lesbian first expresses an
interest in having a child, she is likely to encounter negative reactions ranging from confusion to
outright hostility (Rohrbaugh, 1989). Institutionalized beliefs presume that childbearing is only to
occur within the limited context of a heterosexual relationship. Homophobia and heterosexism are
the institutional reflections of social values that create and maintain the status quo, and these also
operate to present lesbian motherhood as an inherent contradiction (DiLapi, 1989). Although the
American family is changing, it is clear that homophobia is still a widespread phenomena.
An examination of lesbian motherhood requires a look at the social context within which women as a group currently exist in the United States. It is important to recognize that, in addition to heterosexism, lesbians also face the oppression common to all women, particularly in the areas of employment and housing (DiLapi, 1989). Yet, research has indicated that both groups are still quite capable of raising their children in appropriate and healthy ways, and that significant differences do not generally e ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 10--------------------------------------- xist between them (Strong & Schinfeld, 1984). In fact, some findings suggest that there may be important and beneficial outcomes from being the product of a lesbian family, such as increased appreciations for diversity and expanded views of gender roles (Patterson, 1995b).
Previous research has also revealed that lesbian mothers are more similar than different from heterosexual mothers (Harris & Turner, 1986). This raises important sociocultural and psychological issues. Should continued research demonstrate the viability of these alternative family structures, it will necessitate the reformulation of currently accepted theories (e.g., social learning) which prescribe that healthy development requires opposite-sex parents for the tasks of identification and modeling (Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph, 1995).
The study of both homosexuality and fatherhood has increased dramatically in the recent past, yet
the notion of "gay father" is a newly emergent figure in the culture and literature (Bigner & Bozett,
1989a; Bozett, 1989). Gay males who are also fathers are placed in a unique socio-cultural
environment which is more complex than either that of the heterosexual or single homosexual male
(Bigner & Bozett, 1989a). The process of identity development for the gay father requires the
reconciliation of two seemingly polar extremes: that of the homosexual male and that of the father.
Often, the attempt to combine these identities places gay fathers in a type of marginal existence
between the two (Robinson & Skeen, 1982).
Often, the most difficult decision for gay males is not whether or not to disclose their homosexuality to society, but whether or not to do so to their children (Bozett, 1984). Their concerns center around the possibility that either their children will totally reject them, or will have diminished respect and affection for them (Bigner & Bozett, 1989a). In fact, there does seem to be some support for this (Bozett, 1988); however, other research has shown that disclosure of a homosexual identity may actually strengthen relationships between sons and their fathers (Miller, 1979).
Most research concerning gay fathers can be grouped according to whether or not a comparison group was used and, if so, the nature of that comparison group. Studies have been conducted where gay fathers were the sole focus of the study (e.g., Miller, 1979) and where they were compared to lesbian mothers (e.g., Wyers, 1987) or heterosexual fathers (e.g., Robinson & Skeen, 1982); additionally, one study (Harris & Turner, 1986) compared all four groups (gay and heterosexual fathers, as well as lesbian and heterosexual mothers). Few differences were found between groups in these studies, and no significant differences were found with regard to parental attitudes toward, or abilities in, child rearing and sexual orientation.
Children of Gay and Lesbian Parents
While most of the literature on child development has been based on those raised in heterosexual
families, there is also a substantial amount of empirical literature regarding those raised by gay and
lesbian parents (e.g., Gottman, 1990; Riddle, 1978). Much of this research is in response to the
growing visibility of lesbian and gay families, much like the single parent family, as an alternative to
the traditional heterosexual family. However, in contrast to the single-parent family, the increased
visibility of the gay parent families has not lead to a corresponding increase of their acceptability
Negative stereotypes concerning homosexuals continue to abound, including fears that they will molest children and/or seduce them into their own "deviant" homosexual lifestyle (Riddle, 1978). Given this, it is not surprising that many heterosexuals, particularly heterosexual parents, are concerned about possible consequences of contact between homosexual adults and children. These fears continue even though the American Psychological Associations has declassified homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, and provides clear evidence that the issue is far from resolved.
Research concerning the children of lesbian and gay parents has focused on such things as gender identity (Green, 1978), gender role development (Hoeffer, 1981), emotional development (Golombok, Spencer, & Rutter, 1983), intelligence (Kirkpatrick, Smith, & Roy, 1981), self-esteem (Huggins, 1989), and independence (Steckel, 1985). Much of this research is presented as a response to negative societal opinion, and sexual orientation of the parent continues to be a major issue in public policy formation (Patterson, 1992).
Sexual Orientation and Child Custody
Many gay parents are brought to the attention of authorities when a custody battle is being waged
with an ex-spouse over their ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1
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parent seeking either custody, continuation of parental rights, or visitation privileges is generally at a
legal disadvantage because of the subjective criteria used by many judges to serve the "best
interests" of the child (Payne, 1978). It has been estimated that a lesbian mother's likelihood of
obtaining custody of her biological children is less that 50% (Falk, 1989). The odds that a gay
mother or father will lose or be denied privileges increases when the parent's sexual orientation is an
issue in custody hearings (Hitchens, 1980). In fact, according to Polikoff (1986), a lesbian mother
must portray herself as being as close to the All-American norm as possible -- the image of her ideal
heterosexual counterpart -- and preferably asexual, if she is to have any chance of obtaining custody
in a court dispute.
Few rights are as fundamental and accepted by society as the right of parents to raise children. Yet many courts have viewed the prospect of gays and lesbians as parents in such a negative fashion that they have refused custody to some parents based solely on their sexual orientation (Falk, 1989). Their reasons for doing this are varied, but generally center around the following alleged concerns: (a) that these parents are less mentally fit, (b) that they will molest their children, (c) that their children will be stigmatized by their peers, and (d) that their children are more likely to become gay or lesbian themselves (Falk, 1989; Kleber, Howell, & Tibbits-Kleber, 1986; Rivera, 1987). However, previous studies have revealed no significant association between sexual orientation and psychological characteristics relevant to parenting (Falk, 1989; Kleber, Howell, & Tibbits-Kleber, 1986; Knight, 1983; Patterson, 1994).
The available research seems to cluster into three areas: (a) studies focusing on parenting by lesbian versus heterosexual mothers, (b) studies focusing on parenting by gay versus heterosexual fathers, and (c) those investigating what consequences, if any, these alternative family units have for the offspring raised in them. This paper takes advantage of the apparent separation of these themes within the published literature, and focuses on each one separately. This trend is continued in the discussion, which focuses on and integrates each theme separately. A general discussion follows, which integrates the conclusions of studies across themes. Finally, implications for social policy and suggestions for future research are presented. Research Summaries
Parenting Styles of Homosexual Versus Heterosexual Mothers
Shavelson, Biaggio, Cross, & Lehman (1980). The researchers conducting this study expressed
concern that there was no single, current, unifying theory in this area which has received
overwhelming or even consistent support. As a consequence, Shavelson et al. (1993) sought to bring
some cohesiveness to this area. An adjunct purpose was to explore heterosexual and homosexual
women's(1) perceptions of themselves and of their parents in light of the relatively new concept of
The sample used consisted of 26 self-identified lesbian women from the Idaho and Washington state areas, who were compared with a control group consisting of 26 self-identified heterosexual women from the same areas. All participants were administered the Schafer's Child Report of Behavior Inventory (CRBPI), and Bem's Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), as well as a structured interview. The resulting data were analyzed using multiple regression which computed a stepwise solution.
Although lesbian women tended to rate themselves higher on the masculinity scale, results indicated that no significant predictor or group of predictors could be isolated for lesbian women. Further, no set of parental behaviors or perceived sex-role characteristics differentiated lesbian from heterosexual participants. The researchers stated that this, especially when combined with the lack of agreement of previous research, can only lead one to conclude that the homosexual orientation in women does not have a singular etiology (Shavelson et al., 1980).
Pagelow (1980). Single mothers, regardless of sexual orientation, continue to have common
concerns regarding child custody, housing, and employment (Pagelow, 1980). Using a
phenomenological approach, the researchers sought to address and explore the attitudes, behaviors,
and reported experiences of lesbian mothers, as compared to heterosexual mothers, especially as
concerned the aforementioned areas.
The sample used in this study consisted of 23 self-identified single heterosexual mothers of 51 children, who were compared to 20 single lesbian mothers of 43 children. In depth interviews were conducted with each respondent, either face-to-face or over ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 12--------------------------------------- the telephone.
Results indicated that, compared to heterosexual mothers, lesbian mothers were awarded sole custody of their children less often. However, incidents of discrimination in housing, employment, and the collection of child support did not differ significantly between the two groups. It was found that lesbian and heterosexual mothers managed their lives and react to everyday stressors in very similar ways. Lesbian mothers did, however, tend to own their own homes and operate their own businesses at a higher rate than heterosexual mothers. The researchers explained this as a potential response to social pressure, whereby these mothers became more independent as a coping mechanism to their societal oppression.
Kweskin & Cook (1982). To measure the self-described sex role behaviors and ratings of ideal sex
role behavior of children between lesbian and heterosexual mothers, Kweskin and Cook (1982)
recruited 22 lesbian mothers and 22 heterosexual mothers to participate in their study. This group
was further divided by sex of their child, resulting in 11 mothers of female children and 11 of male
children for each group. All participants resided in a metropolitan area in the western United States,
and no significant differences were noted between the groups on the variables of age, income, and
Each participant completed two Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) questionnaires, one for self-description and one for description of ideal behavior in a child of a designated sex. The resulting data were then analyzed using chi-square tests.
Results revealed no significant differences between the mothers in descriptions of their own sex role behavior. Additionally, no significant differences were noted between groups in their rating of "ideal" child behavior. However, differences were noted when the mothers were divided by sex-role classification rather than sexual orientation. Classifications assigned to an "ideal" child tended to be consistent with the mother's self-ratings. That is, if the mother rated herself as masculine, then her ratings of ideal child behavior tended also toward masculine.
No differences were found in the way mothers rated females as opposed to males. The researchers concluded that their results do not support the notion suggesting that differences exist between homosexual and heterosexual mothers in terms of their sex-role behavior and perceptions. Self descriptive sex role classification (i.e., masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated) were found to be a more accurate indicator of an "ideal" child's assigned ratings than was either the mother's sexual orientation or the child's biological sex.
Green, Mandel, Hotvedt, Gray, & Smith (1986). The focus of this study was to assess the
psychosocial and psychosexual aspects of development of children of homosexual mothers, as
compared to those of heterosexual mothers. Sexual identity and gender role behavior were evaluated
utilizing a number of questionnaires.
The sample consisted of 50 homosexual women and their 56 children, who were matched with 40 heterosexual women and their 48 children on the variables of age, ethnicity, children's sex and age, marital status, income, and education. All children were between the ages of 3 and 11 at the time of the study, and all participants resided within one of 10 states located on the east coast and, whereas all homosexual mothers who met the criteria were accepted, the heterosexual participants were selected from a pool of approximately 900 respondents.
Each mother was given an attitude assessment covering issues of divorce, sex roles, sex education of children, and child discipline. Additionally, each was administered three measures of personality, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), the Adjective Checklist, and the Jackson PRF-E, and asked to complete a son and/or daughter questionnaire for each child covering such areas as sexual identity, peer group popularity, and preferred play activities. Each child was tested for intelligence utilizing either the Weschler Preschool Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI), or the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children, and each was also administered several tests of sexual identity and family relationships. Additionally, each child was interviewed concerning play preferences, friendships, television preferences, and thoughts about life as an adult.
Results indicated that lesbian mothers scored higher on self-confidence, dominance, and exhibition, whereas heterosexual mothers scored higher on abasement (expressing feelings of inferiority) and deference. Also, sons of heterosexual mothers were more likely to have experienced more than one period of separation from their father, while sons of lesbian mothers typically had experienced only one period of separation. Finally, lesbians reported having spent fewer daytime hours holding or touching their infant sons than heterosexual mothers.
With regard to the children's results, no significant differences were found in the areas of IQ, or in the results of any of the family relationship scales. Additionally, the groups did not differ on favorite types of TV programs, sex of favorite TV character, or favorite games or toys. Finally, no differences were found between the groups on peer group relations. However, with regard to sexual identity, girls of lesbian mothers were much more likely to express an interest in traditionally masculine occupations than their matched counterparts.
The researchers concluded that the daughters showed a wider range of gender role behaviors than the sons, but not beyond the ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 13--------------------------------------- normal range. Daughters of lesbian mothers were less traditionally feminine than those of heterosexual mothers, but no conflict in gender identity was found for any of the groups.
Peters & Cantrell (1991). After reviewing the empirical research, Peters and Cantrell (1991)
concluded that sexual orientation cannot be explained in terms of a single factor. Based on this, they
designed a study to assess what differences, if any, existed between lesbian and heterosexual women.
Their sample consisted of adult women volunteers from a university undergraduate course and a regional organization concerned with lesbian issues. Sexual orientation was determined by self report of the participants. Age matched pairs were randomly selected from a pool of 134 lesbian women and 105 heterosexual women, resulting in two groups of 46 women each. The test instrument used consisted of 100 questions encompassing four areas: family/demographic, attitudes, past sexual experiences, and current sexual experiences. There was no time limit allotted for completion.
Results indicated no significant differences between groups on past negative childhood experiences with males or positive experiences with females. Additionally, no differences were found on reported incidents of childhood sexual abuse or incest. Current attitudes toward homosexuality were also not significantly different between groups. Finally, lesbian responses with regard to distance in parental relationships did not differ from those of heterosexuals.
The researchers concluded that, excepting the sexual object of choice, these results indicate that there are very few differences regarding lesbian and heterosexual women, particularly with regard to parental relations and early sexual experience, as well as current attitudes and sexual experience.
Patterson (1995a). While it is generally recognized that, in heterosexual families, the allocation of
household labor (cooking, laundry, etc.) and childcare still occurs along gendered lines, to what
extent do lesbian families allocate the labor involved in household maintenance and child care?
Further, what implications, if any, do these choices have for the children in their care? Patterson
(1995a) sought to investigate and answer these questions, by assessing the division of household
labor among biological and nonbiological lesbian mothers, and the degree of psychosocial
adjustment among their children.
The sample used in this study consisted of 26 families headed by lesbian couples with at least one child between 4 and 9 years of age. All families resided in the greater San Francisco Bay area. The mothers were predominantly white, in their late 30s, well educated, and relatively affluent. The test instruments used for the parents consisted of a "Who Does What?" measure and a Marital Adjustment Test. All children completed a Child Behavior Questionnaire.
Results indicated that lesbian couples reported sharing household tasks and family decision making equally, but biological mothers reported greater involvement in child care, whereas nonbiological mother reported spending longer hours in paid employment. Most lesbian couples reported high satisfaction with their present relationships. Couples reported more satisfaction when child care was evenly shared between the two mothers. The researchers concluded that models of fairness in the division of labor at home are important influences on children's development, and that children who observe equal distributions of responsibilities may enjoy developmental advantages.
McNeill, Rienzi, & Kposowa (1998). Although lesbian mothers appear to far more similar to than
different from heterosexual mothers with regard to their parenting styles and abilities, they are still
awarded sole custody of their children at a rate far less than their heterosexual counterparts. To
further explore this issue, McNeill, Rienzi, and Kposowa (1998) sought to assess if differences
existed between these two groups on dimensions of family and relationship dysfunction, parent-child
relationships, and knowledge of the parental role -- areas thought to be of importance to officials
making custody decisions.
Their sample consisted of 59 women (24 lesbian and 35 heterosexual), who were all self-reported mothers of at least one child (average 1.38 for the lesbian sample, and 1.89 for the heterosexual sample). The test instruments administered were the Index of Family Relations, the Index of Parental Attitudes, the Family Awareness Scale, and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale.
Results indicated that, overall, lesbian and heterosexual mothers do not differ significantly on any of these dimensions assesses. However, although mean differences did not manifest between the two groups, the lesbian sample did exhibit more variation. The researchers stipulated that lesbians may represent a more diverse population with regard to their adjustment, stress, and competence in the parental role, a finding not support by previous research.
Parenting Styles of Homosexual Versus Heterosexual Fathers
Miller (1979). Miller (1979) sought to document the nature and quality of fathering abilities of
homosexual men. Using a ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1
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sampling technique, 40 homosexual fathers and 14 of their children were gathered and depth
interviews were conducted. All participants were white, college educated, and predominantly
middle-class. Specifically, the researcher addressed the following issues: (a) Do gay fathers have
children to cover their homosexuality? (b) Do they molest their children? (c) Do their children turn
out to be disproportionately homosexual (these results are given in the section regarding children of
homosexuals)? and (d) Do they expose their children to homophobic harassment?
Results did not substantiate any of the hypotheses. There was no evidence to support the notion that gay men father children to cover their homosexuality. Additionally, evidence was presented indicating that fears of child sexual abuse by gay fathers are not warranted. Finally, and contrary to prevailing judicial opinion, gay fathers do not expose their children to excessive homophobic harassment. However, the researcher did note that warm relationships with children may tend to offset the often lackluster positions of homosexuals in a heterosexual marriage, and that this may provide some form of compensation to them.
Mallen (1983). How do homosexual males perceive themselves in terms of their own sexuality?
While it is certainly possible that they may see themselves in terms more typical of the opposite sex,
the picture is far from clear. Mallen (1983), concerned that sex-role stereotypes held by
homosexuals were being ignored in the literature, decided to investigate this phenomenon.
Her sample consisted of 60 participants assigned to two groups (n = 30 for each group) based on their self-ratings on the seven-point Kinsey scale. This scale ranged from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual). Those rating themselves as 0-2 were considered heterosexual, while those rating themselves 4-6 were considered homosexual. Within this sample, no participant rated himself as 3. The two groups were matched as much as possible on the variables of age and level of education.
Each participant was administered a questionnaire designed to solicit attitudes with respect to aspects of masculinity, femininity, and sex-role stereotyping. Participants were given the questionnaire in groups of 10, and a standardized set of instructions was read to all groups. The resultant data were analyzed by principle components analyses, and the solution produced three factors accounting for 86% of the total variance (sex-role stereotypic behavior, ideal self, and expressiveness).
It was predicted that if sex-role stereotyping occurred, then female role figures would be attributed to stereotypic feminine characteristics and male role figures would be attributed to stereotypic male characteristics. It was also predicted that sex role stereotyping would be particularly characteristic of heterosexuals. Results indicated that there was a tendency for homosexual males to perceive less discrepancy between the sexes than heterosexual males. Of the two groups, only homosexual males considered androgynous traits desirable for both males and females. Both groups tended to reject extreme masculinity -- they did not see themselves as extremely masculine, nor did they wish to be so. Additionally, both groups depicted their fathers in extremely unfavorable terms. Both groups saw themselves as equally distant from their mothers.
The researcher concluded that these results indicate that sex-stereotyping was more prevalent in heterosexuals, while homosexuals tended to value expressive traits more highly. With regard to other perceptions of masculinity and femininity however, heterosexual and homosexual males tend to be much more similar than different.
Skeen & Robinson (1984). Noting that, to date, no empirical findings existed which focused on the
backgrounds of gay fathers before they became involved in a heterosexual relationship and fathered
a child, Skeen and Robinson (1984) sought to explore some of the data on the early family
backgrounds and relationships between homosexual men who later became fathers and their parents.
Their sample consisted of 30 participants randomly selected from a larger population of 285 who had responded to a nationwide request distributed through a homosexual organization. Representation was evenly distributed from all regions of the United States, and the children of these fathers ranged in age from 1 to 34 years. All fathers were administered a questionnaire designed by the researchers to assess their current relationships, perceptions of their mother's and father's acceptance of their homosexuality, as well as perceptions of their family atmosphere during childhood. All responses were scored on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (extremely unsatisfactory) to 5 (extremely satisfactory).
Results indicated that the early family backgrounds of gay fathers were generally positive. Most fathers grew up in intact homes where heterosexual relationships were modeled, pleasant memories existed, and marital discord was not commonplace. Most fathers rated both their children and lovers as equally important.
Skeen and Robinson (1984) concluded that their findings question the contention that disturbed parental relationships are necessary or even contributory conditions for homosexuality. However, they acknowledged that it is difficult to determine what effect, if any, positive early family experiences have on subsequent decisions to father children. ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 15---------------------------------------
Bigner & Jacobsen (1989a). In an attempt to bring some clarity to the neglected area concerning
research with homosexual fathers, Bigner and Jacobson (1989a) selected 66 males (33 homosexual
and 33 heterosexual), each of whom was the father of at least two children. The participants were
asked to complete the Iowa Parent Behavior Inventory, a scale which consists of 36 questions within
five factors (involvement, limit-setting, responsiveness, guidance, and intimacy). Total variance for
these factors ranged from a low of .64 (intimacy) to a high of .86 (guidance). The collected data
were analyzed using t-tests.
Analyses showed no significant differences between groups on factors of involvement or intimacy, but revealed that differences between groups on the factors of limit setting, responsiveness, and reasoning guidance were significant. Within these factors, significant differences were noted for 13 of the 36 items tested (each factor contained at least one item).
The researchers presented two possible explanations for these differences: (a) that gay parents may feel more guilt due to sensitivity about their own sexuality, and therefore strive to be better parents; and (b) that gay fathers may be more androgynous in their parenting orientation, providing them with more parenting options than heterosexual parents. They concluded that these results seem to indicate that sexual orientation has no appreciably harmful effects on a gay father's ability to parent. However, Bigner and Jacobson (1989a) urge caution in generalizing these results, due to the difficulty in accurately assessing the "gay lifestyle"(p. 184).
Bigner & Jacobsen (1989b). The enigma of gay fatherhood presents males in this group with a
more unique and complex social-psychological environment than heterosexual males, particularly
relative to identity concerns, acceptance of self, and parenting and custody issues (Bigner &
Jacobsen, 1989b). The focus of this study was to provide empirically-based data with respect to
parenting behaviors of self-identified gay and nongay men utilizing a standardized instrument. The
researchers sought to explore the following issue: Are there specific dimensions of parenting
behavior that differentiate gay from nongay fathers?
To answer this, the researchers selected 66 males (33 homosexual and 33 heterosexual), each of whom was the father of at least two children. The participants were administered the Value of Children (VOC) questionnaire, which consists of 21 questions within six factors (tradition-continuity-security, parenthood satisfaction, role motivations, happiness and affection, goals and incentives, and social status), all scored on a Likert-type scale and designed to address the positive values of children in adults' lives. The resulting data were analyzed using standard t-tests.
Significant differences were noted between the groups on the subscales of social status and tradition-continuity-security, with gay fathers scoring higher on the former and heterosexual fathers scoring higher on the latter. These were interpreted as indicative of a traditional attitude toward family life, a way to protect against societal rejection, and a desire to achieve some kind of social status and acceptability in the community. No differences were noted on the scales of parenthood satisfaction, role motivations, happiness and affection, and goals and incentives. Additionally, the two groups did not differ on the overall scale.
Bigner and Jacobsen (1989b) concluded that, overall, parenthood is experienced for similar reasons by both homosexual and heterosexual men, but urge caution in generalizing these results until replications can be done.
Bigner & Jacobsen (1992). The study examined parenting behaviors and attitudes toward the roles
of fathering among gay and nongay fathers. Specifically, the study focused on the following
questions: Are there differences in parenting styles as well as attitudes toward the fathering role of
gay and nongay fathers?
There were 24 self-identified gay fathers and 29 non-gay fathers in the study. There were two test instruments used. The first was the Adult Responses to Child Behavior, which consisted of 15 slides with narration from which three types of responses were solicited -- Adult-Oriented (assertion of adult power over child), Child-Oriented (concern for child's development or learning), and Task-Oriented (emphasizing immediate problem resolution, independent of effect on parent or child). The second instrument was the Attitudes Towards Fathering Scale, consisting of 18 items measuring traditional father role attitudes, and 18 measuring developmental attitudes, all scored on a Likert-scale ranging from one (strongly agree) to five (strongly disagree). All participants completed both questionnaires.
Both groups tended to hold developmental attitudes toward their fathering role. Of the 36 items tested, seven were found to discriminate between gay and nongay fathers -- five of which measured traditional attitudes and two which measured developmental attitudes.
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 16--------------------------------------- The overall finding was that gay and nongay fathers are much more similar than different with regard to their responsiveness and attitudes toward the fathering role. There were almost no differences with regard to degree of involvement with their children, degree of intimacy with children, problem solving, encouragement of autonomy, and the ways in which child rearing problems are handled. The researchers concluded that this firmly disallows the alleged negative impact of gay fathers on child growth and development. Sexual orientation has no overall pertinent bearing on the way fathers react to child behaviors, nor on the way they conceptualize the fathering role.
Crosbie-Burnett & Helmbrect (1993). There can be little doubt that gay fathers, as a group, have
become more open about their combined gay and father identities, yet there seems to be very little in
the literature documenting this phenomenon. In an effort to begin rectifying this, and to dispel, if
applicable, negative myths associated with this group, Crosbie-Burnett and Helmbrecht (1993)
designed a study to assess the family dynamics surrounding gay fathers and stepfathers.
Their sample consisted of 48 white gay males, each either the biological or stepfather of one child (male = 30, female = 18), and most lived with their biological mothers (74%) and visited the male household during the study. The test instruments included the Stepfamily Adjustment Scale (SAS), which measures the quality of relationships between family members and the various dynamics unique to stepfamilies (unresolved emotions from prior relationships, problems related to the child's movement between two households, quality of the steprelationship, quality of the biological parent-child relationship, happiness in the couple relationship, family cohesion, overall happiness with the family, and, for adolescents only, self-efficacy with respect to the attainment of needs). Scoring was accomplished on the basis of a four-point Likert scale.
Results indicated that the key family dynamics revolved around the integration of the stepfather into the family and his subsequent relationship with the child. Additionally, it was found that couple happiness between the two fathers was independent of their perceived relationships with their children, and negatively correlated with the perceived relationship between the biological mother and the biological father's male partner -- that is, the better the gay couple relationship, the worse the relationship between the gay "stepfather" and the biological mother.
The researchers concluded that these findings are consistent with the body of research concerning family dynamics of heterosexual stepfamily relationships, particularly those in which the children were male. It is common for strong and positive feelings between members of a stepfamily often lead to feelings of jealousy in prior spouses, especially during the early adjustment stages of family disintegration and reorganization. However, Crosbie-Burnett and Helmbrecht (1993) caution against implying causation, due to the correlational nature of their study. They urge replication with larger samples, using lesbian mothers in addition to gay fathers, and analyses utilizing qualitative methods.
Bailey, Bobrow, Wolfe, & Mikach (1995). A primary social and scientific concern with regard to
gay and lesbian parenting surrounds the issues of whether or not children of these parents are
especially likely to become gay themselves and, if so, why. This issue has arisen most vividly with
the context of child custody cases. In an attempt to assess and clarify this issue, Bailey et al. (1995)
interviewed gay fathers their adult sons, focusing particularly on the sexual orientation of the sons.
Their sample consisted of 55 gay or bisexual fathers and 43 of their adult sons. All participants resided in the areas of Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Dallas, Antonio, and Houston. Sexual orientation of fathers was determined by self-report, and each father was asked to report their perceived certainty of their son's sexual orientation on a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (completely certain) to 4 (uncertain). Additionally, each son was asked to rate their own sexual orientation, on a Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (completely heterosexual) to 6 (completely heterosexual). The resulting data were analyzed using t-tests.
Results indicated that the fathers were amazingly accurate in predicting the sexual orientation of their sons (only one father was incorrect, for an accuracy rate of 98%), and that sexual orientation in the sons was not positively correlated with the length of time that the sons had lived with their fathers.
Bailey et al. (1995) concluded that, although they could not completely exclude the possibility of father-to-son environmental transmission, results of their study suggest that, even if such an influence exists, it is not large.
Development of Children of Homosexual Versus Heterosexual Parents
Weeks, Derdeyn, & Langman (1975). Concerned over the lack of attention which had been paid to
children of homosexuals and the potential problems they might experience as a consequence, Weeks,
Derdeyn, and Langman (1975) sought to explore ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation
Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE
17--------------------------------------- what influence, if any, did the sexual orientation of the parent(s)
play in the sexual and social development of the child? To do this, two children (one male and one
female) of opposite-sex homosexual parents were administered projective tests common to
psychotherapy. The parents of both children were divorced, and both children were currently living
with their biological mothers.
While the researchers noted that it would be impossible, based on their very limited sample, to distinguish factors specifically related to parental homosexuality, they did conclude that the turmoil experienced by the children as a consequence of their parents' sexual orientation was not unique and did not differ significantly from that of heterosexual parents who have conflicts.
It is worth noting, however, that while the researchers concluded that the problems of children of homosexuals may not be related specifically to parental sexual orientation, there was evidence of maladaptive patterns of development in both children. Additionally, it is also worth noting that the sample used in this study was extremely small (n = 2), and therefore the conclusions reached should be interpreted with extreme caution.
Miller (1979). Miller (1979) sought to document the nature and quality of fathering abilities of
homosexual men. Among the issues he sought to explore was a determination of whether or not
children of homosexual fathers turn out to be disproportionately homosexual. A more extensive
presentation of the sample, as well as the methodology, used in this study is given in the section on
research regarding gay fathers.
Results did not support the notion that children, specifically sons, of homosexuals are more likely to be homosexual that their counterparts raised by heterosexual parents. The data suggested that second generation homosexuals are rare, and that homosexual fathers tended to show remarkably little anxiety about their children's eventual or actual orientation. However, Miller (1979) noted that stating that children of gay fathers were within the normal range of conventional development was not to say that their lives were problem free. The very nature of behavior outside of currently accepted social norms, as evidenced by their father's sexual orientation, invites consequent tension to which the children are also not immune.
Kirkpatrick, Smith, & Roy (1981). Realizing that current custody proceedings are hampered by a
lack of judicial and clinical experience, as well as a lack of empirical data on the development of
children of lesbian parents, Kirkpatrick, Smith, and Roy (1981) sought to explore the existence or
nonexistence of distinguishing factors between children of heterosexual and lesbian parents.
The sample consisted of 40 children, aged 5 to 12, divided equally into two groups according to their mother's self-identified sexual orientation. Each child was administered the WISC, Holtzman Inkblot Technique, and Human Figure Drawing tests. Additionally, each was seen by a child psychologist for one 45-minute semistructured playroom session, which included questions about early memories, dreams, future plans, and gender related issues. The psychologist was not informed of the participant's group membership until all evaluations were completed.
Results indicated a remarkably even distribution between the two groups. Neither the child's responses nor the type or frequency of pathology differed as a function of their mother's sexual orientation. Results of behavior in the playroom revealed no indication of differences between the two groups. The researchers concluded that parental orientation is not a reliable predictor of either childhood behavior or subsequent gender-role preference.
Hoeffer (1981). Due to the prevalence of stereotypes and myths regarding lesbian-mother families,
Hoeffer (1981) sought to develop research which would provide the public and professionals with a
more reality-based understanding of lesbian mothers and their children. The study focused on the
influence of lesbian versus heterosexual mothers' on the children's acquisition of sex role traits and
Their sample consisted of 20 self-identified lesbian and 20 heterosexual single mothers from the San Francisco Bay area, as well as their only or oldest child. The two groups of mothers were matched on the variables of education and occupational category, and relationship status. Children ranged in ages from 6 through 9, and all had been separated from their fathers prior to 5 years of age. They were matched on the variables of gender and age, so that 10 boys and 10 girls of the same ages comprised the comparison groups. Each participant was administered the Block's Toy Preference Test, with the mothers being asked to rate the toys according to those that she most preferred, somewhat preferred, and least preferred for her child. Responses were analyzed using ANOVAs.
Results revealed no significant differences between the two groups of children as a function of the mother's sexual orientation. Irrespective of the mother's orientation, boys scored significantly higher on sex-typed masculine and lower on sex-typed feminine toy preferences than girls. Additionally, lesbian and heterosexual mothers did not differ significantly on ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 18--------------------------------------- encouragement of play behavior for boys and girls. However, while lesbian mothers did not differ significantly for sex-typed masculine or feminine toys, the heterosexual mother's means scores for sex-typed feminine toys was significantly higher for girls, and their mean preference scores for sex-typed masculine toys was significantly higher for boys. Both groups of mothers reported that the most frequent reason for selecting a particular toy was because the child had requested it, rather than to encourage play with a particular type of toy.
The researchers concluded that, irrespective of the mother's sexual orientation, both boys and girls preferred toys traditionally associated with their gender. Also irrespective of sexual orientation, mothers were more willing to encourage play with neutral toys than with sex-typed ones. The children seemed to have equal if not more influence on their mother's choices than the mothers had on the child's choices. In short, the most striking findings of this study surrounded the similarities, rather than the differences, between these two groups.
Miller, Jacobsen, & Bigner (1982). Concerned that research to date had neglected an analysis of the
lesbian mother as parent, Miller et al. (1982) sought to compare the social settings provided to
children by lesbian and heterosexual mothers. Specifically, they designed a study to assess the
occupational, educational, and financial statuses of these two groups of women. Additionally, both
group's functional conduct as caregivers, as observed through controlled settings involving children,
The sample used consisted of 34 lesbian and 47 heterosexual mothers who had custody of their children. The participants were obtained through a feminist recreation center and Parent-Teacher Association meetings in a large western mountain city. Each respondent was asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire and respond to a short slide presentation representing several parent-child situations.
The data revealed that the child in a lesbian home resided in a considerably less affluent setting than a child in a heterosexual household. Also, lesbian mothers appeared to be more child-oriented in their responses to children. Further, lesbian mothers tended to assume more of a principal role in child care responsibility regardless of whether or not this role was shared with a live-in partner.
The researchers concluded that these results cast doubt on the stereotypical notion that heterosexual mothers are more child oriented than lesbian mothers. On the contrary, proportionately more lesbian mothers reflected a child-oriented stance than their heterosexual counterparts. Clearly, the majority of lesbian mothers see themselves as intimately involved in parenting.
Golombok, Spencer, & Rutter (1983). Golombok et al. (1983) addressed the issue that neither the
theories nor the empirical data allow a clear-cut expectation of the consequences for children being
reared by a lesbian parent. Their investigation was designed to directly study what happens in these
circumstances, and compared lesbian households to those of single-parent households where the
parent was a heterosexual mother.
The sample was obtained through advertisements in a range of gay and single-parent publications, as well as through contacts with gay and single-parent organizations. There were 27 families in each group, with 37 children in the lesbian group and 38 children in the heterosexual group. The children ranged in ages from 5 to 17 years. The main source of data was collected through individual standardized interviews with both the mothers and their children. Additionally, each mother was also administered a malaise questionnaire of emotional disturbance.
Results indicated no significant differences between children raised in lesbian households and those brought up by a heterosexual parent, with respect to gender identity, sex role behavior, or sexual orientation. Additionally, it was noted that there was considerable overlap between both groups of children with regard to individual sex role behaviors. Both the findings on patterns of friendships and those on sexual feelings gave no suggestion that there was likely to be an increased rate of homosexuality among the children of lesbian mothers.
Golombok et al. (1983) concluded that the results of their study failed to show any differences between the groups of children, and that perhaps the quality of family relations, as well as the pattern of upbringing that is a more important consideration for psychosexual development.
Harris & Turner (1986). Noting that most gay/lesbian parents are concerned about their parenting
and their children, Harris and Turner (1986) sought to provide insight using a more representative
sample than had been used in previous studies. The sample included ten self-identified gay males, 13
lesbian families, two heterosexual male single parents, and 14 heterosexual female single parents.
While the majority were white and educated, the sample used did display more diversity than had
been utilized previously.
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 19--------------------------------------- The test instrument was designed to solicit responses on a number of variables including sex roles, problems concerning single parenting, and their willingness to be interviewed, as well as general demographics such as age, ethnicity, occupation, etc. Additionally, questions asked only of gay/lesbian participants included their personal behavior and family history relevant to homosexuality (including self-identification), knowledge and reactions of spouses/children to their homosexuality, and problems and benefits their homosexuality had created for their children. The questionnaires were anonymous and color-coded, and both types were available to make it possible for gay/lesbian parents to participate without publicly identifying themselves.
The researchers concluded that there were surprisingly little differences between homosexual and heterosexual parents. With the exception that homosexual parents tended to make more of an effort to provide an opposite sex-role model for their children, there were no significant differences in the relationships of the parents with their children.
Results indicated that being gay is not incompatible with effective parenting, and it is certainly not the major issue of concern with regard to parents' relationships with their children.
Pennington (1987). Due to a fear of reprisals and the hostility or insensitivity of professionals, many
lesbian families are reluctant to seek help for family or individual problems -- to do so could be
tantamount to being declared unfit mothers. Pennington (1987) sought to address and discuss the
major issues confronted by children living in lesbian mother households.
The sample included 32 children from 28 ethnically diverse families headed by lesbian mothers. These children were seen by the researcher on an outpatient basis at a psychotherapy clinic located in San Francisco over the course of 10 years. The typical length of therapy ranged from six months to one year. Her results are based on individual interviews conducted with both the mothers and their children.
Generally, the researcher found that the more open and relaxed the mother was with regard to her sexual orientation, the more accepting the child was of the idea of having a lesbian mother. The more realistic and understanding the mother was of the issues and potential problems surrounding her orientation, the more successful was the child's adjustment. Pennington (1987) found that there is no inherent pathology associated with lesbian mother families; rather, the central focus is the profound impact from a homophobic culture.
The researcher concluded that children in lesbian families experience problems and psychopathology at a rate not unlike that of children of heterosexual mother families, and that these problems are not necessarily correlated with the mother's sexual orientation. Rather, what appears most important is the quality of mothering, and the quality of the relationships in the household. The primary problem was not the mother's orientation but, rather, societal homophobia.
Bozett (1988). Noting that it is likely that there are between one and two million natural fathers
who are also gay, Bozett (1988), realized that research in this substantive area is necessary in order
to provide practitioners in helping disciplines with an accurate knowledge base so that they can be of
benefit to members of this population who seek their assistance.
The data for this study were obtained through unstructured depth interviews of 19 children of gay fathers. These participants were gathered through advertisements in commercial, gay, and university newspapers in the San Francisco and Oklahoma City areas, as well as through referral by colleagues and friends known by the researcher. Information was gathered with regard to how the children found out about the fathers' homosexuality, how they felt about it, what their reactions were, and who they had told and not told and why. The goal of the research was to generate and suggest, rather than directly test, hypotheses about this phenomenon.
Results indicated that none of the children expressed any difficulty with their father in his parental role; rather, children's concerns focused primarily on the father's gay identity. In general, it was discovered that the more negatively the children perceived societal reaction to homosexuality to be, the more strongly they assumed society would react negatively to them on the basis of their implied social identity. Also, the children's acceptance of their father as gay was directly related to their own perceptions of society's attitudes toward homosexuality.
Bozett (1988) concluded that it is possible that children of gay fathers may experience much stress related to their fathers's gay identity, if they also perceive that society has a negative attitude toward homosexuality. However, they may need to be helped to realize that it may not be their father's homosexuality in itself, so much as it is society's, and thus their own, reactions toward it. They may need help recognizing that they have no control over society's viewpoint, and that they have power to control their own lives in relation to their father. Children need to be informed that the myths and stereotypes surrounding homosexuality are not representative of most gay men or gay fathers. ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 20---------------------------------------
Huggins (1989). Concerned that children of lesbian mothers may suffer social stigma in peer group
relations as a result, Huggins (1989) decided to investigate this issue. The study of the adolescent
child is crucial because this stage of development is when stigmatization is most obvious and object
choice and gender identity are easier to confirm. To facilitate this, the researcher designed a study
comparing two group of adolescents on the basis of their mother's sexual orientation.
The sample consisted of 36 white participants residing in southern California, aged 13 to 19 years, and divided equally into two groups, each containing nine males and nine females. The test instrument used consisted of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI), which consists of 58 items divided into five subscales (general self, social self-peers, home-parents, lie scale, and school-academic), and designed specifically to measure self-esteem. In addition to completing the questionnaire, both the adolescents and mothers were interviewed by the researcher.
Results revealed no significant differences in self-esteem scores between children of lesbian mothers and those of heterosexual mothers. These scores were consistent with each other independent of the child's gender, indicating that self-esteem within a family unit is influenced by factors other than gender.
Huggins (1989) concluded these results suggest that the mother's sexual object choice does not appear to influence negatively the self-esteem of her adolescent children. The assumption that children of lesbian mothers are socially stigmatized by their mother's sexual orientation was not borne out by this study.
Bailey, Bobrow, Wolfe, & Mikach (1995). As stated previously, Bailey et al. (1995) have noted
that a primary social and scientific concern with regard to gay and lesbian parenting surrounds the
issues of whether or not children of these parents are especially likely to become gay themselves and,
if so, why. The researchers developed a study to assess the validity of these concerns, and a
description of their sample, as well as the methodology used, appears in the section concerning
Results indicated that 9% (n = 4) of the sons (N = 43) identified their sexual orientation as either homosexual or bisexual. Additionally, they found sexual orientation in the sons was not positively correlated with the length of time that the sons had lived with their fathers. The researchers noted that this is consistent with previous research (e.g., Patterson, 1992), and that this figure does not differ significantly from the incidence of homosexuality in the general population, which they stated ranges from 1% to 10%, depending on the stringency of the criterion. Bailey et al. (1995) concluded that, although they could not completely exclude the possibility of father-to-son environmental transmission, results of their study suggest that, even if such an influence exists, it is not large.
Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph (1995). Flaks et al. (1995) expressed concern that, to date,
most studies in the area of gay and lesbian parenting examine the children of divorced lesbians, and
that research surrounding planned lesbian families is quite scarce. The purpose of their research was
to expand upon this limited research.
The sample used in this study consisted of lesbian couples (n = 15) raising children born to them through donor insemination. These couples were matched with heterosexual parent families on the variables of age, sex, ethnicity, income, and education. The researchers examined the families using a broad range of outcome measures, including intellectual and behavioral assessments, as well as evaluations of the parent's relationship quality and parenting skills.
The test instruments included the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC), the Teacher's Report Form (TRF), and the Spanier Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS). Additionally, the children were administered either the WPPSI-R (for those under six years of age) or the WISC-R (for those aged six or older) to assess cognitive functioning, while the parents were administered the Parent Awareness Skills Survey to assess the sensitivity and effectiveness with which the parent responded to typical child-care situations. The hypotheses were that there would be no significant differences between the groups.
Results supported the hypothesis that children of homosexual and heterosexual parents are remarkably similar, especially in the areas of cognitive functioning and behavioral development. No gender differences were found and scores for both boys and girls in the homosexual and heterosexual parent groups were very similar. Analysis using the PASS revealed that lesbian couples were more aware of the skills necessary for effective parenting than their heterosexual counterparts. Flaks et al. (1995) concluded that psychologically healthy children need not be raised by opposite-sex, heterosexual parents.
Patterson (1995c). Patterson (1995c) recognized that, in heterosexual families, the allocation of
household labor (cooking, laundry, etc.) and childcare still occurs along gendered lines and
investigated the extent to which these divisions occurred in lesbian families. Among her interests was
a determination of what implications, if any, these choices had for the children in thei
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------
---------------------------------END PAGE 21--------------------------------------- r care. A more extensive
presentation of the samples and methodology were presented in the section concerning lesbian
Results indicated that children's adjustments were more favorable when child care was evenly distributed between the two women. Additionally, Patterson (1995a) concluded that models of fairness in the division of labor at home are important influences on children's development and that children who observe equal distributions of responsibilities may enjoy developmental advantages.
Tasker & Golombok (1995). A common practice within the judicial system is to deny lesbian
women custody of their biological children, on the grounds that the children would develop atypical
gender identities, manifest behavioral and emotional problems, and experience difficulties in peer
relationships (Tasker & Golombok, 1995). In essence, there resides within the court system the
belief that lesbian mothers are incapable of being or becoming effective parents. The goal of the
researchers in this study was to provide insight into life in a lesbian family from the perspective of a
group of young adults who grew up in one.
A longitudinal study was conducted utilizing two groups of single mothers, one lesbian and the other heterosexual, each consisting of 27 mothers and their 39 children. The groups were matched demographically on the variables of ethnicity, education, and social class. The main source of data collection consisted of individual interviews conducted in 1983, and again in 1991-1992.
Results indicated that all the children in the sample had functioned well throughout childhood and adolescence. Children from lesbian families were no more likely to experience peer stigma than their counterparts from heterosexual families, nor were they any more likely to experience anxiety or depression. Additionally, there was no difference between the groups concerning engagement in at least one instance of same-sex gender attraction. The researchers concluded that these results do not support the commonly held assumption concerning parental transmission of homosexuality, nor do they support the notion that lesbian parents are necessarily worse parents as a consequence of their sexual orientation.
Patterson & Mason (in press). Remarking that little is known about contacts of lesbian mothers and
their children with regard to their extended family and friendship networks (e.g., grandparent
relationships), or the potential impact(s) that these contacts might have on children's development,
Patterson and Mason (in press) designed a study to evaluate the degree to which these individuals
might be important members of the child's social network.
Data was collected from a group of families (n = 37) in which children had been born to or adopted early in life by women who identified as lesbian. Families were selected from the greater San Francisco area, and had to meet each of the following criteria: (a) at least one child between the ages of 4 and 9 had to be present in the home, and (b) the child had to be born to or adopted by a lesbian mother or mothers. In total, 66 mothers, who were predominantly white (92%) , in their late 30s (mean age 39.6 years), well educated (74% had received bachelors degrees of higher), and relatively affluent (92% reported annual incomes over $30,000, and 54% reported annual incomes over $60,000), took part in the study.
Assessment strategies consisted of a family interview, as well as the administration of the Achenbach and Edelbrock Child Behavior Checklist, and Elder's Children's Self-View Questionnaire. Results indicated that, on average, children were described as having monthly or more frequent contact with approximately six adults outside the household (four women and two men). Additionally, children had more contact with relatives of their biological mother than with relatives of their nonbiological mother. Finally, children who were described by their mothers as being in regular contact with more grandparents also were described as having fewer behavioral problems.
The researchers conclude that these results are not consistent with stereotypes of lesbian mothers and their child as being isolated from kinship networks, or as living in single-sex social worlds. Additionally, children of lesbian mothers do tend to have regular contact with both male and heterosexual adults. While noting the exploratory nature of the study, Patterson and Mason (in press) suggest that these results point to the durability and value of extended family networks in lesbian families.
Chan, Raboy, & Patterson (in press). The researchers noted that children's development has
generally been examined within the context of families from via traditional conception methods.
With this in mind, Chan, Raboy, and Patterson (in press) conducted a study to assess potential
differences between lesbian and heterosexual mothers, taking into consideration the advances in
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------
---------------------------------END PAGE 22--------------------------------------- reproductive technologies.
By doing so, the researchers felt they could examine questions about psychosocial development that
related both to family structure and family process.
Families (n = 80; 55 lesbian and 25 heterosexual) for this study were selected from the Sperm Bank of California. Mothers averaged 42 years of age (children averaged 7 years of age), were mostly well educated, were most were employed at least part-time. Additionally, the families were, on average, quite affluent, with annual incomes well above national averages. The test instruments administered included the Child Behavior Checklist, the Teacher Report Form, the Parenting Stress Index - Short From, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Locke-Wallace Marital Adjustment Test, and the Braiker and Kelley Relationship Questionnaire.
Results indicated that no significant difference existed between lesbian and heterosexual mothers regarding relationship adjustment, or reports of well-being as a function of sexual orientation. Children of both groups were reported as being well adjusted - in fact, they tended to be rated as significantly higher on social competence and significantly lower on behavior problems than children in the clinical population. Structural factors such as household composition and parental sexual orientation were not associated with significant outcomes for either children or their parents.
It was found, though, that biological mother's reporting of parenting stress was significantly related to her own reporting of children's behavior problems. This was also found to be true for reports of non-biological parents, as well as those of teachers. However, these reports were not a function of the parent's sexual orientation, relationship status, or educational attainment. The researcher's concluded that children's development was not related to variables of family structure (i.e., sexual orientation of the parent); rather, children's well-being is more a function of parenting and relationship processes within the family (i.e., family interactions and processes). Discussion and Conclusion
Research Regarding Lesbian Mothers
Analysis of the studies in this area (n = 7) revealed that lesbian mothers did not differ from
heterosexual mothers with regard to parenting behaviors and sex role characteristics (Kweskin &
Cook, 1982; Pagelow, 1980; Shavelson et al., 1980). Additionally, no differences were noted on the
incidences of negative childhood experiences with men or positive experiences with women (Peters
& Cantrell, 1991). No differences were noted found in the way lesbian mothers rated "ideal" sons
and daughters, with regard to their behavior (Kweskin & Cook, 1982), although there was a
tendency toward the rating of ideal child behavior in a manner consistent with the mother's
self-ratings. Further, attitudes toward homosexuality, as well as perceptions of distance in parental
relationships, did not differ between lesbian and heterosexual mothers (Peters & Cantrell, 1991).
Results of one study (Shavelson et al., 1980) did indicate that lesbians tend to rate themselves higher on a masculinity scale, although a single predictor for this phenomena could not be isolated. Additionally, lesbian mothers tend to be more self-confident (Green et al., 1986), more equalitarian in the distribution of household responsibilities and family decision making (Patterson, 1995a), and report higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships (Pagelow, 1980; Patterson, 1995a). Yet, lesbian mothers are still awarded sole custody of children at a rate far less than that of heterosexual mothers (Pagelow, 1980).
Lesbian and heterosexual women did not differ with regard to discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and problems in the collection of child support (Pagelow, 1980). This seems to suggest the over-riding presence of androsexism in this society -- regardless of sexual orientation, women are still discriminated against.
Particularly with regard to sex role behaviors and characteristics, as well as attitudes and perceptions toward parenting, very few differences exist between lesbian and heterosexual mothers. Lesbian women do seem to be more independent and satisfied, however. Perhaps this might be explained as a consequence of their assertive behavior in proclaiming their identities to society. Whereas heterosexual women may still be passively oppressed within a "traditional" family structure, lesbian women have distinguished themselves as a separate entity. In doing so, they may have subjected themselves to potential condemnation by society. However, by separating themselves from a system which oppresses them, they may benefit from a consequent boost in self-esteem in their (perceived) triumph over it.
Research Regarding Gay Fathers
Results of analysis of studies in this area of the literature (n = 8) seem to indicate that gay fathers do
not differ significantly from heterosexual fathers on the dimensions of involvement or intimacy with
their children (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1989a, 1989b, 1992); or on the dimensions of satisfaction,
motivation, or goals and incentives (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1989b). Additionally, both
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------
---------------------------------END PAGE 23--------------------------------------- groups tend to hold
developmental attitudes toward the fathering role (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1992). Further, it does not
appear that gay fathers subject their children to abuse or excessive harassment (Miller, 1979) and do
not convey a disproportionate tendency toward homosexuality to their children (Bailey et al., 1995;
Miller, 1979; Skeen & Robinson, 1984) as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Early
family backgrounds of gay fathers are generally positive, and do not differ significantly from those
of heterosexual fathers (Skeen & Robinson, 1984). Finally, gay step-families do not differ
significantly from heterosexual step-families (Crosbie-Burnett & Helmbrect, 1993), with both
focused primarily on reintegration of the fractured family structure.
There does seems to be a tendency for gay fathers to be more androgynous in their perceptions and value expressive traits more highly (Mallen, 1983). Heterosexual fathers tend to hold more traditional attitudes toward family life (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1989b) and are more likely to perceive the sexes in stereotypical ways (Mallen, 1983). However, the two groups do not seem to differ with regard to their overall happiness with the parenting role.
Overall, the similarities between gay and heterosexual fathers seem to vastly outweigh the differences. There seems to be no evidence suggesting that gay fathers are any less capable of raising well-adjusted children than are heterosexual parents and both experience parenting for similar reasons. Sexual orientation seems to have no appreciable effect on how gay fathers react to, or conceptualize, the fathering role.
Research Regarding Children of Homosexual Parents
Sixteen of the studies analyzed addressed issues concerning the possible effects of gay and lesbian
parents on their children. Results indicate that children of gay/lesbian parents do not differ
significantly from those raised in heterosexual families in the areas of intellectual development
(Flaks et al., 1995; Green et al., 1986; Kirkpatrick et al., 1981), gender identity (Golombok et al.,
1983), sexual orientation (Bailey et al., 1995; Golombok et al., 1983; Miller, 1979), peer group
relations (Green et al., 1986), or self-esteem (Huggins, 1989).
Additionally, sexual orientation of the parent failed to have significant influences on either gender identity (Green, 1978) or independence (Steckel, 1985) of the child. Irrespective of the parent's sexual orientation, children prefer sex-typed toys consistent with their biological gender (Hoeffer, 1981) and do not suffer disproportionate amounts of turmoil (Flaks et al., 1995; Weeks, 1975) or depression (Tasker & Golombok, 1995; Pennington, 1987).
Children raised in a lesbian home do tend to reside in a considerably less affluent setting than those raised by heterosexual mothers (Miller et al., 1982) and lesbian mothers tend to strive harder to provide opposite-sex role models for their children (Harris & Turner, 1986). Perhaps this represents a type of "double discrimination" whereby lesbians suffer discrimination both from being female and lesbian. It is plausible that they may attempt to minimize this discrimination for their children by providing "socially acceptable" models for their children.
Lesbian mothers tend to be more child oriented in their response to children (Miller et al., 1982) and their tendency toward equal distribution of household responsibilities represents positive influences on the development of their children (Patterson, 1995c). Additionally, there is extensive evidence that children of homosexuals are no more likely to become homosexual themselves as a consequence of the parent's sexual orientation (Bailey et al., 1995; Flaks et al., 1995; Miller, 1979; Tasker & Golombok, 1995). Gay/lesbian parents show remarkably little anxiety concerning their children's eventual sexual orientation (Miller, 1979; Miller et al., 1982).
Males raised by gay fathers expressed no difficulty with their father in his parental role, but their concern regarding his sexual orientation was consistent with their perceptions regarding society's attitude (Bozett, 1988). As such, it is not their father's sexual orientation, per se, which causes their discomfort; rather, it is their reaction to society's attitude toward homosexuality.
The lives of children of gay/lesbian parents are not problem free. They are subject to the same tensions and pressures of all children, and society's reaction to the sexual orientation of their parents may even tend to magnify this somewhat. These results have not led to any significant changes in societal opinion, and sexual orientation of the parent continues to be a major issue in public policy formation (Patterson, 1992). However, results of these studies indicate that, on the whole, their lives do not differ appreciably from those raised by heterosexual parents.
General Discussion ------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 24---------------------------------------
The majority of these studies are plagued by problems in sampling. Only one study (Skeen &
Robinson, 1984) used anything even approaching a random sample, and only one study (Tasker &
Golombok, 1995) was longitudinal in nature. Additionally, nearly one-half of the studies analyzed
used samples either totally (n = 8) or disproportionately (n = 4) Caucasian. Of the remainder, 13 did
not give ethnic demographics (although four of these did state that the participants were matched on
the variable of ethnicity), thereby making it difficult to judge their diversity. These problems tend to
severely restrict the external validity of any pertinent results. While mindful of the inherent
difficulties in obtaining truly random samples, particularly due to the current social stigma attached
to homosexuality, the importance of generalizable conclusions would seem to warrant more diverse
Nevertheless, there seems to be support for the notion that homosexual parents are at least as capable of raising healthy, well adapted children as heterosexual parents. Homosexual parents who become parents outside the context of a heterosexual relationship may, in fact, be better parents, due to the conscious nature of their choosing to be parents. Homosexual parents tend to display more nurturing behaviors toward their children. They also tend to be more knowledgeable about the parenting skills necessary and more involved in the raising of their children. Lesbian relationships tend to be more stable than heterosexual relationships and gay (male) relationships are as stable as heterosexual relationships. However, these conclusions are based on implications, rather than direct evidence (i.e., intuitively, it makes sense to conclude that more nuturance in parents leads to "better" outcomes for children; but there is no direct evidence for this).
Although it is difficult to accurately assess the factors that contribute to the best interests of the child, results from these studies indicate that sexual orientation of the parent is a poor predictor of/is not a good indicator of sexual orientation of the child. Incidence of homosexuality in children of homosexual parents does not differ significantly from that of the general population. However, the additional social pressures of being the product of a "deviant" family must also be considered.
The legal/court system is still very biased in favor of heterosexuality. These results have not led to any significant changes in societal opinion, and sexual orientation of the parent continues to be a major issue in public policy formation (Patterson, 1992). A gay parent seeking either custody, continuation of parental rights, or visitation privileges is generally at a legal disadvantage because of the subjective criteria used by many judges to serve the "best interests" of the child. Currently, the best way that a gay/lesbian parent can increase his/her chance of obtaining custody and/or visitation is by portraying his/herself as being as close to the All-American norm as possible .. and heterosexual, if not in actuality, then surely in appearance before the court and behavior toward his/her children.
Yet, results of this study show that the bias displayed by the court system is without empirical support. Significant differences with regard to parenting knowledge and attitudes, simply so not exist between gay/lesbian parents and their heterosexual counterparts. Additionally, these results also failed to find any significant differences between children raised by homosexual versus heterosexual parents.
Implications for Future Research
The published literature does not say much about what homosexual parents are; rather, it attempts
to describe what they are not in relation to heterosexual parents: they are not significantly different
from them. And, it should be acknowledged that research on lesbian and gay families with children
is still relatively new (Patterson and Redding, 1996). Heterosexual parents are currently the norm
against which homosexual parents are compared. Although gay and lesbian parents are becoming
more open in society, their presence still has not been truly acknowledged, much less accepted, by
our heterosexist culture. If lesbian and gay parents are ever to be afforded fair and equal treatment
by our social institutions, research needs to be done which will affirm these alternative families as
legitimate in their own right.
Another important consideration for future research is an acceptance of standard operational definitions. What is a "healthy, well-adjusted person?" The definition of homosexuality as "deviant" implies that persons of this sexual orientation are somehow "lacking" as compared to heterosexuals. Is this a valid conclusion? Homosexuals have been having and raising children for a long time, without any apparent detrimental effects to society. Perhaps it is time that our society realize and accept as "normal" lifestyles which are functional, and not simply "white, middle-class, and heterosexual."
------------National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 4, Issue 1 ------------ ---------------------------------END PAGE 25--------------------------------------- There does seem to be abundant and convincing evidence that sexual orientation is not a valid consideration with regard to parenting abilities. Yet, bias and discrimination continues to flourish in society. However, in agreement with Patterson and Redding (1996), "the findings (thus far) have been regarded as sufficiently clear to warrant policy statements by major professional organizations" (p. 44). Perhaps the problem is not a lack of research, but one of dissemination. Results of studies such as these need to be circulated such that those in positions of decision-making can make informed decisions with access to all available information.
Bailey, J. M., Bobrow, D., Wolfe, M., & Mikach, S. (1995). Sexual orientation of adult sons of gay
fathers. Developmental Psychology, 31, 124-129.
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1. A consistent focus throughout these studies is a comparison of gay and heterosexual parents on some third variable (parenting attitudes, personality scores, etc.). Many of the researchers state as their criteria for these studies the lack of empirical research "to date." However, as this literature review will reveal, the research is available and, in some cases, is quite substantial.