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Kids Can Thrive with Gay Parents

New research bolsters the case for adoption by same-sex partners.

Is there a negative impact of growing up in a home with gay parents? Luckily, this is an area of psychology in which the research is truly conclusive: children have just as much chance to thrive with gay parents as with straight parents. A new study published this fall in the journal Developmental Psychology reaffirms this conclusion, and should serve as reassuring evidence that validates the experience of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian parents raising children in America.

The study followed more than 100 families, all of whom adopted children in infancy from the same set of private agencies in the U.S. All of the families were two-parent families at the time of the adoption. Approximately half of the families were headed by opposite-sex parents and half were headed by same-sex parents (including both lesbian couples and gay male couples). The groups of straight and gay parents were well-matched to one another on demographic variables including parental age, race, employment status, and highest level of education obtained. All of the couples adopted infants who were not biologically related to either member of the couple.

At the time of follow-up, which occurred when children were school age, the children’s well-being was assessed using a common outcome measure in child development, a questionnaire called the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The CBCL includes scales for both internalizing behaviors (related to depression and anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (“acting out” or conduct problems). The CBCL was completed by the parents. In addition, the researchers obtained ratings from the children’s teachers on a very similar questionnaire. This is an important methodological strength, because parents’ reports might be biased by how parents wish their children would be rather than how they actually are. Including teacher reports protects against this potential bias. Finally, parents also completed questionnaires about their levels of parenting stress and quality of family functioning.

None of the outcome measures showed any difference between families headed by gay versus straight parents. Children’s behavior problems were no different between these groups, whether behavior was rated by parents or teachers. Parental stress and family functioning were no different between these groups. In sum, there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that children generally fared better or worse depending on the sexual orientation of their parents.

Of course, some children fare better than others, whether in households with gay or straight parents. Approximately 5% of the children in the study were reported to have behavioral problems in the clinical range, according to the teachers’ reports. Families with children who had poorer behavioral outcomes tended to report more parental stress and poorer family functioning. These associations could reflect something about either the parents’ effects on the children (high parental stress negatively impacts children), the children’s effects on the parents (children’s problem behaviors lead to high parental stress), or both. Most important, though, these patterns of association were the same for families headed by gay parents and those headed by straight parents.

Policy should not rest on a single study alone, but this study’s results do not stand alone. They are fully consistent with an established body of research. Numerous studies of children’s outcomes have examined a variety of measures, including mental health, educational achievement, social relationships, and personality development, in many samples in a variety of countries. As a rule, these studies have not found evidence of detrimental outcomes for children raised by gay versus straight parents. (For additional research evidence, see here and here and here and here. For more resources about gay adoption, see the Donaldson Institute website.)

The evidence finding no effect of parental sexual orientation on children’s outcomes is so conclusive that more than a decade ago, the American Psychological Association put forth a public policy statement “that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation... children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.” The APA further resolved that it “opposes any discrimination based on sexual orientation in matters of adoption, child custody and visitation, foster care, and reproductive health services.” Similar position statements have been articulated by other major professional organizations including the American Medical Association, American Bar Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Child Welfare League of America. Given the accumulation of evidence, it is long past time to fully accept all loving families as appropriate places for raising children.

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