A new study shows that children raised by lesbian mothers grow up to be just as happy as children raised by heterosexual parents.
The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) has concluded that 25-year-olds who were raised by two moms experienced “no significant differences in measures of mental health” compared to their peers who were raised by different-sex parents.
The NLLFS follows 84 families consisting of lesbian couples as well as single lesbian mothers — all of whom conceived their children through donor insemination. The research began in 1986, making it the longest-running study regarding same-sex couples and child-rearing.
"When I began this study in 1986, there was considerable speculation about the future mental health of children conceived through donor insemination and raised by sexual minority parents," Dr. Nanette Gartrell, who authored the study, told Motherly. "We have followed these families since the mothers were inseminating or pregnant and now find that their 25-year-old daughters and sons score as well on mental health as other adults of the same age."
Gartrell is currently working as a visiting professor at the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
The study suggests that children raised by lesbian mothers show no significant difference from children raised by heterosexual parents in regards to behavioral and emotional issues or in their relationships with family, friends, or spouses/partners, or educational or job performance.
"They're psychologically very healthy, even during this vulnerable time of life," Gartrell said.
Gartrell addressed the fact that when she began this study over 30 years ago, the stigma against same-sex parents was even stronger than it is today, and that the results of this study serve as a counterpoint to those who would label gay, lesbian, and bisexual parents as inferior to their hetereosexual counterparts.
"We were just coming out of a time period when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder," Gartrell said. "There were people arguing that homosexual parents could not be good parents."
But in 2010, when the children being monitored by the study were 17, Gartrell and her team reported that children mothered by lesbians had fewer behavioral problems and were doing better academically as compared to other teenagers in the United States.
Gartrell and her team’s findings echo reports from a study published earlier this year by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The study was done in Italy, following 70 gay fathers, 125 lesbian mothers, and 195 heterosexual couples. Once again, there were no significant differences found between children raised by same-sex couples versus children raised by heterosexual couples in regards to psychological development.
"Our findings suggested that children with same-sex parents fare well, both in terms of psychological adjustment and prosocial behavior," said Professor Roberto Baiocco of Rome's Sapienza University Rome.
Experts have concluded that a child’s development is impacted less by their parents’ sexual orientation and more heavily by factors such as a parent’s confidence in their child-rearing abilities and the amount of love and nourishment given to their child.
"Research shows us that what's important for kids is that they have parents who love them — and not whether their parents are straight or gay,” said Dr. Jack Drescher, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who was not involved in Gartrell’s study.
Drescher highlighted the struggles that same-sex couples have in regards to adopting children in the United States, as some states have legislation that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against couples who offend their religious beliefs, even if they receive state funding.
"Those restrictions are not based on science," Drescher said.
States with such legislation include Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, and now all prospective parents in all states are threatened to become subject to the same discrimination. Earlier this month, an amendment was passed by a House of Representatives committee to be tacked on to an appropriations bill, which would allow federally funded adoption agencies a “license to discriminate” against prospective parents based on their religious beliefs.
At a time when stigmas held against same-sex couples could have negative impacts on the lives of both prospective parents and children seeking to be adopted, studies like Gartrell’s are more important than ever.
"There's no justification for restricting child placement based on [parents'] sexual orientation," Gartrell said.