Children of same-sex couples do just as well in life as those with opposite-sex parents — and in some cases, better, according to a new study.
“In countries and regions where same-sex relationships are legalised, most of the family outcomes are similar between sexual minority and heterosexual families, and sexual minority families have even better outcomes in some domains,” says the study, published in BMJ Global Health, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal.
Researchers from Guangxi Medical University in China and Duke University in North Carolina examined 34 studies on sexual minority parents and their children. “To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review to identify the disparities in family outcomes between sexual minority parent families and heterosexual parent families against the background of legal recognition of same-sex relationships,” they write.
Among their findings was that “children’s psychological adjustment and parent–child relationship” appear to be superior in families with sexual minority parents. “While some evidence was found that sexual minority parents were more likely than heterosexual parents to adopt hard-to-place children, our meta-analysis found better psychological adjustment in children raised by sexual minorities, especially in preschool age children,” the researchers note. “This result is consistent with previous reviews and may be due to better preparedness in the face of strong anti-gay stigma related to sexual minority parent families.”
“Growing up with sexual minority parents may confer some advantages to children,” the study continues. “They have been described as more tolerant of diversity and more nurturing towards younger children than children of heterosexual parents.”
These children have a somewhat lower likelihood of growing up heterosexual, but this is not a bad thing, the researchers point out. “The impact of sexual minority parents’ attitudes toward gender on their children might be uniquely positive,” they report. “Exploration of gender identity and sexuality may actually enhance children’s ability to succeed and thrive in a range of contexts.” These children also learn more flexible attitudes about gender roles.
Overall, the authors say, “Our findings indicated that children of sexual minority couples are not at a disadvantage when compared with children of heterosexual couples. We advocate among policy-makers, communities, schools, families, and individuals for better awareness of family outcomes of sexual minorities.”
They suggest that schools adopt antibullying measures and include information about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in their instruction — contrary to what some politicians are advocating, with Florida’s “don’t say gay” law and similar ones proposed around the nation. They also call for better community support of sexual minority families.
“It is essential to raise public awareness and understanding of sexual minority parent families to reduce discrimination,” the researchers say, adding, “Social support and community climate variations have an impact on the health and well-being of sexual minority parents and their children. Overall, legal marriage confers a host of protections and advantages to the couples who marry and to their children, such legalisation reduces the stress and stigma of homosexuality.”
There are some limitations to their research, the authors note. Most of the parents in the studies they reviewed identified as gay or lesbian, some as bisexual. But there needs to be more research on bisexual parents and transgender ones, they say. They also call for social scientists “to learn more about how legal and policy contexts affect the lives of sexual minority parents and their children.”
“One contribution of this review is the recognition that parents’ sexual orientation is not, in and of itself, an important determinant of children’s development,” the authors conclude. “Another contribution of this review is that there are significant risk factors often associated with the sexual minority experience and family functioning, such as stigma, poor social support and parenting styles. Policy-makers, practitioners and the public must work together to improve family outcomes, regardless of sexual orientation. In the years ahead, we need to learn more about how communities around the world can support positive development among all children of sexual minority parents and how legal and policy contexts affect their lives and their children.”