It’s not a matter of fashion: How psychological research can revamp common beliefs on lesbian and gay parenting

Finally, the third dimension of sexual identity is sexual orientation, which indicates whether the individual feels attracted to individuals of his/her own sex (homosexual), the opposite sex (heterosexual), or both sexes (bisexual). Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 1973, the opponents of lesbian and gay parenting refer to the risk of children becoming homosexual themselves as one of the main reasons to prevent gays and lesbians from having children. At the basis of this opposition is the heteronormative view that involves the alignment of gender identity, gender role and sexual orientation with the biological sex (Warner, 1991). Heteronormativity implies the idea that heterosexual attraction and relationships are the normal form of sexuality, thus the possibility “to inherit” parents’ sexual orientation should be avoided. However, to test the hypothesis of the transmission of sexual orientation is far from easy: it is argued that children raised by gay and lesbian parents might be influenced by so many factors (imitation of parents, socialisation processes that do not discourage homosexuality, relationships with acquaintances who do not stigmatise homosexuality, etc.) that controlling for all these variables is very arduous. Existing research investigating possible correlations between parents and children’s sexual orientation has not provided any clear conclusion and there is no empirical evidence to support the existence of such a correlation (Bailey, Bobrow, Wolfe & Mikach, 1995; Golombok, et al., 1983; Green, 1978; Huggins, 1989; Miller, 1979; Tasker & Golombok, 1997). Furthermore, the mere observation that most gays and lesbians have heterosexual parents suggests that the hypothesis of the transmission of sexual orientation from parents to child will never receive empirical support.


Equally well-adjusted

Besides sexual identity, scholars have also analysed the psychological adjustment of children raised by lesbian and gay parents, thus evaluating aspects such as mental health, behavioural problems and cognitive functioning.

The assumptions at the base of these concerns are different (Goldberg, 2010): some scholars presume that children from lesbian-mother and gay-father families are more likely to experience victimisation, which may cause emotional and behavioural problems. Other studies assume that being raised by lesbian or gay parents is, in itself, a stressful experience. Finally, a third kind of claim is that lesbian and gay parenting exposes children to the risk of psychological maladjustment because of the lack of a male or female parent.

However, similar to the findings of studies on sexual identity, research on psychological adjustment has found no differences between children of same- sex parents and children of opposite- sex parents, either during preschool, school age (Chan, Raboy & Patterson, 1998; Erich, Leung & Kindle, 2005; Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua & Joseph, 1995; Golombok, Tasker & Murray, 1997; Golombok et al., 2003; Green et al., 1986) or when they are adolescents/teenagers (Gershon, Tschann & Jemerin, 1999; Huggins, 1989; Rivers, Noret & Poteat, 2008).

Some studies have found that children’s psychological adjustment is associated with the quality of the relationship between their parents, rather than their sexual orientation (Chan et al., 1998). Thus, parents’ satisfaction both with the division of household labour and their relationship are associated with children’s adjustment in lesbian-mother families, gay-father families and heterosexual families (Chan et al., 1998). These findings are interesting because of their variety regarding the supposedly homogenous categories of “lesbian and gay parents” and “heterosexual parents”: the psychological adjustment of children is the result of a complex system of influences where the relationship between parents, among other factors, has a fundamental role, while their sexual orientation does not.