Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Gay Parents May Be the Best Parents

Gay parents "tend to be more motivated, more committed than heterosexual parents on average, because they chose to be parents," said Abbie Goldberg, a psychologist at Clark University in Massachusetts who researches gay and lesbian parenting.

Gays and lesbians rarely become parents by accident, compared with an almost 50 percent accidental pregnancy rate among heterosexuals, Goldberg said. "That translates to greater commitment on average and more involvement."

Adopting the neediest

Gay adoption recently caused controversy in Illinois, where Catholic Charities adoption services decided in November to cease offering services because the state refused funding unless the groups agreed not to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Rather than comply, Catholic Charities closed up shop.

Catholic opposition aside, research suggests that gay and lesbian parents are actually a powerful resource for kids in need of adoption.

According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute and the Urban Institute, 65,000 kids were living with adoptive gay parents between 2000 and 2002, with another 14,000 in foster homes headed by gays and lesbians. (There are currently more than 100,000 kids in foster care in the U.S.)

An October 2011 report by Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that, of gay and lesbian adoptions at more than 300 agencies, 10 percent of the kids placed were older than 6 — typically a very difficult age to adopt out.

About 25 percent were older than 3. Sixty percent of gay and lesbian couples adopted across races, which is important given that minority children in the foster system tend to linger. More than half of the kids adopted by gays and lesbians had special needs.

The report didn't compare the adoption preferences of gay couples directly with those of heterosexual couples, said author David Brodzinsky, research director at the Institute and co-editor of "Adoption By Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension of Family Diversity" (Oxford University Press, 2011).

But research suggests that gays and lesbians are more likely than heterosexuals to adopt older, special-needs and minority children, he said.

Part of that could be their own preferences, and part could be because of discrimination by adoption agencies that puts more difficult children with what caseworkers see as "less desirable" parents.

No matter how you slice it, Brodzinsky told LiveScience, gays and lesbians are highly interested in adoption as a group.

The 2007 report by the Urban Institute also found that more than half of gay men and 41 percent of lesbians in the U.S. would like to adopt.

That adds up to an estimated 2 million gay people who are interested in adoption. It's a huge reservoir of potential parents who could get kids out of the instability of the foster system, Brodzinsky said.

"When you think about the 114,000 children who are freed for adoption who continue to live in foster care and who are not being readily adopted, the goal is to increase the pool of available, interested and well-trained individuals to parent these children," Brodzinsky said.

In addition, Brodzinsky said, there's evidence to suggest that gays and lesbians are especially accepting of open adoptions, where the child retains some contact with his or her birth parents.

And the statistics bear out that birth parents often have no problem with their kids being raised by same-sex couples, he added.

"Interestingly, we find that a small percentage, but enough to be noteworthy, [of birth mothers] make a conscious decision to place with gay men, so they can be the only mother in their child's life," Brodzinsky said.

Good parenting

Research has shown that the kids of same-sex couples — both adopted and biological kids — fare no worse than the kids of straight couples on mental health, social functioning, school performance and a variety of other life-success measures.

In a 2010 review of virtually every study on gay parenting, New York University sociologist Judith Stacey and University of Southern California sociologist Tim Biblarz found no differences between children raised in homes with two heterosexual parents and children raised with lesbian parents.

"There's no doubt whatsoever from the research that children with two lesbian parents are growing up to be just as well-adjusted and successful" as children with a male and a female parent," Stacey told LiveScience.

There is very little research on the children of gay men, so Stacey and Biblarz couldn't draw conclusions on those families.

But Stacey suspects that gay men "will be the best parents on average," she said.

That's a speculation, she said, but if lesbian parents have to really plan to have a child, it's even harder for gay men. Those who decide to do it are thus likely to be extremely committed, Stacey said. Gay men may also experience fewer parenting conflicts, she added.

Most lesbians use donor sperm to have a child, so one mother is biological and the other is not, which could create conflict because one mother may feel closer to the kid.

"With gay men, you don't have that factor," she said. "Neither of them gets pregnant, neither of them breast-feeds, so you don't have that asymmetry built into the relationship."

The bottom line, Stacey said, is that people who say children need both a father and a mother in the home are misrepresenting the research, most of which compares children of single parents to children of married couples.

Two good parents are better than one good parent, Stacey said, but one good parent is better than two bad parents. And gender seems to make no difference. While you do find broad differences between how men and women parent on average, she said, there is much more diversity within the genders than between them.

"Two heterosexual parents of the same educational background, class, race and religion are more like each other in the way they parent than one is like all other women and one is like all other men," she said.

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