How do parents’ gender identities affect the way they raise their children? What benefits might there be to having two parents of the same sex? At present, laws in Florida and elsewhere ban gay couples from adopting children. When homosexual couples elect to have a child via donor sperm or a surrogate, only one of the two parents will typically have a biological link to that child. If that parent dies, the remaining one, without a blood relation, may well lose that child to foster care.

These attitudes remain despite the facts: study after study has shown that children with homosexual parents possess levels of self-esteem, impulse control, and diligence on par with the children of heterosexual parents. In many cases, the children of homosexual parents actually scored higher on one or more of these attributes. Gillian Dunn*, of the London School of Economics, did a case study of around fifty lesbian couples raising children in the UK. She suggests that same-sex couples may actually make better parents than their socially sanctioned counterparts.

First of all, lesbians (and gay men as well) have to really, really want a child in order to have one. They must want a child badly enough to seek out a potential donor or surrogate that is acceptable to both partners and willing to participate. In other words, pregnancy is not something that just ‘happens’ to same-sex couples as a matter of (inter)course, as it does with heterosexual couples: it is a conscious, deliberate, and mutual decision. Only heterosexuals are subject to unplanned parenthood.

Lesbian couples were also far more likely, Dunn found, to share the task of childrearing equally. In heterosexual couples, one of two scenarios follows the birth of a child: the female half of the couple drops out of the labor force for several years to stay home while the male half of the couple continues unimpeded in his career. The alternative for heterosexual couples is to ‘farm out’ the duties of childrearing to a third party, i.e.: to a another woman or women of a lower socioeconomic class, while both husband and wife continue unimpeded in their careers.

Lesbian couples followed an entirely different path. Lesbians managed the rigors of childcare in two totally different ways. Most women saved money ahead of time, setting a portion of both their incomes aside in preparation for their new arrival. When the child was born, both women typically cut their working hours by half in order to share the work of childrearing equally. The other option, closely related to the first, involved couples who also decided to decrease their workloads with the understanding that it would mean acclimating to a lower standard of living for some time. In almost all cases, both partners in the relationship shared childrearing skills equally, by choice, stating that they found it far more desirable to participate actively in the formative years of the child’s life than to shift the duty to just one of the women. Dunn thinks that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual methods of parenting stems from the absence of rigid gender roles that exist in heterosexual relationships, which hold women are the primary caretakers and men, the primary breadwinners. The women in Dunn’s study had no rigid or specific roles to fulfill; they created their own rules based on a shared goal.
Despite these facts, the nuclear family still enjoys its status as the idealized form of the family, even though this is not even the most common type of family arrangement any more.

How, based on this information, can we account for this discrepancy between reality and public perception? What ill effects does conventional (lack of) wisdom fear will befall children raised by gay parents?

*Dunn, Gillian. A. “Opting Into Motherhood: Lesbians Blurring the Boundaries and Transforming the Meaning of Parenthood and Kinship.” Gender & Society 14.1 (2000) 11-35.

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