Misconceptions and stereotypes get in the way of our perceptions about gay parents.
Are gay parents any different than heterosexual parents? The research says no. And while openly gay couples trying to adopt is a fairly new social phenomenon, there is nothing new at all about gay parents.
PARENTS IN THE CLOSET
Although stigma remains, surveys show increasing public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger people. In the past, gay parents were common because they were frequently in the closet and married to opposite sex partners! Many of us know a story about someone in midlife who has been raising their own children for many years who gets divorced, comes out as gay and sets off with a new same sex partner. The person who was the parent has not changed in what kind of a parent they are and those children will have the same range of mental health, from poor to fantastic as any other child. Of course being in the closet can be detrimental to the parent/child relationship as the child can be distressed at having been lied to or having to adjust to what may be a new perception of their parent. Many gay people have never been open about their sexuality and remain in the closet. Some have extramarital homsexual affairs and some remain celibate but their parenting is the same.
CUSTODY AND GAY PARENTS
In the past, demonstrating that a divorcing parent was a homosexual, was often enough to give the other parent custody. As gay parents have fought harder and more openly for their rights the fact of homosexuality is no longer an issue used to deny custody. The main reason for this is that research consistently fails to identify any factors that negatively affect children from a parent's homosexuality. Because there was no good evidence to show that living with a homosexual parent, the courts started supporting the wishes of these parents. Society in general has been slower to catch up.
GAY PARENTS ADOPTING
A major study by the University of Virginia and reported on widely in the media http://guardianlv.com/2013/12/same-sex-marriage-adoption-is-healthy-stud... looked at adoptees and foster children living with gay parents and found that these children did not differ significantly in the areas studied from the children of heterosexual parents. In fact, they found some benefits for children growing up in same sex households including greater tolerance of others and a greater willingness (especially for girls) to go into wider range of work roles, less restricted by gender stereotypes.
Some areas of the country still have barriers restricting the ability of gay parents from adopting. This seems especially sad; that negative stereotypes of homosexuality allows people to think that no family is better for these children than a same sex family.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD PARENT?
As a psychologist, I find the whole controversy a little sad. Much of my working life revolves around patching up the lives of people who had horrible parents-parents with substance abuse, parents who were physically, emotionally or sexually abusive, neglectful parents, parents with mental illness who were depressed or isolated or who committed suicide during their children’s youth. You don’t need a license to bear children or the approval of a legislature or the courts. Any heterosexual person without a criminal record can freely adopt or bear children. I am sure there are homosexuals who have personal failings and who will not make good parents but that is no reason to deny them the same rights as homosexuals.
No one is seriously recommending that we pre-screen heterosexual people for their right to have children. We don't deny people the right to bear children who have DUI's or arrests for domestic violence or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. Can we really still believe that homosexuality poses a greater threat to the well-being of children?
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