It’s ALL About the Children (Part 3) – The Psychological Impact of Raising Children in Gay and Lesbian Families Where Parents Cannot Marry


ACFLS Spring 2012 ArticleWith the recent decision on Proposition 8 by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, upholding the 2010 decision by Judge Vaughn Walker, I have decided again to revisit the articles I previously wrote about Proposition 8 and its effect on the children of same-sex couples. The Ninth Circuit held Proposition 8, (which overturned the right of gays and lesbians to marry in California) unconstitutional because it withdrew marital rights from gays and lesbians for no reason other than moral disapproval of homosexuality. Because this is being appealed, we should look further into the psychological impact denying marriage rights to same-sex couples has on their children.

One of the biggest arguments against allowing same-sex couples marriage rights is that it could harm children raised in the context of these relationships., an official proponent of Proposition 8 and an appellant in the case, believes that gay marriage will lead to more children being raised in same-sex households, which they claim is not an “optimum” environment for raising children.

Proposition 8 did not change the state’s laws governing parentage, (as opposed to its laws governing marriage); it had no effect on family structure and thus the argument fails for that reason. California statutes permit same-sex couples to adopt and raise children and “draw[s] no distinction between married couples and domestic partners with regard to the legal rights and responsibilities relating to children raised within each of these family relationships,” stated Judge Stephen Reinhardt for the Ninth Circuit. Therefore, “the distinction in nomenclature between marriage and domestic partnership cannot be defended on the basis of an asserted difference in the effect on children of being raised by an opposite-sex couple instead of by a same-sex couple.”

The social science research and evidence conducted in this area does not support this concern. In a 2002 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which was reaffirmed in 2010, children who grow up with one or two homosexual parents fared just as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as children whose parents were heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes. We think it makes sense then to provide a solid legal structure for the family unit to be stable and continue, which is what marriage provides.

Denying same-sex couples the right to marry stigmatizes gay and lesbian families as inferior and sends the message that it is acceptable to discriminate against them. “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples,” said Judge Reinhardt. We need to ask: how is it better to raise children in an “inferior” family?

Even though California grants an alternative to marriage – the Registered Domestic Partnership – there is still a cultural bias that does not fully legitimize those relationships. “Had Marilyn Monroe’s Film been called How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire, it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different,” said Judge Reinhardt. “Marriage is considered a more substantial relationship and is accorded a greater stature than a domestic partnership.”

An estimated one-quarter of all same-sex households (estimated close to 647,000) in the United States are raising children. According to data compiled from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 125,516 reported same-sex couples living in California. Gary J. Gates, a Williams Institute UCLA School of Law demographer, analyzed the 2010 U.S. Bureau data and concluded 21% of those households in California had children, and the number of kids raised in these families would be double that percentage. Thus, there are an estimated 52,000 children in California being raised in same-sex households.

Since same-sex parents cannot marry, these children feel like they do not belong to a real family, and they suffer from feelings of inadequacy perpetuated by social attitudes. The issue of same-sex marriage is not going away, and as more same-sex couples decide to have children, this is an issue that will need to be addressed by our legal system. It is the children who come out ahead with same-sex marriage, and for that reason every person who purports to believe in strong families where children can be loved by both parents should support the rights of same-sex marriage.

This blog was researched and co-written by Sophia De Santis , JD.

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