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Journal Issue: Marriage and Child Wellbeing Volume 15 Number 2 Fall 2005

Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting,and America's Children
William Meezan Jonathan Rauch


1. The thirteen were Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.

2. Los Angeles Times poll, March 27–30, 2004. Among respondents under age thirty, 44 percent supported same-sex marriage and 31 percent supported civil unions; 22 percent favored neither.

3. U.S. Census Bureau, Married-Couple and Unmarried-Partner Households: 2000 (February 2003). See also Gary J. Gates and Jason Ost, The Gay and Lesbian Atlas (Washington: Urban Institute, 2004), p. 45.

4. Because same-sex couples, especially those with children, may be reluctant to identify themselves to census takers, and because small populations are inherently difficult to count, this number is likely to be an undercount. See Gates and Ost, The Gay and Lesbian Atlas (see note 3) . Other estimates range much higher. See, for example, Frederick W. Bozett, “Gay Fathers: A Review of the Literature,” in Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences, edited by Linda Garnets and Douglas Kimmel (Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 437–57.

5. See, for example, Maggie Gallagher, “What Is Marriage For?” Weekly Standard, August 4–11, 2003; and Mitt Romney, testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, June 22, 2004.

6. Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (New York: Times Books, 2004).

7. As of this writing, the Netherlands, Belgium, and several Canadian provinces had adopted same-sex marriage, but only recently. The effects, if any, on the welfare of children and families are both unclear and disputed. See, for example, Stanley Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” Weekly Standard, February 2, 2004; and in rebuttal, M. V. Lee Badgett, Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia and the Netherlands, Discussion Paper (Council on Contemporary Families and Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, July 2004). Also in rebuttal, William N. Eskridge, Darren R. Spedale, and Hans Ytterberg, “Nordic Bliss? Scandinavian Registered Partnerships and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,” Issues in Legal Scholarship, Article 4, available at

8. The authors are indebted to the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse for information on state adoption policies. Because adoption policies are often set by courts on a case-by-case basis, adoption rules are in flux and vary within as well as between states. The summary counts presented here are subject to interpretation and may have changed by the time of publication.

9. At this writing, same-sex marriage was too new in Massachusetts to have generated any research results.

10. “A third perspective from which [research] interest in lesbian and gay families with children has arisen is that of the law. . . . Because judicial and legislative bodies in some states have found lesbians and gay men unfit as parents because of their sexual orientation, lesbian mothers and gay fathers have often been denied custody or visitation with their children following divorce.” Charlotte Patterson, “Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children,” in Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identities over the Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives, edited by Anthony R. D'Augelli and Charlotte Patterson (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 264.

11. Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz examine twenty-one studies and find that “researchers frequently downplay findings indicating difference regarding children's gender and sexual preferences and behavior.” Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz, “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review 66 (April 2001): 159–83. Golombok and others reply that it is Stacey and Biblarz who “have overemphasized the differences that have been reported between children with lesbian and heterosexual parents.” Susan Golombok and others, “Children with Lesbian Parents: A Community Study,” Developmental Psychology 39, no. 1 (January 2003): 21.

12. For example, as best we can discern, none of the studies reviewed for this article was funded by the federal government, the major source of social science research funding in the United States.

13. For example, Tasker and Golombok note that there was only a 51 percent chance of detecting a moderate effect size in their sample, and an even lower possibility (if any at all) of detecting a small effect size. See Fiona Tasker and Susan Golombok, Growing Up in a Lesbian Family (New York: Guilford Press, 1997).

14. From the perspective of gay men, Gerald Mallon states, “Usually, explorations of gay parenting focus on the differences between gay and straight parents. [I] approach this topic through a gay-affirming lens, meaning that I do not take heterosexuality as the norm and then compare gay parenting to that model and discuss how it measures up. In most cases heterosexually oriented men become fathers for different reasons and in different ways than do gay men. Comparisons of gay fathers to heterosexual fathers are therefore inappropriate.” Gerald Mallon, Gay Men Choosing Parenthood (Columbia University Press, 2004), p. xii. From a lesbian perspective, Victoria Clarke states, “In the rush to prove . . . our similarities to heterosexual families, oppressive norms of femininity, masculinity, and heterosexuality are reinforced. The use of sameness arguments suppresses feminist critiques of the family as a prime site of hetero-patriarchal oppression. . . . By taking mainstream concerns seriously, lesbian and gay psychologists inadvertently invest them with validity and reinforce the anti-lesbian agendas informing popular debates about lesbian parenting.” Victoria Clarke, “Sameness and Differences in Lesbian Parenting,” Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 12 (2002): 218.

15. Richard Green and others, “Lesbian Mothers and Their Children: A Comparison with Solo Parent Heterosexual Mothers and Their Children,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 15, no. 2 (1986): 167–83.

16. For example, similar issues arise in the study of transracial adoption: “Study findings that support greater use of transracial adoption as a placement option . . . are fraught with conceptual and methodological limitations. . . . For instance, many have small sample sizes and no—or inappropriate—comparison groups. While they tend to be cross-sectional, those that are longitudinal are potentially biased from sample attrition.” Devon Brooks and Richard P. Barth, “Adult Transracial and Inracial Adoptees: Effects of Race, Gender, Adoptive Family Structure, and Placement History on Adjustment Outcomes,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 69 (January 1999): 88.

17. Available at

18. A. Brewaeys and others, “Donor Insemination: Child Development and Family Functioning in Lesbian Mother Families,” Human Reproduction 12 (1997): 1349–59; David K. Flaks and others, “Lesbians Choosing Motherhood: A Comparative Study of Heterosexual Parents and Their Children,” Developmental Psychology 31 (1995): 105–14; Golombok and others, “Children with Lesbian Parents” (see note 11), pp. 20–33; Katrien Vanfraussen, Ingrid Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, and Anne Brewaeys. “Family Functioning in Lesbian Families Created by Donor Insemination,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 73, no. 1 (January 2003): 78–90.

19. Green and others, “Lesbian Mothers and Their Children” (see note 15); Beverly Hoeffer, “Children's Acquisition of Sex Role Behavior in Lesbian-Mother Families,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 51, no. 3 (1981): 536–44; Ailsa Steckel, “Psychosocial Development of Children of Lesbian Mothers,” in Gay and Lesbian Parents, edited by Frederick W. Bozett (New York: Praeger, 1987), pp. 75–85.

20. Lisa Saffron, “What about the Children?” Sons and Daughters of Lesbian and Gay Parents Talk about Their Lives (London: Cassell, 1996); Tasker and Golombok, Growing Up in a Lesbian Family (see note 13). It is unclear whether the young women are more likely to engage in same-sex relations, more likely to disclose them, or some combination of the two.

21. Steckel, “Psychosocial Development of Children of Lesbian Mothers” (see note 19); Susan Golombok, Ann Spencer, and Michael Rutter, “Children in Lesbian and Single-Parent Households: Psychosexual and Psychiatric Appraisal,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 24, no. 4 (1983): 551–72.

22. Karen G. Lewis, “Children of Lesbians: Their Point of View,” Social Work 25 (May 1980): 198–203; Ann O'Connell, “Voices from the Heart: The Developmental Impact of Mother's Lesbianism on Her Adolescent Children,” Smith College Studies in Social Work 63, no. 3 (June 1993): 281–99; S. J. Pennington, “Children of Lesbian Mothers,” in Gay and Lesbian Parents, edited by Bozett (see note 19), pp. 58–74.

23. Phillip A. Belcastro and others, “A Review of Data Based Studies Addressing the Effects of Homosexual Parenting on Children's Sexual and Social Functioning,” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 20, nos. 1–2 (1993): 105–22; Frederick W. Bozett, “Children of Gay Fathers,” Gay and Lesbian Parents, edited by Bozett (see note 19), pp. 39–57; Margaret Crosbie-Burnett and Lawrence Helmbrecht, “A Descriptive Empirical Study of Gay Male Stepfamilies,” Family Relations 42 (1993): 256–62; Nanette Gatrell and others, “The National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews with Mothers of Five-Year-Olds,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 70, no. 4 (October 2000): 542–48; Tamar D. Gershon, Jeanne M. Tschann, and John M. Jemerin, “Stigmatization, Self-Esteem, and Coping among the Adolescent Children of Lesbian Mothers,” Journal of Adolescent Health 24, no. 6 (June 1999): 437–45; Golombok, Spencer, and Rutter, “Children in Lesbian and Single-Parent Households” (see note 21); Golombok and others, “Children with Lesbian Parents”(see note 11); Jan Hare, “Concerns and Issues Faced by Families Headed by a Lesbian Couple,” Families in Society 75 (1994): 27–35; Ghazala Afzal Javaid, “The Children of Homosexual and Heterosexual Single Mothers,” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 24 (1993): 235–48; Suzanne M. Johnson and Elizabeth O'Connor, The Gay Baby Boom: The Psychology of Gay Parenthood (New York University Press, 2002); Lewis, “Children of Lesbians” (see note 22); O'Connell, “Voices from the Heart” (see note 22); Pennington, “Children of Lesbian Mothers” (see note 22); Tasker and Golombok, Growing Up in a Lesbian Family (see note 13); Norman Wyers, “Homosexuality and the Family: Lesbian and Gay Spouses,” Social Work 32 (1987): 143–48.

24. Steven L. Nock, affidavit in the superior court of Ontario, Canada, Halpern et al. v. Canada and MCCT v. Canada (2001), at items 141 (p. 47) and 115 (p. 39).

25. Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz, affidavit in the superior court of Ontario, Canada, Halpern et al. v. Canada and MCCT v. Canada (2001), at items 4 (p. 3) and 14 (p. 7).

26. Anderssen and others' review of the literature up until 2000, which did not cover all of the studies through that date, puts the number of children studied at 615. Norman Anderssen, Christine Amlie, and Erling Andre Ytteroy, “Outcomes for Children with Lesbian or Gay Parents: A Review of Studies from 1978 to 2000,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 43 (2002): 335–51. Since that time, larger-scale studies, some with samples larger than 200, have been undertaken. Stacey and Biblarz, in their affidavit (see note 25) at item 41 (p. 19), cite more than 1,000 children, and 500 observed in “22 of the best studies.”

27. A useful compilation is Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences, by a consortium of thirteen family scholars; available at

28. See Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 66 (May 2004): 351–67; Wendy D. Manning and Kathleen A. Lamb, “Adolescent Well-Being in Cohabiting, Married, and Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 65 (November 2003): 876–93. According to Manning and Lamb, “The findings from empirical work suggest that teenagers and children in cohabiting parent step-families sometimes fare worse in terms of behavior problems and academic performance than children in married stepparent families. . . . Other research suggests that adolescents and children in cohabiting stepparent families share similar levels of behavior problems and academic achievement as children in married stepparent families. . . . The findings seem to depend on the gender and age of the child as well as the specific dependent or outcome variable” (p. 878).

29. Evan Wolfson, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), pp. 95–96.

30. Research has shown that gay and lesbian couples are more equal in their division of labor than heterosexual couples. See Henny M. W. Bos, Frank van Balen, and Dymphna C. van den Boom, “Experience of Parenthood, Couple Relationship, Social Support, and Child-Rearing Goals in Planned Lesbian Mother Families,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, no. 4 (2004): 755–64; Raymond W. Chan and others, “Division of Labor among Lesbian and Heterosexual Parents: Associations with Children's Adjustment,” Journal of Family Psychology 12, no. 3 (1998): 402–19; Claudia Ciano-Boyce and Lynn Shelley-Sireci, “Who Is Mommy Tonight? Lesbian Parenting Issues,” Journal of Homosexuality 43 (2002): 1–13; Daniel W. McPherson, “Gay Parenting Couples: Parenting Arrangements, Arrangement Satisfaction, and Relationship Satisfaction,” Ph.D. diss., Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, 1993; Charlotte J. Patterson, “Families of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Parents' Division of Labor and Children's Adjustment,” Developmental Psychology 31 (1995): 115–23; Charlotte J. Patterson and Raymond W. Chan, “Families Headed by Gay and Lesbian Parents,” in Parenting and Child Development in “Nontraditional” Families, edited by Michael Lamb (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999), pp. 191–219.

31. See, for example, Shawn Hubler, “Nothing but ‘I Do' Will Do Now for Many Gays,” Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2004. One man who married his male partner in San Francisco said, “It has reconnected our relationship in ways I wasn't expecting, and to have a whole city reinforce it was amazing. I used to refer to Dave as my partner or boyfriend. Now I refer to him as my husband.” One of the present authors (Rauch), while on a book tour last year, personally heard a number of such testimonials from gay couples.

32. For example, Stanley Kurtz has argued that male couples, if allowed to marry, would “help redefine marriage
as a non-monogamous institution.” “Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory,” Weekly Standard, August 4–11, 2003.

33. Andrew Jacobs, “More than Mere Partners: By Example, Lesbian Couple Try to State Case for Marriage,” New York Times, December 20, 2003.

34. See, for example, Charlotte J. Patterson, Susan Hurt, and Chandra D. Mason, “Families of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Children's Contact with Grandparents and Other Adults,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 68, no. 3 (July 1998): 390–99.

35. Catherine Connolly, “The Voice of the Petitioner: The Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Parents in Successful Second-Parent Adoption Proceedings,” Law and Society Review 36, no. 2 (2002): 325–46, quotes p. 337.

36. Donovan Slack, “Union Denies Benefits to Gay Couples,” Boston Globe, May 11, 2004.