Same sex families

Although children of same sex relationships often experience discrimination and stigmatisation, the existing evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the sexual orientation of a parent has no effect on a child's development or sense of wellbeing. Studies conducted since the 1980s have consistently found that ’there is simply no credible evidence that such relationships cause harm to the intellectual, emotional, psychological or sexual development of children’.

One research review conducted in 1996 noted that the results are ‘exceptionally clear’ and ‘yield a picture of families thriving even in the midst of discrimination and oppression’:

Certainly, they provide no evidence that psychological adjustment among lesbians, gay men, their children, or other family members is impaired in any significant way. Indeed, the evidence suggests that relationships of lesbian and gay couples are just as supportive and that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are just as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to enable psychosocial growth among family members.
In fact, there is some evidence that a same sex upbringing may actually be quite advantageous. In a 2010 study on the psychological adjustment of 17-year-old adolescents (as part of the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study), researchers noted that children raised in same-sex families were ‘well adjusted, demonstrating more competencies and fewer behavioural problems than their peers in the normative American population'.

However, in a survey of Australian research on children of lesbian parents and single mothers for the Parliamentary Library in 2002, Dr Maurice Rickard observed that while the existing evidence indicated that the sexual orientation of parents did not appear to be a determinant of the success of a child's development, there was evidence that children of lesbian parents often fear stigmatisation and may have a more negative reaction to stress. More recently, US National Longitudinal Family Study research on the quality of life of adolescents raised from birth by lesbian mothers also found evidence of wide-spread stigmatisation:
Nearly half of the NLLFS [National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study] adolescents reported that they had been treated unfairly as a result of having a lesbian mother. They reported a variety of forms of stigmatization, such as being teased or ridiculed, excluded from activities, or stereotyped as being different.
In spite of this, the same study concluded that there were no differences in quality of life and that adolescents reared by lesbian mothers from birth did not manifest more depression, anxiety or disruptive behaviours than those reared by heterosexual parents.

Of far greater significance in terms of child wellbeing is the level of socioeconomic disadvantage experienced by the family. For example, single parent families often experience significant financial hardship for a variety of reasons, including high unemployment rates, lack of access to affordable childcare or housing and dependence on welfare. The majority of single-parent families are headed by women—with the result that female sole parent households, and consequently their children, are often particularly disadvantaged.

In his 2002 research survey, Dr Maurice Rickard observed that single motherhood appears to be a particular risk factor in negative social, behavioural and emotional outcomes for children and that while some argue that this is due specifically to the absence of a male parent, there is strong evidence to suggest that these negative outcomes are the result of the educational, economic and social disadvantages that often accompany single motherhood.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that the sexual orientation of any parent (single or otherwise) has any negative effect on child wellbeing. While much less in known of gay fathers than lesbian mothers, the vast majority of the existing research comparing children of same sex parents with those of heterosexual parents has found that both type of families are just as likely as the other to provide home environments that support positive outcomes for children.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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