As society has evolved, so has the idea of the “typical family.” Historically, the idea of “family” consisted of one father (the King of the Castle, so to speak), one mother (often the family matriarch) and a child or children, all of whom are biologically related. The image painted around the “All American Family” is one that includes a beautiful house with blue window panes and a white picket fence, set right in the middle of middle-class, suburban America.
While families that do fit this stereotype continue to exist, many of today’s typical American families have the roles of the parental units filled by not just one mother or one father. Parental roles are being filled by grandparents, aunts, uncles, elder siblings, adoptive parents, single parents, co-parents and/or step-parents. The children in these families may or may not be biologically related to the parents or caregivers; if the children are not biologically related they are usually adopted children, foster children, or step-children. Families such as these are often referred to as “blended families”.
The term “co-parenting” is sometimes used when two parents of a child are not married to each other. The same term is also used when referring to a family that has two lesbian mothers and/or two gay fathers. Although there is open opposition to gays and/or lesbians being parents or wanting to be parents (whether biologically, foster or adoptive), studies show that people around the world support and acknowledge these types of families. According to Gary Gates at the Urban Institute, as of May 30, 2003, the amount of lesbian mothers has grown to between one (1) and five (5) million; the amount of gay fathers has grown to between one (1) and three (3) million; and there are eight (8) to ten (10) million children who have one or more gay or lesbian parent.1 Mr. Gates further states that, “96% of all U.S. Countries have at least one same-sex couple with children under the age of 18″ in their household.2 If one were to compare these numbers to the numbers that would be presented of traditional families, these numbers seem quite minimal; however, in the fight for gay and lesbian rights, these numbers are encouraging. Because the numbers continue to increase each day, they are also a testament to the desire of gay and lesbian parents to be seen as equivalent members within their communities, Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transsexual (“LGBT”) community or otherwise.
Society’s general outlook on gay and lesbian parenting is also changing. According to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal (1999), one-third of poll takers endorsed same-sex marriage and unions. These same people would most likely endorse same-sex parenting.
Though there is acceptance and welcome for people in the LGBT community to openly parent and raise children, gay and lesbian couples and individuals still face many challenges from others who are not so open minded. Some people have argued that homosexuality is a mental disorder, therefore are of the opinion that members of the LGBT community should not be able to marry or have children. The American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is NOT a mental illness [emphasis added] in 1973.3 The American Psychological Association adopted the same measure in 1975. As psychology was one of the first disciplines to study homosexuality in depth, psychologists have discovered that the fear of being gay (or “homophobia”) has played a key role in anti-gay attitudes and behaviors of those who disagree with the gay lifestyle. Though this finding has helped people better understand the reasons certain people are uncomfortable or against the LGBT lifestyle, it has not completely neutralized the unfounded fears that some people have.
There have been some arguments that gay or lesbian parents will molest their children, biological or otherwise. The Child Welfare League of America studied and concluded that, “the likelihood of homosexual adopters molesting children placed with them is no greater than it is for the general population.”4 Roland Summit, M.D. concludes that, “the vast majority of offenders are heterosexual men. Male offenders who abuse young boys maintain adult heterosexual relationships. The habitual molester of boys is rarely attracted to adult males.”5 The premise that one’s sexual orientation defines that person as a pedophile has been proven false time and time again. This particular fear has propounded multiple studies, most, if not all, with the same generalized conclusion.
The American Psychological Association’s policy statement regarding placing prospective adoptive and foster children within gay or lesbian homes reads, in pertinent part:
The picture that emerges from research is one of general engagement in social life with peers, parents, family members, and friends. Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support. Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.6
This policy has generously helped LGBT parents to fulfill their dream of having a family through the adoption process.