What Happens to Kids Raised By Gay Parents?
By MACKENZIE CARPENTER
Friday, June 22, 2007
Rebecca Meiksin, 22, is white, middle-class, college-educated, with plans to earn a graduate degree in public health.
Terrance McGeorge, 20, is black, has a high-school degree and works in an AmeriCorps service program at Beginning With Books, an early-literacy organization.
Despite their differences, both of these young people have something in common with the new grandson of the vice president of the United States, who was born to Mary Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, on May 23: They have a gay parent.
And both of them believe they have turned out just fine — in no small way because of how they were raised.
“My dad has been my best friend since I was a kid,” said McGeorge, a tall, friendly young man who wants to pursue a career in theater and fashion. “He always encouraged me and was there for me, for whatever it was, graduations, performances, he was there, immediately.”
McGeorge, like his father, is gay. That might provoke an “Aha!” moment for those who warn that children of gays are more likely to adopt their parents’ lifestyle, but he says his father had nothing to do with it, except, possibly, providing DNA.
“I’ve always known I was that way, since I was 3 or 4 years old, when I started getting crushes on other boys. My father didn’t come out until I was 6,” he said.
McGeorge’s father declined to be interviewed for this story.
Meiksin, born to a single lesbian mother who moved in with a partner when Meiksin was 12, is heterosexual.
“Um, I’m going to spend the month of June with my boyfriend,” she says with a shy laugh. Asked if her lesbian mother encouraged her to follow in her footsteps, she rolls her eyes.
“I never felt any pressure to be gay,” she said. “Although I did take my boyfriend to a gay-pride parade once, which was a real trip for him.”
Her mother declined to be interviewed for this story.
Meiksin represents part of a first wave of babies intentionally conceived or adopted by gay parents in the 1980s as the gay-pride movement took off. McGeorge, on the other hand, is part of a different group of children — many from minority and low-income communities — born of a heterosexual union that dissolved when one parent came out as gay.
So how are they doing, now that they’ve reached young adulthood?
Some critics have suggested these children — along with Samuel David Cheney, Mary Cheney’s infant son — are doomed to a life of struggle compared with those raised in a more traditional, Ozzie-and-Harriet-model family, with a mother and a father.
But most studies have found that outcomes for children of gay and lesbian parents are no better — and no worse — than for other children, whether the measures involve peer-group relationships, self-esteem, behavioral difficulties, academic achievement or warmth and quality of family relationships.
No one knows precisely how many children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay. Estimates range all the way from 1 million to 9 million.
For many of these young people, though, growing up in what census researchers call a “same-sex-parent household” doesn’t have to be a big deal — except that, these days, it is.
“With all due respect to Cheney and her partner,” James Dobson of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, wrote in Time magazine in December, “the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.”
Some liberals chimed in, too, notably Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, who cited “a growing body of research that tells us the child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs or wind up in jail.”
The problem with the research cited by both Dobson and Pitts is that it compares children of heterosexual couples only with those of single parents and not with children of same-sex-parent families, said Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and an expert on census data involving gay and lesbian households.
“There are virtually no studies that make a direct comparison with same-sex parents,” he said, noting census data show that one in four same-sex couples are raising a child under the age of 18.
A number of professional medical organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association — have issued statements claiming that a parent’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to his or her ability to raise a child.
For the most part, the organizations are relying on a relatively small but conclusive body of research — approximately 67 studies — looking at children of gay parents and compiled by the American Psychological Association. In study after study, children in same-sex-parent families turned out the same, for better or for worse, as children in heterosexual families.
Moreover, a 2001 meta-analysis of those studies found that the sexual orientation of a parent is irrelevant to the development of a child’s mental health and social development and to the quality of a parent-child relationship.
The problem with these studies, Gates says, is that most of the children are from “intentional” same-sex-parent families, where the parents tend to be better educated, more affluent and more open about their sexual orientation, and who deliberately conceive or adopt children with the intention of raising them in a same-sex-parent family.
“My research suggests that’s not the typical gay-parent household,” Gates said.
In fact, only 6 percent of same-sex parents have an adopted child, and a sizable number appear to be living in some kind of step-family arrangement, in which parents “come out later and have children from an earlier heterosexual marriage or relationship,” he said.
While white couples of relatively high income have been the focus of most studies, census figures show that about 45 percent of same-sex parents are either black or Latino. And most of those same-sex couples with children have household incomes below that of their different-sex married counterparts.
Gates speculates that the omission of children from minority and low-income communities may be because the children have been pressured by their parents not to talk since “there may be higher levels of stigmatization in minority communities regarding homosexuality.”