During the second half of the twentieth century, homosexuality became a major social issue all over the world. Today homosexuality continues to be a controversial issue; in some countries/social contexts homosexuality continues to be a fundamental taboo. In relation to this, several attenuating factors must be considered.
Recognizing that it is impossible to cover the issue in this paper it was decided to focus on only one aspect of homosexuality: family. Gay and lesbian families are very much real in today’s social context. Given that the world is still trying to integrate homosexuality into society as a normal and even natural occurrence, a debate on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to form families has unraveled. Various questions have been raised regarding family values, gender roles, and fundamental social dynamics in gay and lesbian families. Such questions relate to the family unit itself, to the relationships between the family unit and extended family, and between the family unit and society.
The following paper comprises a critical review of research conducted on gay and lesbian families. Specifically, the review covers the reality that gays and homosexuals face in the workplace, the way in which gay and lesbian families manage their economies, and the relationships between gay/lesbian parents and their children. Other aspects are considered as well, including the treatment that gay and lesbian families receive from society, the way in which their localization is ultimately determined, and the treatment that children of gay/lesbian parents receive outside of their homes. Finally, it should be noted that this review also considers a comparative analysis between gay/lesbian families and heterosexual families. The latter follows research conducted on differences that may or may not exist between both types of families in matters relating to moral values, education, income, and overall relationships (within parents and children; between the family unit and extended family; between the family unit and society as a whole).
In today’s world, families where parents are either gay or lesbians are significantly increasing in numbers year after year. This trend is observable by the fact that today the (homosexual) lifestyle is more widely accepted than it has ever been. In the United States, for example, this generalized acceptance can be seen by the fact that there are some states in which same-sex marriage is legal. Gay couples are even able to adopt and raise children. Research on this increasing tendency indicates “between 6 and 14 million people in the United States have at least one homosexual parent may be understated because many gay and lesbian parents are reluctant to reveal their sexual orientation” (Glass 568).
Homosexuals have managed to overcome many obstacles through a number of ways. For example, “gay men may father children through arrangements with friends or surrogates and lesbians may conceive by alternative (artificial) insemination with known or unknown donors” (Glass 569). This research clearly indicates that homosexuals, aside from being more accepted by society, are also interested in adopting and raising children. Homosexuals, much like heterosexuals, are interested in starting their own families.
Upon considering gay and lesbian families, the first thing that becomes clear is “despite past concerns and occasional reports to the contrary, the bulk of research has shown no evidence that children of parents who are gay or lesbian suffer any greater physical or mental pathology than children of heterosexual parents” (Ahmann 531). Instead, one of the main objections against gay and lesbian families is that such a family unit configuration is traumatic for children. This, however, appears not to be the case. In fact, research indicates that there is a greater risk from trauma and/or pathology from doctors than from gay/lesbian parents. The matter is that many physicians have discriminatory and intolerant attitudes towards homosexuals; this inevitably transfers onto children and make them develop trauma. It is because of this that the research carried out by Ahmann specifically suggests “healthcare providers should examine their own attitudes toward these families and consider how to provide a welcoming environment and presence” (531). There are, of course, various ways in which physicians can attempt to do this. Looking over the existing research, the most common ways of providing a welcoming environment for homosexual parents is to exercise a gender-neutral language and to acknowledge that varied family types do exist.
It is also worth noting that “the number of lesbian mothers with children was between 1.5 million and 5 million” (Laird 559). Further, “between 8 and 10 million children were being raised in gay and lesbian households” (Laird 559). These figures may seem significant (and in a way they are), but the truth of the matter is that research also indicates that gay and lesbian couples have fewer children in comparison with heterosexual couples. This can be explained initially by the fact that gay and lesbian couples cannot reproduce naturally (through sexual intercourse, like heterosexual couples do). However, research also indicates that there are other attenuating factors that hinder the gay and lesbian families’ ability to adopt and raise more children.
Costs of children are higher for gay and lesbian couples than for their heterosexual counterparts. Gay and lesbian couples who wish to adopt must face not just monetary costs, but also time and effort to overcome implicit and explicit discriminatory obstacles. Nearly all states do allow gay and lesbian persons to adopt (Florida is the lone exception), but only nine states (plus Washington, D.C.) allow joint adoption by openly gay and lesbian couples (Black, Sanders, and Taylor 56).
Based on this it can be seen that homosexual couples face a hard time when attempting to start their own families. At the same time, these impediments also lead to homosexual couples being more flexible as to the time to adopt a child. Normally, heterosexual couples who adopt will only adopt a child of their own race. Homosexual couples, on the other hand, will be more inclined to adopting a child of another race, since impediments are so high for them that they will simply conform to being able to adopt a child.
The flexibility and tolerance that flows naturally in gay and lesbian couples is another factor worth considering, especially as it translates into the family unit. Gays and lesbians understand what it is like to be different. They understand what it feels like to be cast out and to be subjected to discrimination on a continuous basis. This is precisely what ends up making homosexuals more tolerant and open-minded than heterosexual individuals, especially in highly controversial matters.
Research indicates that this increased tolerance is also passed along to the children of gays and lesbians. Over the years, questions have been raised regarding the psychological and social adjustment of children of either gay or lesbian parents. Research on the matter suggests “these children do not differ significantly from children of heterosexual mothers. If anything, such children are likely to be more flexible and tolerant of differences in others” (Laird 567). In other words, scientific research indicates that in general terms, the sons and daughters of gay and lesbian families, are more tolerant and open-minded. This, in turn, has serious implications for social development, since tolerance undoubtedly contributes to the positive (and integral) development of society.
As it has been mentioned, research points to the fact that children of gay and lesbian families are not subject to any form of differentiated and/or increased trauma (relative to the sons and daughters of heterosexual families). Another question has been raised, however, regarding the conditioning effect that the environment, articulated by a gay or a lesbian family, may have on a child’s sexual orientation. For years, it has been stated by fundamentalists and conservatives that homosexual parents will inevitably lead to homosexual children. Scientific research, however, has found that such claims do not have solid foundation . In fact, the existing evidence “does not support the prevailing notion that children of gay parents are more likely to grow up gay than are children in heterosexual families or that daughters will be more masculine and sons more feminine than will children from normal families” (Laird 569). In other words, homosexual parents do not necessarily lead to homosexual children. This is also an important scientific finding since it implies “the sexual orientations of children of gay or lesbian parents do not differ from those whose parents are heterosexual” (Laird 569). Homosexuality, based on this evidence, does not appear to be an acquired habit. Instead, it appears to be a lifestyle choice that is founded on each person’s instinctive sexual drive.
There are cases in which gay and lesbian families have to cope with their children declaring themselves gays or lesbians. As it was already mentioned, gay and lesbian families are more tolerant; such occurrence would not constitute a problem for either the child or his/her parents. However, children may be exposed to bullying at school for either being gay/lesbian, or for having gay/lesbian parents. Bullying is frequently experienced in the school setting; research indicates that homophobic bullying is generally “used to undermine lesbian and gay parents and it is not unreasonable to assume that lesbian and gay parents… are aware of this” (Clarke, Kitzinger, and Potter 532). Based on this, the research leads to the conclusion that gay and lesbian families are subject to increased scrutiny in matters concerning their parenting skills and competency, relative to heterosexual families.
Research points to the fact that gay and lesbian parents are not overly different from heterosexual parents and that the only real difference between them is their sexual inclination. Contrary to what society might believe, gays and lesbians have the same potential as heterosexuals to elicit emotions, to engage in physical intimacy, and to generate conflicts on issues as varied as the use of money, sexual dynamic, and child-rearing ideas (Laird 560). Furthermore, research evidences that they share common values, customs, and problem-solving strategies, etc. In a word, there is no justifiable reason to claim that gay and lesbian families will prompt a loss of family values and/or ethics.
Touching the issue of lifestyle choice and going beyond heterosexuality and homosexuality, it is important to consider partnership and geographic localization choices. In other words, the scientific community has become interested in researching partnership and localization choices between heterosexuals and homosexuals in order to determine if sexual preference affects such aspects. In principle, it might seem that sexual orientation would generate differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals in terms of partnership choice. Research, however, indicates the opposite. . In a survey conducted by Black, Sanders, and Taylor, “of 212 households in which the sampled individual is a gay man, about half (103), are partnered. Similarly, 63 percent of lesbian households are partnered. By way of comparison, 59 percent of heterosexual households are partnered” (55). These findings are important since they show that although gay and lesbian communities are minorities, the way in which they go about seeking partnership and forming families does not (fundamentally) differ from the way in which heterosexual communities do.
In discussing the geographic distribution pursued by gays and lesbians (relative to heterosexual geographic distribution), before going into the research, it is worth noting that difference are almost a certainty. The reason for the differences between the geographic distributions of homosexual and heterosexual communities lies in the fact that the former are minorities. The logic would imply that homosexuals will be more inclined to locating themselves in urban areas, where the probabilities of encountering other homosexuals and constituting larger and stronger communities are higher. This is what the logic implies; it is also what the research indicates. Not only does research point to the fact that gay and lesbian families are more likely to pursue urban localization, but also that they “appear to be less likely than those in heterosexual partnerships to live near their places of birth, or to have been born in the same state as their partner” (Black, Sanders, and Taylor 56). In areas where population density is relatively low (i.e. suburbs and rural areas), the probability of finding other homosexuals is minimal, as is the probability of encountering a welcoming and tolerant social environment. This is why most homosexuals relocate to urban centers, where they generally meet their spouses.
Education is another very important aspect to consider when discussing gay and lesbian families. It is no secret that in today’s highly globalized and competitive world education is a major aspect to consider when discussing any type of family (either heterosexual or homosexual). Education will directly affect the family’s ability to achieve a determined standard of living; it will also affect parents’ chances of giving a good education (and an overall good quality of life) to their children. This being said, it is worth noting that conducted research indicates that “partnered gays and lesbians have levels of education that are similar to their nonpartnered counterparts, and are similarly aged (or slightly older)” (Black, Sanders, and Taylor 55). Gay and lesbian families are not lacking in education. At this point it is also worth noting that gay and lesbian families might have a potential advantage over heterosexual families, as indicated by the conducted research on the subject matter. In heterosexual couples it is observed that males and females have differentiated professional (and market) specializations. This is what has ultimately led to gender differences in terms of employment, income, and even education opportunities.
The anticipation of rearing children is a primary reason for gender-based household specialization and therefore gender-based patterns of human capital investment… gay and lesbian couples (by virtue of being same-sex) have no split in comparative advantage… we expect to observe less household specialization in gay and lesbian couples (Black, Sanders, and Taylor 57).
Even though, it is recognized that there are some biological differences between men and women, it is generally accepted that they have almost identical capabilities (especially intellectual) to perform any occupation in any line of work. However, the evidence shows that this does not happen because women continue to be treated unfairly (in comparison to men) in the labor market. Currently, a significant gap between the wages of men and women persists; on average, men earn more than women. When comparing the number of male senior executives against the number of their female counterparts, it becomes clear that there is still a macho mentality in the business world. There are many more male senior executives; there are very few women who hold any real power in the business world. As if this were not enough, women who are part of the labor market often find infringements upon their dignity, their integrity, and even against their bodies.
This is a situation that differences in specialization (among heterosexual couples) have generated. Among homosexual couples, however, the differentiation in terms of specialization does not occur. This is precisely why gay and lesbian families are believed to sustain an advantage compared to their heterosexual counterparts. This being said, “gay and lesbian couples are less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have a stay-at-home partner. In general, having a stay-at-home partner for gays and lesbians is more common when children are present in the family” (Biblarz and Savci 480). The research suggests that in gay and lesbian families the household’s responsibilities are more evenly distributed between the couple. As well, it is important to consider that even though today the proportion of heterosexual couples in which both partners work is analogous to the proportion of homosexual couples (where both partners are employed), the difference between income (relative to hours worked) between the male and the female is highest among the former (Biblarz and Savci 480). Based on this it can be concluded that gay and lesbian families do more to promote gender equality (and to educate children on the virtues of gender equality) than heterosexual families. As well, lack of specialization that characterizes gay and lesbian families translates to gay and lesbian partners being better educated in comparison with heterosexual partners (Ryan and Berkowitz 168). Here again, it is important to fall back on what was mentioned earlier about there being more equality between both partners (as far as role/responsibility distribution goes).
There is no question that there are some significant differences between heterosexual families and gay and lesbian families. However, the conducted research makes it clear that the differences have nothing to do with the way in which they develop family values or the way in which gay and lesbian couples raise children. The only major difference between both types of families lies in parents’ sexual orientations. Leaving sexual orientation out of the equation, the research indicates that gays and lesbians are perfectly capable of starting families and raising children in a positive manner. In fact, it has been possible to see that in certain areas, gay and lesbian families may very well be preferred given that they promote gender equality and tolerance in the face of diversity.
Ultimately, when proposing an answer to the question on whether or not gay and lesbian families should be allowed in the wider context of modern society, research neither supports nor denies any particular solution. Instead, the research indicates that there is no justifiable reason to prevent gays and lesbians to starting their own families, adopting children, and raising them. Sexual inclination, as evidenced throughout this paper, has no deciding effect on parents’ ability to provide integral and positive education to their children. Furthermore, sexual inclination presents no foreseeable threat to the institution of the family (or, the institution of marriage for that matter). In the end, however, the decision lies within the society itself. One final consideration that should be made before making a statement on whether or not to support gay and lesbian families is the following: people would better get well-informed instead of letting their judgment become clouded by prejudice or, worse, ignorance.
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