Are Teens of Gay Parents Less Happy Than Their Peers?

What Women Really Think
Jan. 19 2012 1:12 PM

Are Teens of Gay Parents Less Happy Than Their Peers?

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Two young protesters with their mothers during a gay rights rally in Hollywood

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images.

Over on the Washington Post’s parenting blog, Janice D’Arcy took on Rick Santorum’s recent assertion that being raised by same-sex parents “[robs] children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to” by way of pointing to a new study which shows that, in fact, having two mommies does nothing of the sort.

The main findings of the paper, “Quality of Life of Adolescents Raised from Birth by Lesbian Mothers: The US National Longitudinal Family Study,” are pretty straightforward. Psychologist Loes van Gelderen and his colleagues show that, within their sample, there are no significant differences in the self-reported quality of life between teens of lesbian moms and their straight counterparts. (If you want more info on the sample makeup and method, check out D’Arcy’s post or read the whole paper here [PDF].) Moreover, the researchers found that within the lesbian-parented group, other factors—such as knowing the sperm donor, being stigmatized by peers or having their mothers separate—did not significantly impact the teens’ quality of life.

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While I’m not at all surprised by the central result (which confirmed on a great deal of previous research), I find some of the ancillary claims intriguing. Specifically, the study found that, in cases of divorce, almost three-quarters of lesbian parents retain joint custody, “whereas 65% of divorced American heterosexual mothers retain sole physical and legal custody of their children.” The authors speculate that the wellness of their sample group might relate in part to this continuation of shared parental responsibilities.

On a similar note, one might well expect that the hate speech and other discrimination many children of same-sex parents are likely to encounter in their communities would lead to a lower assessment of their quality of life, but lesbian mothers’ particularly close relationship with their children seemed to help train them to deflect such bullying, possibly even leading them to be stronger, more empathetic social actors in general.

This is all good news for those gay couples looking to adopt; without the canard of pseudo-science, social conservatives like Rick Santorum will have little else to lean on aside from outright bigotry.

If you are interested in more info on this topic (e.g. on how gay fathers fit in), check out this great literature survey [PDF] by the Australian Psychological Society.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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