Same-Sex Parenting: What Does it Look Like and How Does it Work?


  1. LGBT parenting
  2. Same-sex parenting
  3. How do same-sex couples have children?
  4. LGBT parenting issues
  5. The impact of same-sex parenting on children

Along with a rise in gender-neutral parenting, figures suggest that 114,000 same-sex couples are raising children in the US. So, what is same-sex parenting and what impact does it have on children? Letโ€™s take a look at the conversation, research and statistics so far. ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆsame sex dads

LGBT parenting


LGBT parenting refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender โ€“ LGBT โ€“ people raising one or more children as parents. This includes children raised by single LGBT parents, children raised by an opposite-sex couple where at least one partner is LGBT, and children raised by same-sex couples โ€“ same-sex parenting. ๐Ÿ‘ช

Same-sex family definition

In simple terms, a same-sex-parented family is defined as any family in which both parents identify as having the same sex โ€“ most commonly families with two lesbian female or two gay male parents. ๐Ÿ‘ฌ

Same-sex-parented families could also include families where just one parent self-identifies as being same-sex attracted, or one or both parents are transgender or a combination of the above. 


Same-sex parenting


It was only on June 26th, 2003 that laws against sodomy were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Since then, society and corresponding legislation have slowly increased access to family-building options for same-sex couples.

The federal marriage equality ruling in 2015 protects the right for gay couples to adopt throughout the United States.

In the US, more than 125,000 same-sex couple households (19%) include nearly 220,000 children under age 18, and more than 111,000 same-sex couples are raising an estimated 170,000 biological, step, or adopted children.

Meanwhile, figures show that same-sex couples raising children are four times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be raising an adopted child. An estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are
raising more than 22,000 adopted children in the US.


How do same-sex couples have children?


A gay man, a lesbian, or a transgender person who transitions later in life may have children within an opposite-sex relationship, such as a mixed-orientation marriage. Equally, LGBT people can become parents through various means including through current or previous relationships, adoption, foster care, co-parenting, surrogacy, donor insemination, and reciprocal IVF.

  • Adoption

Adoption is the legal process by which a child or a group of siblings who cannot be brought up within their birth family become full, permanent, and legal members of their new family. Adopters become the child's legal parents with the same rights and responsibilities as if the child was born to them.  

A lot of adopted children have suffered significant abuse, violence, or neglect in their birth families and most have spent time in foster care. 

  • Surrogacy

Some same-sex couples decide to have a surrogate pregnancy. Surrogacy is when a person with a womb carries an egg fertilized by sperm โ€“ potentially given by a donor or one of the same-sex partners โ€“ through pregnancy and birth on behalf of the same-sex parents. Surrogacy agreements are not actually legal in all 50 states. Click here to check out a handy interactive map of the US which outlines the most surrogate-friendly states. ๐Ÿคฐ

  • Donor insemination

Donor insemination โ€“ a method commonly used by lesbian couples โ€“ is when a partner is fertilized with donor sperm injected through a syringe. In some countries, such as Spain for example, the donor can choose to be anonymous. In the US, the FDA requires sperm banks to preserve certain donor information for medical purposes, it does not weigh in on donor anonymity. Almost all anonymous sperm donors in the U.S. are compensated, and historically some donors fathered dozens or even hundreds of half-siblings.

  • Reciprocal IVF

Reciprocal IVF is used by couples who both possess female reproductive organs. Using in vitro fertilization, eggs are removed from one partner to be used to make embryos that the other partner will hopefully carry in a successful pregnancy. ๐Ÿ‘ญ


LGBT parenting issues


Parenting challenges around friendships, school experience, bullying, tantrums, disobedience, lying, homework, and technology โ€“ to name just a few โ€“ are pretty universal. An LGBT parent is no more or less equipped to deal with these issues than any other parent out there. Parenting style is far more important than sexual orientation when it comes to child development. ๐Ÿง’

In fact, given the hurdles faced by many LGBT parents just to get to be parents in the first place, some might argue that same-sex parented families are exceptionally devoted to the idea, process of becoming, and reality of being a parent, with all the associated difficulties and joys that it brings.

Institutional heterosexism can be observed in adoption policies in many parts of the world with some countries or states explicitly prohibiting adoption by openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual people. Thankfully, since the turn of the 21st century, LGBT rights in the US have increasingly strengthened in support but LGBT parents can and do still face discrimination.

All of that being said, there are some challenges that LGBT parents and their children might face specifically because they are part of a minority group and therefore often still considered, in some areas more than others, to be challenging the traditional approach to family, relationships and parenting. ๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€๐ŸŒˆ

Ultimately though, many if not all arguments against the legitimacy of LGBT parenting are founded on outmoded, restrictive, and inaccurate gender norms and expectations. LGBT parents can find themselves caught between two contrasting images โ€“ they are portrayed as either inherently different from or essentially the same as, heterosexual families. 

Lesbians are either seen as militant, anti-male feminists or as especially safe caregivers due to their kind, loving, and nurturing nature. Equally, gay men are pigeonholed as either lacking in womenโ€™s โ€˜โ€˜naturalโ€™โ€™ ability to care for children with a perceived predatory or overactive sexuality or more maternal, feminine, and emotionally weak than heterosexual men. ๐Ÿ˜•


The impact of same-sex parenting on children


A question mark remains over the very topic of conducting research into the impacts of same-sex parenting on children, its mere existence somewhat suggesting that same-sex parents are somehow disadvantaged or less able. However, in the interests of social science and coming to legitimate conclusions, there has been a wealth of research into this area of inquiry.

Even so, due to sampling limitations, we still know very little about family functioning among same-sex families with low or moderate incomes, those with several children, or those with older children for example. There remains a need for high-quality research on same-sex families, especially families with gay fathers and with lower incomes.

  • In society

Children may struggle with negative attitudes about their parents and encounter harassment from society generally. Religious organizations can be particularly prone to promoting negative attitudes towards their parents and themselves based on gender and sexuality.

Children of single-sex parents might struggle with social interactions at school or extracurricular activities with some children encountering bias, bullying, stereotypes, micro-aggressions, harm, and violence as a result of identifying outside of social normative, cis-gendered, heterosexual norms. ๐Ÿšธ

Due to the increased risk of harm experienced, children of LGBT parents and LGBT students can also experience increased levels of stress, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. Practicing and developing supportive networks within schools and wider society and working towards resilience skills can assist in creating safe environments for children and parents.

One common misconception is that having same-sex parents will increase a childโ€™s likelihood of being LGBTQ+ themselves. However, reviews of data from studies thus far show that children reared by non-heterosexual parents have outcomes similar to those of children reared by heterosexual parents with respect to sexual orientation. ๐Ÿ‘

  • In school

Once again, if heteronormative parentsโ€™ sexual orientation is presumed to be inconsequential in terms of a childโ€™s experience at school and academic success then the same should apply for same-sex parented families. However, the question of what impact parental sexuality has on childhood wellbeing and educational performance has been surprisingly well researched.  

A 2020 study by Deni Mazrekaj at the University of Oxford used administrative longitudinal data on the entire population of children born between 1998 and 2007 in the Netherlands โ€“ the first country to legalize same-sex marriage โ€“ to follow the educational performance of 2,971 children with same-sex parents and over a million children with different-sex parents from birth. 

The authors found that children raised by same-sex parents from birth perform better than children raised by different-sex parents in both primary and secondary education. ๐ŸŽ’

According to the authors, a major factor explaining these results was parental socioeconomic status. Same-sex couples often have to use expensive fertility treatments and adoption procedures to have a child, meaning they tend to be wealthier, older, and more educated than the typical different-sex couple. 

However, the study concluded that the positive effects of being raised by same-sex parents still remained after controlling for socioeconomic status, though they did lessen. The authors hypothesize that homophobic discrimination could cause same-sex parents to compensate by investing more time and energy into their children. ๐Ÿ’ฏ

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