Charlotte J. Patterson
University of Virginia
ABSTRACT—Does parental sexual orientation affect child
development, and if so, how? Studies using convenience
samples, studies using samples drawn from known populations,
and studies based on samples that are representative
of larger populations all converge on similar
conclusions. More than two decades ofresearch has failed
to reveal important differences in the adjustment or development
of children or adolescents reared by same-sex
couples compared to those reared by other-sex couples.
Results of the research suggest that qualities of family relationships
are more tightly linked with child outcomes
than is parental sexual orientation.
KEYWORDS—sexual orientation; parenting; lesbian; gay;child; socialization
Does parental sexual orientation affect child development, and if
so, how? This question has often been raised in the context of
legal and policy proceedings relevant to children, such as those
involving adoption, child custody, or visitation. Divergent views
have been offered by professionals from the fields of psychology,
sociology, medicine, and law (Patterson,Fulcher, & Wainright,
2002). While this question has most often been raised in legal
and policy contexts, it is also relevant to theoretical issues. For
example, does healthy human development require that a child
grow up with parents of each gender? And if not, what would that
mean for our theoretical understanding of parent–child relations
(Patterson & Hastings, in press)? In this article, Idescribe some
research designed to address these questions.
Research on children with lesbian and gay parents began with
studies focused on cases in which children had been born in the
context of a heterosexual marriage. After parental separation and
divorce, many children in these families lived with divorced
lesbianmothers.Anumber of researchers compared development
amongchildren of divorced lesbian mothers with that among
children of divorced heterosexual mothers and found few significant
differences (Patterson, 1997; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001).
These studies were valuable in addressing concerns of judges
who were required to decide divorce and child custody cases, but
they left many questions unanswered. In particular, because the
children who participated inthis research had been born into
homes with married mothers and fathers, it was not obvious how
to understand the reasons for their healthy development. The
possibility that children’s early exposure to apparently heterosexual
male and female role models had contributed to healthy
development could not be ruled out.
When lesbian or gay parents rear infants and children from
birth, do theiroffspring grow up in typical ways and show healthy
development? To address this question, it was important to study
children who had never lived with heterosexual parents. In the
1990s, a number of investigators began research of this kind.
An early example was the Bay Area Families Study, in which
I studied a group of 4- to 9-year-old children who had been born to
or adopted early in life bylesbianmothers (Patterson, 1996, 1997).
Data were collected during home visits. Results from in-home
interviews and also from questionnaires showed that children had
regular contact with a wide range of adults of both genders, both
within and outside of their families. The children’s self-concepts
and preferences for same-gender playmates and activities were
much like those of other childrentheir ages. Moreover, standardized
measures of social competence and of behavior problems,
such as those from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), showed
that they scored within the range of normal variation for a representative
sample of same-aged American children. It was clear
from this study and others like it that it was quite possible for
lesbian mothers to rear healthy children....