In the contemporary world, most societies claim to be democratic and aim to achieve ultimate equality for all. While some inequalities are seemingly in the past, others persist. One of many highly controversial topics is gay and lesbian adoption. Although sexual minorities fight for their right to adopt, others oppose the movement due to religious views, stigma, or unconscious biases. For a long time, the concept of a healthy family presupposed a mother and a father figure as mandatory elements. However, as civilization advances further to achieve equality, minority groups claim their rights and argue that heteronormative views are no longer relevant. Although research shows that LGBTQ+ parents are as capable of providing a safe family environment for children as heterosexual couples, many opponents still contradict this notion. This research paper will examine the legal framework of same-sex adoption in the US and Europe, review its socioeconomic, health-related and psychological implications, and argue whether it should be considered a norm.
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Legal Framework: Family as a Human Right
When normalizing same-sex adoptions, addressing the legal framework is essential. As it concerns the Western developed countries of Europe and North America, the strive for equality and freedom is universal. At the beginning of the 21st century, same-sex couples began to receive more rights due to the social-political activism of LGBTQ+ representatives. Gay and lesbian marriage was recognized as legal across all states in the US in 2015 (Hicks and McDermott 218). Although this step granted the right to create a family to the sexual minorities, when it comes to adoption and children within the same-sex parentship, less acceptance is expressed. According to Hicks and McDermott, “when significant legislation achieves an improvement in human rights and a positive shift in public attitudes, there is a collective sigh of relief; however, gains are fragile” (12). The authors highlight that while the gain of the right to marry is significant, its legislative weight should fuel the activism and societal change in regards to LGBTQ+ adoptions.
Although it is not illegal in the US and across several European states, the stigma associated with same-sex fostering and adoption is deeply embedded into people’s mindsets, creating institutional discrimination. While no specific discriminatory law is in place to prohibit it, “the adoption process for same-sex couples is an obstacle course marked by institutional barriers and additional challenges compared with those encountered by opposite-sex couples” (Messina and D’Amore 65). Adoption and foster agencies can either be overtly discriminatory and heterosexist by rejecting LGBTQ+ clients or indirectly homophobic via imposing unnecessary paperwork or unconsciously ignoring state laws regulating sexual minorities’ rights (Messina and D’Amore 61). While it is illegal to deny same-sex couples the right to register their marriage, direct and indirect refusal in adoption rights persists, which showcases selective equality of modern society. Creating a family is a fundamental human right; thus, lesbian and gay partners should be able to adopt and foster children.
Social Inclusion: School, Behavior, and Well-Being
When discussing the effects that same-sex adoption has on a child, the social implications are a necessary part of the debate. Undoubtedly, the social integration of adopted children greatly depends on the quality of parenting; however, the role that the sex of parents plays in upbringing is not commonly understood. There is a growing debate that people who are brought up by LGBTQ+ parents do not develop the necessary societal and interpersonal competencies required to survive in a heteronormative world.
However, child’s social integration depends on factors that do not include the sex composition of the parents. The research on family structure and its effect on infants’ health by Reczek et al. defines different types of parenting households (1605). Firstly, they describe families with a single heterosexual parent and possibly an unmarried partner of the opposite sex and a family of a single sexual minority parent with or without a cohabiter (Reczek et al. 1606). On the other end of the spectrum, there are married parents of the opposite sex and same-sex married couples (Reczek et al. 1606). Thus, the two variables that play a role in the research are the gender of partners and whether a parent is married or not. Between the four categories, the marriage and relationship between spouses matter more than a gender composition.
Children brought up in married households are significantly more active in school and face fewer behavioral problems. In contrast, children with a single parent or unmarried caregivers, regardless of their sex, display less interpersonal competencies and conflict resolution skills, academically achieve less, and miss more days of school (Reczek et al. 1623). It is important to note that children of a sexual minority parent face stigmatization similar to those from single-parent households, which might be the cause of behavioral problems. Reczek et al. state that “social approval theory suggests that families historically outside the norm of traditional legal marriage—such as same-sex unions and single households—are stigmatized, which leads to stigma-driven stress in children” (1619). Children of same-sex and opposite-sex married couples, on the other hand, appear to showcase similar characteristics in relation to academic and social integration. Therefore, it can be argued that the relationship status of a caregiver matters more than their sex; thus, the adoption by married lesbian and gay couples should be encouraged.
Cognitive and Physical Health
While facing some difficulties, children raised by same-sex caregivers physically and cognitively develop similar to infants of heterosexual couples. There is evidence that since the LGBTQ+ minority group has been marginalized and discriminated against continuously, the socioeconomic status of same-sex couples might be lower in comparison with more traditional households (Reczek et al. 1620). As a result, parents’ “abilities to purchase health-promoting goods for children (e.g., quality care and education, healthy foods, permanent residence, mental health services, sports activities, preventive health care, educational health services)” might be affected (Reczek et al. 1626). However, this shortcoming is also true for some heteronormative families. On the other hand, when examining the overall statistics of children’s cognitive and physical health, their rates are relatively equal between heteronormative and LGBTQ+ households (Reczek et al. 1628). Consequently, some portion of the gay and lesbian adopters, along with heterosexual ones, might not be able to provide all the necessary recreational and medical care that children need.
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Psychological Health: The Conflicting Argument
Addressing psychological development and external mental health pressure on adopted children is also essential in normalizing same-sex adoption. People who are against LGBTQ+ adoption and fostering argue that such families are unable to support children’s cognitive and mental development due to the lack of parental figures of different genders (Messina and D’Amore 65). More than that, they also claim that children raised by gay or lesbian couples tend to be bullied significantly more.
Firstly, as it concerns the psychological growth of a child, the opposers of the LGBTQ+ adoption argue that same-sex parents are unable to bring up mentally healthy offspring. According to a popular stigmatized belief, the presence of one gender role model in the form of either two mothers or two fathers negatively influences a child’s psyche, the understanding of gender, and perception of sexuality (Cody et al. 99). There is also an ungrounded notion that growing up with lesbian or gay parents will ultimately determine a child’s sexual orientation (Cody et al. 99). While an adopted person might eventually realize that they are not attracted to the opposite gender, this realization is not determined by one’s upbringing. According to the research done by Cody et al. on attitudes and behaviors of adolescents who were raised by same-sex parents, these children develop more conflict resolution and communication skills than their peers (105). Cody et al. report that they are also “more accepting of others, have more understanding of people, and are more compassionate toward people than those not raised by lesbian or gay parents” (105). Consequently, a same-sex upbringing does not determine one’s sexuality but nurtures tolerant and understanding behavior that helps a child become emotionally healthy.
Bullying, in its turn, is also considered one of the arguments against same-sex adoptions. For instance, Cody et al. report that almost half of the teenagers brought up by lesbian or gay households experience discrimination and stigmatization in the form of indirect insults, devaluing attitudes, and microaggression (102). Given the statistics into consideration, the issue can be considered valuable in a discussion. On the other hand, research also showed that unintentional emotional abuse that children face is mediated by “high family compatibility or perceptions of close, positive parent–child relationships” (Cody et al. 103). More than that, the reported psychological pressure is not universal for every child; there is a lack of conclusive research on this topic (Cody et al. 103). Thus, a healthy child-parent relationship minimizes the effect of bullying, making it unfair to highlight these acts of microaggression over others like fat-shaming, sexism, and racism that heteronormatively raised teenagers also face. While a child adopted by gay or lesbian parents may suffer from acts of victimization, the results of this behavior are non-conclusive and majorly mediated by a healthy family environment.
In conclusion, while same-sex adoption still faces considerable criticism, it should be normalized. Firstly, creating a family is a fundamental human right that every person is entitled to. In the context of Western societies where both the government and the public aim to support equality and fight oppression, denying LGBTQ+ representatives their right to adopt is discriminatory. However, same-sex partners becoming parents seems contradictory to many people bounded by heteronormative beliefs. Despite stigmatization, gay and lesbian people can provide a healthy and sustainable family environment for a child. In terms of social integration, married same-sex couples raise children who are as academically and interpersonally capable as their peers. In terms of physical and cognitive health, LGBTQ+ caregivers provide an abundance of care for a child to develop fully. As it concerns psychological health, despite emotional abuse that children might face, they grow up with more tolerance and interpersonal skills that flourish in a supportive family environment. Given all the aforementioned points, gay and lesbian adoption should be normalized and socially accepted as another traditional way to help raise children.
Cody, Patricia A. et al. “Youth Perspectives on Being Adopted from Foster Care by Lesbian and Gay Parents: Implications for Families and Adoption Professionals.” Adoption Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1, 2016, pp. 98-118. Informa UK Limited, Web.
Hicks, Stephen, and Janet McDermott. Lesbian and Gay Foster Care and Adoption. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.
Messina, Roberta, and Salvatore D’Amore. “Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men in Europe: Challenges and Barriers on The Journey to Adoption.” Adoption Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 2, 2018, pp. 59-81. Informa UK Limited, Web.
Reczek, Corinne et al. “Family Structure and Child Health: Does the Sex Composition of Parents Matter.” Demography, vol. 53, no. 5, 2016, pp. 1605-1630. Springer Science and Business Media, Web.