Los Angeles Taking issue with two decades of research findings in the politically charged arena of gay parenting, two professors say sexual orientation of parents makes more of a difference than researchers have been willing to admit.
In a paper re-examining data from 21 studies dating back to 1980, the University of Southern California sociologists argue that while the emotional health of the two sets of youngsters is essentially the same, they diverge in some notable ways that have been downplayed. The gender of the parents, as well as their sexual orientation, contributes to the differences.
The paper, published this week in the American Sociological Review, finds that the offspring of lesbians and gays are more likely to depart from traditional gender roles than the children of heterosexual couples. They are more open to same-sex relationships. Teen-age boys are more sexually restrained than peers in heterosexual households, while teen-age girls show the opposite trend, the researchers concluded.
Authors Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz suggest the differences have been glossed over because gay parenting is such a volatile issue.
Some states bar adoptions and foster parenting by lesbians and gay men. Family courts have taken children away from a gay parent and awarded custody to a heterosexual relative or former spouse.
In defending the parental rights of homosexuals, gay activists have pointed to research as evidence that the sexual orientation of a parent makes no difference.
Stacey, a sociology professor who also holds an endowed chair in contemporary gender studies at USC, says the approach of researchers is understandable given the stakes involved. But she maintains it has stifled discussion of some intriguing issues of gender and sexuality.
The USC paper surveyed studies of the biological children primarily of lesbians. Because there is very little research on gay male parents, the authors do not attempt to distinguish between parenting of gay men and lesbians.
Among the findings cited by Stacey and Biblarz:
Compared to the daughters of heterosexual mothers, the daughters of lesbians more frequently dress, play and behave in ways that do not conform to sex-typed cultural norms. They show greater interest in activities with both masculine and feminine qualities. They have higher aspirations to occupations that are not traditionally female.
In terms of aggression and play, sons of lesbians behave in less traditionally masculine ways. They are likely to be more nurturing and affectionate than their counterparts in heterosexual families.
Another study indicated that a significantly greater proportion of young adult children raised by lesbians had engaged in a same-sex relationship (six of 25 interviewed) than those raised by a heterosexual mother (none of 20 interviewed).
Those raised by lesbian mothers were also more likely to consider a homosexual relationship. But they were not statistically more likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Teen-age and young adult girls raised by lesbian mothers appear to be more sexually adventurous and less chaste than girls raised by heterosexual mothers. Sons, on the other hand, were somewhat less sexually adventurous and more chaste than boys raised by heterosexuals.
The studies indicate that sexual orientation has no measurable effect on the quality of parent-child relationships or on the mental health of children.