GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Marriage & Parenting

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that every American has the constitutional right to marry the person they love. When reporting on marriage for same-sex couples, preferred terminology includes marriage equality and marriage for same-sex couples. Note, the terms "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage" should be avoided, as they can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages.

According to a November 2015 report by the Williams Institute, there are approximately 486,000 married same-sex couples in the United States. Using data from the 2013 American Community Survey, the Williams Institute also estimates that an estimated 122,000 same-sex couples are raising children under age 18, and samesex couples are much more likely to have adopted or foster children.

According to a 2013 report by the Williams Institute, "LGBT Parenting in the United States," there are an estimated six million Americans (children and adults) with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender parent. Same-sex parents and their children are more likely to be racial and ethnic minorities. An estimated 39% of individuals in same-sex couples with children under age 18 at home are non-white, as are half of their children. States with the highest proportions of samesex couples raising biological, adopted, or step-children include Mississippi (26%), Wyoming (25%), Alaska (23%), Idaho (22%), and Montana (22%).

With the 2015 Obergefell decision, married same-sex couples now have greater access to adoption. Joint and second-parent adoption are now legal in all 50 states for married same-sex couples. However, some state legislatures have begun introduction bills that would allow adoption agencies to refuse to work with same-sex couples due to moral or religious objection.

Adoption by unmarried same-sex couples, single-parent adoption by an LGBTQ parent, and foster parenting laws vary. For more information, please contact the Family Equality Council, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the ACLU or Lambda Legal (see Directory of Community Resources).

Research on parenting & adoption

Discussions about research on children raised by same-sex parents often become mired in divisive political rhetoric by those opposed to same-sex parents and legal protections for their families.

Those who oppose parenting by same-sex couples often make two claims: first, that "all" social science research shows that children do best when raised by married oppositesex parents, and, second, that any study that shows otherwise is flawed.

In fact, there is a large and growing body of literature that focuses on family structure and outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents. These studies have consistently shown that parenting by same-sex parents has no adverse effects on children.

Additionally, nearly every credible authority on child welfare (including the Child Welfare League of America, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the American Academy of Pediatrics) has determined that a person's sexual orientation has nothing to do with the ability to be a good, loving, effective parent.

Most of the studies cited by those opposed to same-sex parented families have a significant flaw: they do not study same-sex parented families. Instead, they generally compare children with single parents to those living with their married parents. As such, it is inappropriate to use this research to argue that the sexual orientation or the gender-composition of parents affects the wellbeing of their children.

In 2012, a study by Mark Regnerus and the conservative Witherspoon Institute claimed to prove that people raised by same-sex parents reported more negative experiences than those who were raised by opposite-sex parents. It quickly became clear that the Regnerus study was technically flawed and biased. The study compared people raised by opposite-sex parents in committed relationships to people raised by (often single) parents who had at one time or another experienced same-sex attraction. Only two of the respondents had been raised by same-sex parents from birth. After reviewing the study, the American Sociological Association (of which Regnerus is a member) declared that the study "provides no support for the conclusions that samesex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes." The Regnerus study is still being used by anti-LGBTQ activists. Fortunately, most media outlets were vigilant in uncovering the bias behind this study. It is crucial that media position biased studies like this in the context of the dozens of legitimate studies which show that same-sex parenting has no negative influence.

By the same token, it is important to note that research does not show that children with same-sex parents are "exactly the same" as kids with straight parents. There may indeed be differences (for example, one study found that female children of lesbian parents are more willing to consider career paths that could be thought of as atypical for women). The relevant question is whether such differences are harmful; and again, the considerable body of research demonstrates that they are not.

Media sometimes unintentionally but inaccurately frame discussions about same-sex parenting as a false dichotomy, pitting parenting by opposite-sex couples against parenting by same-sex couples. Research shows that men and women with good parenting skills come in all types – gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender. Academics and practitioners agree that sexual orientation and gender identity are not a relevant factor when it comes to good parenting.

How the denial of marriage impacts transgender people. Some transgender people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and their ability to marry their partners is affected by state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. Other transgender people may identify as heterosexual - considering themselves to be in a different-sex relationship - but their state may view them as legally "same-sex" and deny them the opportunity to enter into, or refuse to recognize legally, their different-sex marriages. Unfortunately, whether a transgender person's marriage will be recognized as valid depends on what state they live in, what medical procedures they have (or haven't) undergone, and whether or not an employer or insurer or family member decides to challenge their marriage's validity. When the freedom to marry is extended to everyone, a court's decision (which can be biased and uninformed) on the legal sex of a transgender person will not deny them the ability to marry.

Transgender parents face unique challenges. Parents who are married and transition face the risk of losing their children if their spouse chooses to make the transition an issue in a custody case. According to Lambda Legal, "Courts are generally allowed to base custody or visitation rulings only on factors that directly affect the 'best interests of the child.' If a transgender parent's gender identity can't be shown to hurt the child in some way, contact should not be limited, and other custody and visitation orders should not be changed for this reason." However, some courts have unfairly ruled that simply because a parent is transgender, there is a risk of "social harm" to the child.

GLAAD encourages media to share the stories of LGBTQ families as they are, on their own terms, without requiring them to defend themselves against the attacks of those who believe they shouldn't be allowed to exist. For additional information on research related to parenting by LGBTQ people, please contact the Child Welfare League of America, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, or the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law (see Directory of Community Resources).

Language & terminology

When reporting on LGBTQ families, it is important to treat those families, parents, and children with dignity and respect – both during the newsgathering process and in the language used to tell their stories.

Never put quotation marks around descriptions such as family, parents, mothers, or fathers when describing families with LGBTQ parents. Such tactics are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups to denigrate, delegitimize, and dehumanize loving families.

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