The 2016 Election: Know the facts about adoption and parental rights


There are an estimated six million Americans (children and adults) with an LGBT parent

States with the highest proportions of same-sex couples raising biological, adopted, or step-children include Mississippi (26%), Wyoming (25%), Alaska (23%), Idaho (22%), and Montana (22%).

Same-sex couples 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.

Across most of the U.S., LGBT people and couples can petition family courts to provide their children with legal ties to their parents. Family courts are responsible for making case-by-case decisions based on the best interests of a child, and their expertise and authority in determining the fitness of adoptive parents – gay or straight – is traditionally acknowledged and respected.

Most states do not have blanket policies on adoption by same-sex couples. In a few states, however, anti-LGBT activists have sought to circumvent family courts by proposing sweeping laws that would ban adoption by LGBT people and/or same-sex couples.

Single-parent adoption by lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents is permitted in most states and the District of Columbia. Joint adoption and/or second-parent adoption – where a parent co-adopts his or her partner's child, thus providing the security that comes with having two legally connected parents – is permitted by statute or appellate court decisions in several states.

Know the facts on LGBT parenting

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 opposite-sex 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 their 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 LGBT families have a significant flaw: they do not study LGBT 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 well-being of their children.

In 2012, a study by Mark Regnerus and the conservative Witherspoon Institute claimed to prove that people raised by LGBT parents reported more negative experiences than those who were raised by straight parents. Mark Regnerus signed an amicus brief against the repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 and is a known anti-LGBT activist. 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 lesbian 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 same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes." The Regnerus study is still being used by anti-LGBT activists like the National Organization for Marriage. 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 LGBT 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.

About transgender parents

Transgender parents face unique challenges. Parents who are married and transition face the risk of losing their children if their spouse chooses to make it 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 the parent is transgender, there is a risk of "social harm" to the child.


Best practices for reporters

Seek out real, everyday LGBT people. First-person experiences, which will give journalists real examples from which to base their stories, are valuable resources when covering LGBT adoption and parenting equality.

Focus on letting them tell their own story, rather than respond to claims. Share the stories of LGBT 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. 

Treat LGBT families with respect. When reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender 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.


Pitfalls to avoid

Do not pit families against one another. Media sometimes unintentionally and 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 are not unique to a single sexual orientation. Academics and practitioners agree that sexual orientation and gender identity are not factors when it comes to good parenting.

Using language that diminishes the reality of LGBT families. Avoid putting quotation marks around descriptions such as family, parents, mothers, or fathers when describing families with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender parents. Such tactics are often used by anti-LGBT groups to denigrate, delegitimize, and dehumanize loving families.


Resources for journalists


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