No extra barriers found for children of gays

December 02, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Though they may face teasing or even ridicule, especially in adolescence, scores of new studies show that, over all, there are no psychological disadvantages for children who are raised by homosexuals.

That conclusion challenges a view long held by some mental health specialists. And the prevailing view has been reflected in court rulings in custody disputes in which judges, even more than psychotherapists, have assumed that being raised by gay or lesbian parents is damaging to a child's emotional and sexual development.

As a result, homosexual parents have great difficulty winning custody of their children from a heterosexual partner in divorce proceedings.

In recent years, though, the scientific consensus has begun to change, as more and more experts conclude it is based on anecdotal reports and biased research rather than scientifically gathered evidence.

A review of the new studies, which appears in the current issue of the journal Child Development, comes to very different conclusions.

"What evidence there is suggests there are no particular developmental or emotional deficits for children raised by gay or lesbian parents," said Dr. Michael E. Lamb, chief of the Section on Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "The research is still relatively sparse, but it all suggests the same thing: These kids look OK."

Estimates of the number of children being raised by homosexual parents range from 6 million to 14 million, in at least 4 million households.

Though those estimates, from sources such as the American Bar Association, may seem high, those who make them point out that the majority of such families are "invisible," in that few outsiders realize there is a homosexual parent.

In the large majority of such households the children were conceived in heterosexual marriages that ended in divorce after one parent came out as homosexual. In recent years, families in which children are conceived or adopted by gay couples are growing more common.

Despite the large numbers of such families, the topic itself was largely ignored by researchers who were not themselves homosexual. Early research suggesting that homosexuals made bad parents were largely based on individual case studies of troubled children. "Early on, the studies were done by researchers with an ax to grind," said Lamb of the National Institute.

By contrast, the new studies all point in the same direction. "There is no adverse effect on any psychological measure," said Dr. Julie Gottman, a clinical psychologist in Seattle, who has done one of the best-designed studies on the topic. Her study was published in 1990 in "Homosexuality and Family Relations" (Huntington Park Press).

That conclusion was confirmed by about three dozen studies reviewed in Child Development by Charlotte Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. When children raised by homosexuals were compared with those raised by heterosexuals, no differences emerged over all on any measure of social or emotional development used in the studies.

In her study, Dr. Gottman compared two groups of 35 adult women with 35 who had been raised by lesbian mothers after a divorce from the father. The children were 25 on average when Dr. Gottman studied them.

As a group, the children of lesbians did not differ from children of heterosexual mothers in their social adjustment or their identity as a boy or a girl, Dr. Gottman found. The children of lesbians were no more likely to be homosexual than those of heterosexual mothers.

"What mattered most for their adjustment was whether the mother had a partner in the home, whether male or female," Dr. Gottman said. "If so, those children tended to do somewhat better than the others in self-confidence, self-acceptance and independence. But the sexual orientation of the lesbian mothers had no adverse effects."

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