Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Gay and Bisexual Dads and Diversity: Fathers in the Work, Love, Play Study

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Gay and Bisexual Dads and Diversity: Fathers in the Work, Love, Play Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This paper reports on findings from the Work, Love, Play (WLP) study, an Australian/New Zealand study of same-sex attracted parents. There were 88 fathers who responded to the WLP survey. There was a diversity of contexts in which these men had become parents and were currently parenting: 34 (39%) had become parents while in a previous heterosexual relationship, 20 (23%) were parenting children who had been conceived via surrogacy in the context of the respondents current same-sex relationship, 17 (19%) had become parents through sperm donation and co-parenting arrangements with single women or lesbian couples, while 10 (11%) were parents to foster children. The shift to parenthood generated largely positive outcomes for most men including bringing men closer to their families, although some men who had children from previous heterosexual relationships faced challenges confronting their families concerns about the impact of their "coming out" on their children.

KEYWORDS: gay, bisexual, gay fathers, fatherhood, parenting

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In recent decades, there has been an expansion of opportunities for same-sex attracted men to pursue parenthood. International commercial surrogacy has become more accessible, increasing numbers of gay or bisexual men are co-parenting with lesbians or single women, and adoption or fostering has become an available option for gay couples or single men in many areas (Berkowitz & Marsiglio, 2007; Dunne, 1999; Tuazon-McCheyne, 2010). This has occurred in the context of cultural developments that have seen a decline in the prominence of the traditional 'nuclear family' as the ideal family form. In the modern West, there is increasing acceptance and visibility of families comprised of non-married couples, single parents, same-sex parents, divorced and blended families and couples who are childless by choice (Dempsey, 2006, pp. 6, 16; Gross, 2005, pp. 286-287; Perlesz et al., 2006; Short, Riggs, Perlesz, Brown, & Kane, 2007). In Australia and New Zealand, these changes are reflected in significant shifts in Family Law that have sought to accommodate a diversity of family forms. For example, the Australian Family Law Amendment (de Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Act 2008, enabled same-sex de facto couples to use the Family Law Act with respect to child and property matters, ensuring greater legal recognition of non-biological parents in same-sex relationships (Sifris, 2010). Similarly, in New Zealand the Status of Children Amendment Act 2004 sought to eliminate laws that disadvantaged children born outside of a heterosexual marriage (Gunn & Suttees, 2009).

Data from the 2001 census indicate that up to 5% of Australian men in same-sex relationships have children. However, it is unclear whether this figure is a reliable marker of the number of gay and bisexual fathers given it excludes single men, those who did not acknowledge their same-sex relationship in the census and possibly fathers who have never resided with their children, such as donor fathers (de Vaus, 2004). A 2004 national survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual New Zealanders indicated that about 11.8% of male respondents had some kind of parenting relationship with children (Henrickson, 2005). A more recent Australian survey of 3835 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals found that 11% of male respondents were parents or step parents (Leonard et al., 2012).

Research has suggested that, despite the cultural trend away from the nuclear family, many gay and bisexual men envision their potential family life in the 'traditional' form of two parents in a committed relationship organising daily life around their children (Rubun & Faith-Oswald, 2009). This family form, however, is not the experience of many gay and bisexual fathers, particularly those who are donor parents (Dempsey, 2006; Van Reyk, 2007) or those parenting post-separation, with either a female or male ex-partner (Bozett, 1989). …

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