Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

Gay and Lesbian Parents: No Longer a Paradox

Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

Gay and Lesbian Parents: No Longer a Paradox

Article excerpt

The authors discuss parenting as a normative developmental issue for gay and lesbian individuals. Issues and choices that affect decisions concerning parenting, implications for counselors, and suggestions for research are discussed.

During the past decade, alternative family forms have increasingly challenged the conceptual myth of the traditional nuclear family (Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph, 1995; Harrison, Wilson, Pine, Chan, & Buriel, 1990; Ivey, 1991). Researchers have historically assumed that the most favorable home environment for rearing children is provided by two-parent families. It has also been assumed that these two parents are heterosexual (Ricketts & Achtenberg, 1990). However, existing research concludes that homosexual parents are not rare and that their number is increasing (Bailey, Bobrow, Wolfe, & Mikach, 1995; Dunne, 1987; Masters & Johnson, 1979). Researchers have estimated that the number of gay or lesbian parents in the United States ranges from 2 million to 8 million, whereas estimates of children of gay or lesbian parents ranges from 4 million to 14 million (Patterson, 1992). Bigner and Bozett (1990) and Patterson (1994) conclude that a more definite figure is impossible to determine because of the diff iculties associated with identifying gay and lesbian parents.

Sexual minority parents and gay and lesbian individuals who want to become parents encounter various challenges in their efforts to accomplish the normal developmental task of parenting. Ricketts and Achtenberg (1990) postulated that every gay or lesbian parent who wants to parent endures "the glare of media publicity or the scrutiny of judicial or administrative review" (p. 85). Judgment regarding one's fitness as a parent, for the gay or lesbian individual, is often precipitated by fear, which is based on negative and pervasive stereotypes.

In this article, we review the choices that sexual minorities have when considering parenting. We discuss developmental issues regarding the gay and lesbian individual's desire to parent, review available options for sexual minorities who want to parent, and explore consequences of parenting for the gay or lesbian individual. Implications for counselors working with this population are considered, and recommendations for needed research are discussed.


Although most gay and lesbian individuals become parents as a result of an opposite-sex relationship during which children are produced, increasing numbers of gays and lesbians are becoming parents outside prior heterosexual contexts (Mallon, 1998). In particular, more gays and lesbians are consciously completing the developmental task of becoming parents while maintaining a positive homosexual identity (Mitchell, 1996; Pies, 1990; Rohrbaugh, 1988). In this section, developmental issues and parenting within the context of same-sex relationships are examined. Developmental theorists study behavior in an attempt to determine what is "normal." These theorists also attempt to distinguish between the biological, psychological, and social bases of behavior. An overview of development during the periods when most people engage in parenting may establish a baseline for what is normal, against which the salience of parenting for gay and lesbian individuals can be gauged.

The search for identity in adolescence and young adulthood has been the focus of extensive research and has resulted in a variety of theoretical perspectives (Chickering, 1993; Erikson, 1963; Marcia, 1987; Perry, 1970). The conclusion from this research is that the process of identity development is lifelong and universal, affecting all developmental stages of the life span. In addition, researchers have addressed the unique developmental needs of homosexual individuals regarding identity issues (Cass, 1979; Fassinger & Miller, 1996; Troiden, 1989). …

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