While lawyers argue same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court, LGBT couples have another ongoing battle to fight: the quest for fair treatment as parents.

Despite changes in prevailing attitudes, LGBT parents continue to be judged more harshly than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new study conducted at Binghamton University.

To test the prevailing attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents, researchers conducted experiments to see how heterosexuals reacted to homosexual parents in a restaurant setting.

“We noted that when parents displayed favorable parenting behaviors like comforting an upset child, gay and straight parents were judged in a similar, positive manner,” Research Associate Professor Sean Massey said in a press release. “However, if parents got frustrated—raised their voice or slapped their child on the hand—the gay parents were judged more negatively than the straight parents.” 

While the study relied heavily—94 percent—on college-aged participants, researchers only included participants who identified as heterosexuals. A total of 436 people took part in the study, which was published this week in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies.

Researchers said that while no parent is perfect, the “significant” difference in negative reactions to gay parents only compounds the already difficult issues of parenting and overcoming social stigma. 

“As predicted, traditional (or “old-fashioned”) heterosexism continues to negatively influence heterosexuals’ judgments of same-sex parents,” the study authors wrote. “Participants with higher levels of traditional heterosexism were found to evaluate the parenting behaviors of same-sex parents more negatively than the very same parenting behaviors of opposite-sex parents.”

Are Gay Parents Worse Than Straight Parents?


Not in a single way, and there’s empirical evidence to prove it. 

In 2002, researchers reviewed 23 studies of children raised by gay parents that were published between 1978 and 2000. Twenty of the studies focused on lesbian parents and three on gay male parents. The studies involved 615 children raised by same-sex parents and 387 children raised by heterosexual ones. The researchers came to the following conclusion:

“Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes,” researchers said. “The studies indicate that children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children. The same holds for children raised by gay men, but more studies should be done.”

Professional Support for Same-Sex Parents

On Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement in support of same-sex marriage, saying the next avenue of gay rights may be same-sex adoptions. 

Drawing on 30 years of research, the AAP said that prohibiting LGBT parents from marrying only creates stress in the family, which affects everyone in the household.

“Because marriage strengthens families and, in so doing, benefits children’s development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married,” the report concluded. “Paths to parenthood that include assisted reproductive techniques, adoption, and foster parenting should focus on the competency of the parents rather than their sexual orientation.” 

So, while the majority of U.S. states don’t allow gay marriage and same-sex couples often face difficulties when adopting children, it’s the children who suffer most.

Perpetuating Stigma in the Media

The stories of those who choose to either boycott or support businesses based on their statements about homosexuals continue to play out in the national media.

One of the most noticeable outcries came after retailer JC Penney featured a pair of gay men parenting two children in a Father’s Day ad.

That sparked fury from the activist group One Million Moms (OMM)—an offshoot of conservative Christian group the American Family Association—who demanded a boycott of JC Penney for using anything other than a traditional, heterosexual couple in their brand messaging.

JC Penney responded by featuring a dual-mother parenting combo in their May catalog to celebrate Mother’s Day.

This is just one facet of an ongoing battle between civil rights activists and conservative groups who support a “traditional” family arrangement of man-woman-child.

But, taking all the research into account, if you put two children right next to one other, you’d be hard pressed to figure out who was raised by two moms, two dads, or a mom and a dad.

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