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Sexual orientation and good parenting

In a letter by Joseph A. Muscat published on January 13 and another by Fr Victor Enriquez published on January 5, reference was made to the undesirability of adoption by same-sex couples. Despite more than three decades of cross-sectional research demonstrating that the psychological adjustment of children is unrelated to their parents’ sexual orientation, the legitimacy of lesbian and gay biological, foster and adoptive parenting is still under scrutiny. The letters inferred that gay parenting was not in the best interests of the child, in one case because same-sex parenting represented an anomalous situation and in the other instance because of the lack of maternal – or in the case of a lesbian couple one would presume paternal – love.

Research into gay and lesbian parenting has consistently underscored the comparative irrelevance of sexual orientation and gender to effective parenting. To cite one recent example, in the longitudinal study by Gartrell and Bos (2010), the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive and externalising problem behaviour than their age-matched counterparts from heterosexual parent families.

In young children, adjustment is largely determined by family functioning, regardless of their parents’ gender or sexual orientation. Children fare better when their parents are compatible, share responsibilities, provide financial stability and have healthy interpersonal connections. During adolescence, peer relations become more important as teenagers develop a sense of identity, a deeper appreciation of inter-individual difference and a keener awareness of minority status.

In today’s world people have children in and out of marriage and live their lives in all sorts of family arrangements with or without partners and with or without other support systems. What we do know is that effective parenting in a loving and nurturing support system is critical to the development of competent adults. The sooner policymakers and legislators realise this, the better off we and especially our children will be. What we should therefore be concerned about is not the sexual orientation or gender identity of parents but how to promote effective parenting by women and/or men within the full range of family structures in contemporary society.

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