Adoption in Same-Sex Couples

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 4, 2002 -- Children thrive in same-sex families, studies have shown. Yet in most states, the co-parent -- the second parent -- is not allowed to adopt the child. That should change, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"When two adults participate in parenting a child, they and the child deserve the serenity that comes with legal recognition," says a statement issued by the AAP's Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. The statement appears in the current issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

"The Academy supports the legal adoption of children by co-parents or second parents," says the statement. "Denying legal parent status through adoption ... prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable, and loving parents."

In the statement, the committee says when the law recognizes co-parent adoption, it produces these benefits:

  • It guarantees that the second parent's custody rights and responsibilities will be protected if the first parent were to die or become incapacitated.
  • It protects the second parent's right to custody and visitation if the couple separates.
  • It establishes the requirement for child support from both parents in the event of the parents' separation.
  • It ensures the child's eligibility for health benefits from both parents.
  • It provides legal grounds for either parent to provide consent for medical care and to make education, healthcare, and other important decisions on behalf of the child.
  • It creates the basis for financial security for children in the event of the death of either parent.

It's time to stop looking for problems in gay and lesbian parent-child relationships, says Ellen C. Perrin, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston. Perrin served as a consultant to the AAP committee. Her technical report also appears in this month's Pediatrics.

"There's very clear research showing that children whose parents are gays and lesbians are not at any disadvantage compared to children of heterosexual parents," she tells WebMD. "They grow up like any other kid. There are no data that suggest there is a special problem conveyed to those children. We can feel pretty comfortable about that."

Also, research shows that gay and straight parents have similar attitudes toward parenting, Perrin says, adding that all parents want to do the best they can for their children.

The child's emotional and cognitive development -- their ability to perform well in school and in jobs -- is just like other children, she says. "It's indistinguishable." Children's play and friend choices and interests are all exactly consistent with their anatomic sex," she says.

In fact, children growing up in gay homes seem to be "more tolerant of diversity, which is certainly of value in our multicultural society," Perrin tells WebMD. They also seem to develop different coping mechanisms. "The children also seem to be less aggressive, more nurturing at a young age -- in preschool and early elementary school. They seem to be able to resolve conflicts in a less-aggressive way than other children."

But are the kids more likely to be gay? Both environment and genetics do seem to help determine gender identity, says Perrin. However, two long-term studies -- in which the children are now aged 30 -- show that gay families don't produce more gay kids. While the data aren't definitive, they "would suggest there is no difference," she tells WebMD.

Children of gay parents may be more likely to experiment, however. The long-term studies show that both boys and girls indicated they would be more willing to think about the possibility of a same-sex relationship, says Perrin.

Allowing co-parents to adopt is crucial, she tells WebMD. "There are legal issues plus the emotional security of knowing they can have continuity in their caretaking relationship."

"There's a lot at risk," Perrin says. "If the one legally recognized parent gets disabled or dies, the child is left out of luck. Legally and financially, it's a very big issue. If there is a separation between the parents, there are emotional issues. One parent -- someone that child has known for maybe 10 years -- suddenly has no rights and the child will never see them again. These are big issues."