Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?

Introduction

This article is about the experiences of children who grew up with parents who are homosexuals and their struggles to maintain a normal life in spite of their parents’ nonconforming lifestyles. Dawn Stefanowicz talks about her book, Out from Under The Impact of Homosexual Parenting”, which gives her first-person account of her struggles to come “out from under” a strange life living with a gay father and a chronically ill and passive mother. Mrs. Stefanowicz is an advocate for families and children and actively participates on the issues of marriage, parenting, sexuality, and education. She is also a resource for family policy, legislative, medical, research, and scholastic organizations.

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Main body

Stefanowicz expresses from her experience that children of homosexual parents often deal with sexual confusion and may be challenged in their gender identity. She wrote the book to share the story of her unmet needs and neglect and to give a voice to the unspoken negative effects on the children of gay parents.

She thought her experiences growing up with a gay, self-indulgent, often absent father who was more interested in meeting his emotional needs through his gay lifestyle than meeting the needs of his children, was unusual until she heard similar stories of other children of homosexual parents. She claimed that all she ever wanted was fatherly affection, however, her father seemed incapable of giving that and what she got instead was an assaulting, sexualized childhood that left her feeling humiliated, dirty and ashamed. Stefanowicz admitted that she experienced a lot of negative consequences of her father’s homosexual parenting – insecurity, depression, anxiousness, sleeplessness, and sexual confusion. She believed that her psychological well-being and peer relationships were affected.

She concluded that children need both a mother and a father who love each other and who are committed for life to help them have a strong sense of who they are.

The basic thesis of the book is that gay parenting does not work, as it leaves children, at least for Stefanowicz traumatized and scarred from the promiscuous sexuality of her father which was blatantly exhibited to his children.

Steve Ralls, spokesman for Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) in Northwest comes to the defense of same-sex couples and declares that they are just as successful as heterosexual couples in parenting. He says that there is no evidence to support a general claim that same-sex couples are unfit to be good parents. In fact, they can raise children in a loving and supportive environment. In the case of Stefanowicz who experienced the negative effects of gay parenting, she needed to go into therapy to find her own identity. She is one proof that children of gay parents who suffered negative psychological effects from their rearing could still come out as a well-adjusted individuals, with the help of therapy and a strong motivation to go into the light and “out from under”.

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This article elicits much debate on the effects of homosexual parenting on children. It can have an enormous impact on the ever-changing family dynamics. Human relationships and their effect on human development have often been one of the major topics of interest in Psychology. Controversial issues are dealt with with utmost care and sensitivity. As the taboo on homosexuality is slowly being eased out due to its gradual acceptance by society, studies on same-sex relationships, marriages, and parenting have mounted through the years.

Like with other issues of controversy, conflicting factions compete for the acceptance of the majority. The literature reveals that most psychological studies are sympathetic to homosexual issues. The American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association have given their support to the theory that same-sex parenting is not harmful to children. Numerous studies support the claim that there are no significant differences between the psychological well-being of children raised by homosexuals and lesbians. On the other hand, there are also studies that seem to denounce homosexual parenting citing its negative effects that may break a child. Stefanowicz’s experience is one perfect example.

Advocates of traditional family values reject the idea of homosexuals raising children, reasoning that it is unnatural and against moral conventions. The established roles of a male father and a female mother raising children have lived out their functions well and have been the socially accepted norm from time immemorial. The introduction of two fathers or two mothers raising a child or a set of children in the same family and household has not been entertained until recently. Children living with gay and lesbian couples are, in many cases, the biological offspring of one of the couple. These children may be from an earlier marriage or relationship, have been conceived by arrangement with a known or anonymous sperm donor (in the case of lesbian couples), or by arrangement with a surrogate birth mother (in the case of male couples). It may also be possible that the child is adopted and not biologically related to either custodial parent. The family dynamics of each homosexual couple may be very different from each other (Meezan & Rauch, 2005).

The theme of homosexual parenting has been a controversial issue that merits deeper investigation. Since it is such a sensitive issue, researchers were bound to struggle with the reliability and validity of data. At best, past research should be viewed as suggestive rather than conclusive due to the presence of methodological flaws such as sampling deficiencies and lack of anonymity of research participants (Rekers & Kilgus, 2002).

Past research on homosexual parenting either falls against it or for it. The two opposing camps have been belligerent in arguing their particular cases, with the noble intention of protecting the welfare of the children concerned.

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Wardle (1997) has written a position paper based on studies supporting the argument that homosexual parenting brings about negative consequences for the children of the homosexual parent or same-sex couple. She claims that a child raised by two women or two men is deprived of important developmental experiences and opportunities for optimal growth and interpersonal development. The significance of the disadvantage of growing up without a parent of the second gender should not be trivialized since the child needs to cope with the loss of the role-modeling, counsel, and experience that living with the missing gender parent would have provided. Also, children generally relate better with the parent of the same sex, but the complete emotional and social development of the child needs the presence of the opposite-gendered parent. Notions of sex roles are formed from their experience with both sexes, and the loss of cross-gender parenting may have severe emotional consequences for the child. One example would be for a daughter raised in a home with the constant absence of a father to grow up in search of such fatherly affection and find herself always in trouble with men throughout her adult life if she grows up in the absence of a father (Wardle, 1997). Like most opponents of homosexual parenting, Wardle (1997) believes that gay parents subject their children to a lot of risks such as confusion over their gender and sexual identities and are more likely to become homosexuals themselves. Her position is that homosexual parents are more sexually promiscuous and are more likely to molest their own children. Such sexual promiscuity is believed to bring children to a greater risk of losing a homosexual parent to AIDS, substance abuse, or suicide and to for the child to suffer greater risks of depression and other emotional difficulties. Children of homosexual parents are bound to embody a social stigma and suffer the embarrassment of having a homosexual parent which puts them at a disadvantage in establishing healthy relationships with their peers. Wardle’s contentions have been very persuasive that judges have cited her article to justify the transfer of child custody from lesbian to heterosexual parents (Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). For children who have had negative childhood experiences with gay parents, much psychological “undoing” through therapy may be necessary for them to function as productive and well-adjusted adults.

On the other hand, no less than the American Psychological Association concluded that there is no scientific basis to believe that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their social orientation. Research suggests that homosexuals are as likely as heterosexual parents to rear their children in supportive and healthy environments. Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and psychological well-being of children of homosexual parents do not differ much from children of heterosexual parents (Meezan and Rauch, 2005).

Another institution, the American Academy of Pediatrics (2002) supports homosexual parenting by endorsing legal adoption of children of the co-parent or partner of a homosexual biological or adoptive parent. The academy believes that families thrive better with the security of two parents, no matter what their sexual orientation may be as long as they are both committed to their families, and are legally defined. With same-sex parent families, children become deprived of psychological and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable, and loving parents if the partner of their legal parent is denied legal parent status through adoption.

Stacey and Biblarz (2001) argue that a parents’ sexual orientation is not the decisive characteristic of his or her parenting. It is society’s discrimination of homosexuals that is the chief reason why parental sexual orientation matters at all. Because homosexual parents do not enjoy the same rights, respect, and recognition as their heterosexual counterparts, their children have to contend with the burdens of social stigma. However, in the case of Stefanowicz, her father has proven to be a dysfunctional parent incapable of being a father to his children in the true sense of the word.

Conclusion

The significance of further studies that this article may inspire cannot be underestimated as it hopes to bring relevance to the issue at hand by shedding light on the children’s perspectives and how their parents and adults around them can help them live their lives. It is of primary importance that all children, no matter what sexual preference their parents have, be provided with the appropriate living conditions conducive to helping them develop to their optimum potentials.

It is assumed that this article will elicit strong reactions from a wide range of perspectives, and such awakening is enough to deal with this important issue at hand in the best way that readers know.

References

American Academy Of Pediatrics Committee On Psychosocial Aspects Of Child And Family Health (2002) “Coparent Or Second-Parent Adoption By Same-Sex Parents” Pediatrics Vol. 109 No.

Meezan, W. & Rauch, J. (2005) “Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, And America’s Children. The Future Of Children, Marriage And Child Wellbeing. Vol. 15, No. 2, Pp. 97-115.

Patterson, C.J. (1992) “Children Of Lesbian And Gay Parents”, Child Development, Vol. 63, No. 5.

Rekers, G. and Kilgus, M. (2002) “Studies Of Homosexual Parenting: A Critical Review”, Regent University Law Review Vol. 14:343.

Stacey, J. & Biblarz, T.J. (2001) “(How) Does The Sexual Orientation Of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review, Vol. 66, No. 2, Pp. 159-183.

Wardle, L.D. (1997) “The Potential Impact Of Homosexual Parenting On Children” Ill. L. Rev. 833-920.

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