Gay parents no disadvantage - study

Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014

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Children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well in their education, emotional and social development as those raised by heterosexual parents, new research shows.

The report on same sex-parented families in Australia, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), found "there is now strong evidence that same-sex-parented families constitute supportive environments in which to raise children''.

The findings are at odds with Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi's recent comments that the "gold standard" for children's development is having a biological mother and father who are married.

Report author Deb Dempsey, who reviewed all the research on same sex-parented families, said there was a wealth of evidence that showed the children were doing fine.

''It's not the family structure that matters so much as the kind of care; that children know they are loved, and are taken care of," she said.

Eleven per cent of gay men and 33 per cent of lesbian women in Australia have children, a figure expected to grow amid increasing social acceptability of same-sex relationships, legal changes including access to IVF treatment and the availability of international surrogacy.

Rebecca Madsen, the founder of the Gay Parents Australia online network, said more than half of her members surveyed intended to have children.

The AIFS report found growing up with same-sex parents had a "negligible influence" on a child's emotional wellbeing, peer relationships, capacity to behave appropriately, self-esteem, stigmatisation and overall mental health. There was no difference in school progress, and most children identified as heterosexual but were more open-minded about sexuality, gender and family diversity than those who grew up in heterosexual families.

The report said lesbian parents tended to be more involved parents than their heterosexual counterparts, had better problem-solving skills and reported higher-quality relationships with their children.

Dr Dempsey suggested this was because of the "double dose" of female parenting, and that lesbians were likely to be highly motivated parents given the lengths to which they had to go to have children.

She said same-sex parents were also more conscious that their children could face discrimination in their lives.

Children raised from birth by lesbian parents were more likely to experience their parents splitting up than those in heterosexual families, which Dr Dempsey attributed to a lack of support for same-sex couples. "It remains to be seen how [the right to marry] could influence this relational stability finding," she said.

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Michelle Packett and Judy Cole's five-year-old daughter, Jessica, has no concept that having two mums makes her family ''different'' to others - although she's ''very aware'' her parents are not married. ''A child just wants to be loved and nurtured, it really doesn't matter where it's coming from,'' Packett said.

Although most of Jessica's close friends have heterosexual parents, her parents are introducing her to the children of their gay friends. "She needs reassurance about herself, we're taking that opportunity to reinforce 'there are other people like me'," Packett said.

Packett said Jessica had benefited from her parents having had to consciously choose to have a child and go through IVF. "Because you have to go that extra mile, you're more conscious and cognisant of how precious they are," she said.

Packett said that while her family had never experienced any prejudice, like all parents she feared her daughter would be bullied or discriminated against. "That will happen to kids no matter what," she said. "If we can tap into her strength, give her an assurance of who she is, we'll set her up for whatever might come her way that might be negative."

- Sun-Herald

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