LGBTQ+ Parents

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Date: 2021
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 1,779 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
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LGBTQ+ parents are part of the LGBTQ+ community (which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people and others with a broad range of sexual orientations and gender identities) who are raising or have raised children. LGBTQ+ families may be headed by LGBTQ+ single parents; different-sex couples in which one or both parents are bisexual; single or coupled transgender parents, gender nonconforming parents, or nonbinary parents; and other nontraditional family arrangements.

According to a 2019 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, self-identified LGBTQ+ people compose 4.5 percent of the US population, 29 percent of whom are raising children. In a separate publication, the institute reported that 16.3 percent of cohabiting same-sex couples in 2016 were raising children. Of those couples, 68 percent were raising biological children and 75.4 percent were female couples. While some LGBTQ+ people become parents during different-sex relationships that later change or dissolve, LGBTQ+ people also become parents by adopting, fostering, raising grandchildren or other relatives, or using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as donor insemination and surrogacy. Williams Institute data indicates that LGBTQ+ and same-sex parents are significantly more likely to adopt or foster children than their different-sex counterparts. In 2016 over 21 percent of same-sex couples were raising adopted children and 3 percent were raising foster children, compared to 2.9 percent and 0.4 percent of different-sex couples, respectively.

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Main Ideas

  • LGBTQ+ parents are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities who are raising or have raised children. LGBTQ+ people may parent with their same- or different-sex partners, as single parents, or in other family arrangements.
  • Same-sex couples raise adopted or foster children at approximately seven times the rate of different-sex couples.
  • Since the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, it has become easier for some LGBTQ+ parents to retain custody of biological children, become foster or adoptive parents, and access assisted reproductive technologies.
  • Despite widespread agreement that LGBTQ+ parenting does not harm children, many US states have pursued laws that allow publicly funded adoption agencies to refuse to accept LGBTQ+ clients based on religious grounds.
  • Many LGBTQ+ people face significant financial barriers to becoming parents, with in-vitro fertilization costing over $20,000 per cycle, private adoption costing up to $50,000, and the gestational surrogacy process often exceeding $100,000.
  • Transgender parents face unique concerns such as a lack of consistency in how family courts treat transgender parental rights. Without established case law, judges' individual biases are likelier to influence custody decisions.

LGBTQ+ Parenting as a Social and Political Issue

In the mid-twentieth century, some religious and political groups questioned whether LGBTQ+ adults could be suitable parents, a discussion that emerged alongside debates over other related social and political rights. Many who opposed the idea of LGBTQ+ parenting also opposed single parenting, asserting that children need to grow up with a mother and a father. Because two people of the same sex cannot reproduce biologically, opponents argued, they should not parent children. Other opponents characterized homosexuality as perverse and sinful on religious grounds, claiming that LGBTQ+ people negatively influence children. While some same-sex couples have received greater social acceptance following the US Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face questions and concerns about their fitness to parent.

The What We Know Project from Cornell University's Center for the Study of Inequality analyzed seventy-nine peer-reviewed studies published between 1981 and 2017 on the well-being of children with gay or lesbian parents. The analysis found that 94.9 percent of the studies, or an "overwhelming scholarly consensus," supported the notion that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children. Similarly, a 2019 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine based on more than thirty years of longitudinal data found no difference in the mental health outcomes of young adults raised by lesbian mothers and those raised by heterosexual parents.

Legal and Financial Barriers to Parenthood

The legalization of same-sex marriage has made it easier for some LGBTQ+ parents to retain custody of their biological or adopted children. In 2016 a federal judge struck down a Mississippi law—the last of its kind—that denied same-sex married couples the right to adopt children. In some areas, however, legal, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers based on the idea that reproduction and parenthood should be reserved for heterosexual couples remain in place.

A growing number of state religious exemption bills seek to grant adoption and foster care agencies the right to deny services to LGBTQ+ individuals. The organizations at the center of the bills believe that reproduction and parenthood should be restricted to different-sex couples. As of May 2019, ten US states had active religious exemption laws permitting state-licensed child welfare agencies with religious affiliations to refuse to place children with LGBTQ+ people. At the federal level, the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) was designed to prohibit state governments from taking "discriminatory action" against those acting in accordance with their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Introduced in the House in March 2018, FADA did not progress to the floor for a vote. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) introduced an amendment to the 2019 House Appropriations bill that sought to place restrictions on how the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) distributes federal funds to state adoption agencies. Known as the Aderholt amendment, the bill would have prevented state welfare agencies from denying taxpayer-funded contracts to adoption and foster care organizations that turn parents away based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or family structure. After facing strong opposition from child welfare and LGBTQ+ rights organizations, the Aderholt amendment was removed from the HHS budget.

Public polling indicates that the gap between rates of LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ parenthood is narrowing despite ongoing pushback at the state and federal levels. Data released by the Family Equality Council in 2019 showed that 63 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents ages eighteen to thirty-five were considering expanding their families. Forty-eight percent of those polled were actively planning to do so, compared to 55 percent of non-LGBTQ+ respondents of the same age.

In 2017 the US Supreme Court ruled in Pavan v. Smith that states must allow a biological mother to list her same-sex spouse as a parent on a child's birth certificate. The Arkansas law at issue had allowed a woman's husband to be listed as father even if he was not the child's biological parent. The court ruled that such a law extended a right to different-sex married couples that, following the passage of Obergefell, must also be extended to same-sex married couples. Despite this affirmation of LGBTQ+ parental and marital rights, many LGBTQ+ parents continue to take additional action to protect their legal status as parents. Attorneys specializing in LGBTQ+ family law recommend that same-sex spouses pursue a second-parent adoption of their nonbiological children. Naming a spouse on a birth certificate, they note, may not be enough to establish legal parental rights in jurisdictions that resist legal recognition of LGBTQ+ parents and families.

Financial barriers also exist for LGBTQ+ people who wish to become parents. Adoption varies in cost from about $2,000 for a second-parent adoption to about $50,000 for a joint adoption through a licensed private agency. For female couples, assisted reproductive technology (ART) can range from about $1,000 for intrauterine insemination to $7,000 to $20,000 per cycle for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Some couples may pursue reciprocal IVF, in which eggs are retrieved from one woman, inseminated using donor sperm, and transferred to her partner's uterus.

Male same-sex couples who want to have a biologically related child face high out-of-pocket costs because they must use both a donor egg and a surrogate. In a gestational surrogacy, a donor egg is inseminated and transferred to the surrogate's uterus. The total cost of the surrogacy process often exceeds $100,000 due to the combined costs of IVF procedures, fees paid to the surrogate and egg donor agencies, and expenses related to the health care needs of the surrogate.

Due to variation among state laws, many health insurance plans do not cover ART or only cover women who have been diagnosed as infertile. Even in states that require insurance companies to offer infertility coverage, it can be difficult for same-sex couples and other LGBTQ+ prospective parents to access benefits. Some states, for example, use language that allows insurance companies to wait to cover infertility treatments until a patient has been unable to conceive over a period of unprotected sexual intercourse—a qualification that states have only recognized for women in heterosexual relationships. As of 2019, California is the only US state that requires insurance companies to offer equal access to infertility coverage to all prospective parents.

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Critical Thinking Questions

  • How did the Obergefell v. Hodges and Pavan v. Smith Supreme Court decisions change the way the legal status of same-sex couples and their children is viewed?
  • Do you think that adoption and foster care agencies that receive taxpayer funds should be legally allowed to refuse to work with LGBTQ+ prospective parents? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, should health insurance companies be required to cover infertility treatment for LGBTQ+ couples and families who want to reproduce biologically? Explain your answer.

Issues Facing Transgender Parents

Transgender adults may experience significant barriers in establishing parental rights. As of 2019, only five states and the District of Columbia prohibited discrimination against foster and adoptive parents on the basis of gender identity. According to a 2013 joint report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the most recent report available, there have been very few legal cases addressing the parental rights of transgender people. While some courts rule that gender plays no role in determining a person's fitness to parent, others rule that it does. In the absence of established case law, individual judges have the latitude to make custody decisions based on their own beliefs. According to the ACLU-NCTE study, there have been at least three reported cases in which judges made a parent conceal their gender identity as a condition of retaining parental rights.

In addition to the legal and social discrimination often faced by trans parents, transgender people who reproduce biologically have a unique set of health care concerns. A study of transgender men who became pregnant published in Obstetric Medicine in 2016 found no serious physical side effects of pregnancy but acknowledged potential effects on the patients' mental health. Transgender men who became pregnant tended to experience gender dysphoria during pregnancy and the postpartum period, leading researchers to underscore the importance of cultural competence among health care providers. Becoming a pregnant man in a culture that treats pregnancy and childbirth as feminine experiences and offers no gender-variant models of pregnancy, the study concluded, can lead to "significant and persistent loneliness."

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Gale Document Number: GALE|PC3010999199