Homosexual Families Essay, Research Paper
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination of an individual on the basis of their race, sex, religion, or national origin fails to provide federal protection to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation. The fact that this landmark federal policy does not include civil rights protection for homosexuals has put them at a disadvantage legally and socially. Although social attitudes towards homosexuality are slowly progressing, erroneous myths and bias attitudes within the legal system continue to persist. Since homosexuals are not legally protected, these myths within the judicial system are allowed to flourish. Judges’ biases and prejudicial viewpoints contribute to the outcome of legal decisions. Legal and economical privileges guaranteed to traditional heterosexual families are eliminated because of the denial of legal protection. Some of these privileges that are granted to heterosexual families, but not to same sex couples include: income tax benefits, life insurance, property benefits, and rights of inheritance. Due to the lack of federal support, the contemporary gay rights movement has taken a more proactive approach to abolish social, political, and economical discrimination. The purpose of the gay rights movement is to enlighten and inform citizens of alternative lifestyles with the intention of abolishing myths and ill-founded beliefs about gays (Cabaj 1998).
As History has proven itself, minority groups have bore the brunt of discrimination and social exclusion from mainstream society. The people of Jewish, African American, Hispanic, and Asian descent have all been persecuted and discriminated for years because of their physical, social, and cultural differences. Likewise, the emergence of homosexuals which are deemed as a minority group, have experienced a lesser degree of hardships ranging from legal exclusion to social unrest. Brutal physical attacks, hurtful name-calling, and rejection from community events are just a few of the forms of discrimination imposed upon homosexuals and their children.
The family itself has undergone significant changes within the last two decades due to changes within society. Alternative lifestyles have begun to increase and homosexuals have witnessed a significant number of new obstacles that are of concern to the structure of the family. The most significant problem facing homosexuals who choose to raise a family is the legal recognition of same sex marriages. The most recent and significant decision affecting same sex marriages was in 1996 when The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by both houses in the U.S. government. This landmark proposal “defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and allows states to deny recognition of same sex marriages. The bill does not ban same sex marriages but denies recognition of them by precluding spousal benefits distributed by various government programs such as Social Security” (Cabaj 1998: 34). There is an overwhelming number of gay couples who are raising children or planning to raise children that were denied this right, and continue to face criticism and scrutiny from society as well as the judicial system. It is estimated that there are approximately 6 to 14 million gay fathers and lesbian mothers who are both biological and non-biological parents, thus the term family is gradually becoming ambiguous. Societal pressures that attempt to maintain the “traditional” family structure have adverse affects on the homosexual family; without a support system the likelihood of instability within the family becomes greater. Advocates of gay rights suggest that homosexuals must become more involved in issues pertaining to the homosexual community in order to further the progression of their legal and social status (Bozett 1987).
The dominant societal belief assumes that homosexuality is unhealthy for the family and a threat to society; however, it is important to realize that this argument has no evidence to support it. Those who support homosexual families suggest that sexual orientation is irrelevant and the legalization of same sex marriages may be beneficial to society; suppressing homosexuality only hinders the cohesiveness of the family unit. A healthy family unit embodies a sense of love, care, and devotion rather than an emphasis on sexual preference (Baird 1997).
Homosexual parents and their children encounter various forms of social prejudice, social inequalities, and judicial discrimination, due to the societal norms that chastise this kind of deviance. It is clear that homosexuals in general have encountered discrimination from all sectors of society. Even to this day, the federal government refuses to give lesbian and gay men civil rights protection. Although society is beginning to see a gradual shift toward an acceptance of same sex marriages, there are only eleven states that provide civil rights protection to gays. In 1997, nearly forty anti-gay marriage bills were proposed and over twenty of them were passed, which illustrates the dominant societal belief toward homosexuals. Although the acceptance of gays is changing both socially and legally, homophobic attitudes are still a major force that hinders progression. It is important to realize that prejudice and biases persist because homosexuals have no legal protection (Cabaj 1998).
PRESENTATION OF DATA
I obtained my research data from Humboldt State University the week prior to Spring Break. My data consisted of books and journal articles that related to homosexuals and children of homosexual families. I collected the information myself with the aid of the library assistants. I found that the data I gathered had more information on children of homosexual families rather than homosexuals themselves, however, the literature on homosexuals mainly consisted of issues dealing with the judicial system. Although I would have liked to interview homosexual parents who are leading an alternative family lifestyle, I only used secondary data analysis to research homosexuals and children of homosexuals.
Societal beliefs suggest that homosexuality and parental status cannot coexist. It is presumed that homosexual parents lack legitimate parental abilities because they are perceived as social misfits and are stereotyped as sexual molesters, emotionally unstable, and lack moral. Furthermore, societal attitudes deem homosexual parenthood as negligent; however, this is not society’s belief for heterosexual parents. Homosexual parents cannot disclose their sexual identities in custody battles because of the risk factors that threaten the existence of the family. Dominant societal beliefs view homosexual families as unhealthy and psychologically threatening to the children, thus the need for secrecy becomes a primary emphasis in maintaining family unity. The effects of societal disapproval can potentially result in child custody battles, eviction from one’s residency, or possibly the loss of employment. This has led to support for anti-discrimination laws against gays but has not increased the support for same sex marriages (Cabaj 1998).
The burden of secrecy also lies with the children involved in a homosexual family. The children risk the threat of community disapproval and harassment from other children as well as adults. Often times this can have adverse affects within the child’s relationship with their parent(s) and they may face exclusion from the community. As a result, the homosexual family is forced to acquiesce to society by presenting a false persona and succumbing to societal demands. A potential risk with presenting a false image may produce a weakened support system from the homosexual community (Bozett 1987).
Many children fear that their parents sexual orientation may be transcended to them, and the children of homosexual parents are then faced with the potential fear of becoming labeled as a homosexual themselves if secrecy is tarnished. Consequently, “guilt by association” presents a danger to their reputation. This not only presents a danger to the reputation of the child, but also tarnishes the idea of the parent as a role model; thus children begin to see the homosexual identity as a negative aspect. This can possibly have adverse affects on the parent-child relationship. Homosexual parents may avoid expression of their sexual orientation because of societal attitudes and in some cases, encourage their children to hide their lovers’ true identity (Bozett 1987).
The assumption that children of homosexual parent(s) are embarrassed is not always true. Children who see their homosexual parent(s) lifestyles, beliefs, and value systems as abnormal from that of contemporary societal norms, tend to view alternative lifestyles with more compassion and understanding. Children who identify with their parent(s) homosexual identity may link their values and belief system as varying from that of the dominant society, as a result the children may be more accepting of homosexuality. Identity maintenance plays a major role among children of homosexuals because of societies’ viewpoints. Reaction formation is a common defense mechanism that children use to dissociate themselves from their parents’ sexuality. However, defense mechanisms are contingent upon the child’s security about their own sexuality. Boundary control is one of the main control strategies that children use to avoid threatening situations. Children of homosexual families often attempt to control their parent’s expression of their own sexuality in order to salvage their reputation. Children may engage in boundary control by refusing to be seen in public with their homosexual parent in order to prevent embarrassment or public knowledge of their parent’s homosexuality. Vis a vis is another control strategy which children use to minimize social interactions with people who may disapprove of same sex relationships. The intention of using a control strategy such as vis a vis is to manipulate others’ perceptions of their image in relation to their parent’s sexuality. Another control strategy, which is used to prepare an individual for a future encounter with the homosexual parent, is disclosure. Children engage in disclosure to prevent themselves from experiencing ridicule and negative reactions from those they believe may be homophobic or judgmental of them (Bozett 1987).
The judiciary system in general tends to be prejudice and discriminatory in nature towards homosexuals as well. In cases where a child is involved, the court subjectively sides with the heterosexual or biological parent. For instance, the custody battle case of Mary Ward resulted in denial of custody rights simply because of her sexual orientation. The judge’s decision was based upon his view that the child would be in great harm being exposed to an alternative lifestyle (Bozett 1987).
Artificial insemination, which is a widely practiced method among lesbian couples, has many legal ramifications for the non-biological mother. The courts do not permit non-biological parents to adopt the child of the biological mother. Due to the prejudice of the justice system, homosexual families tend to be more fragmented and have less legal autonomy, resulting in diminished parental status. The judiciary system has proven itself to be bias in cases regarding custody battles among homosexual parents. In 1970, lesbian mothers won less than 1 percent of the custody battles compared to over 15 percent of custody battles today. Lesbian mothers who are the sole economic providers tend to experience greater economical disadvantages, and face more social disparities than traditional heterosexual families where a male figure is present. Contrary to popular belief, the available research indicates homosexual parents demonstrate effective parental skills (Bozett 1987).
Based upon the literature, it is evident that homosexual families face ridicule, prejudice, and discrimination simply because of their sexual orientation. Although societal viewpoints are gradually improving, the facts reveal that societal and judicial discrimination still prevail. Patterns in the data indicate that federal policies, laws, and court rulings side with traditional family values. In most cases “lesbians and gay men often have the task of educating family court personnel, social workers, agency administrators, licensing programs, and home evaluators, among others, that gay and lesbian people are as able to be fit, loving, appropriate, and generous parents as anyone else” (Bozett 1987: 90). Legislation against homosexual discrimination is now becoming popular because it is apparent that homosexuals are facing discrimination in the workplace and from society. However, same sex marriages and rights to benefits are not as popular among society or legislation. Businesses are now beginning to offer benefits to same sex partners, but due to their legal status, they are still not granted the right to benefits that heterosexuals enjoy. It seems to be ironic that businesses who in most cases tend to be conservative are now beginning to recognize same sex relationships (Cabaj 1998).
Studies have found that children of homosexual families are no more inclined to face emotional or psychological problems than children of heterosexual families. In fact, a study conducted by Michael Bailey found that sons of gay fathers were 90 percent heterosexual and that their sexual preference was unrelated to their exposure to their gay father. Furthermore, studies indicate that children of homosexuals do not necessarily experience mental health issues. One study found that homosexual parents who disclose their homosexuality to their children, in many instances resulted in more open lines of communication. This not only strengthened the parent-child relationship, but also made the child more receptive and understanding towards alternative lifestyles. Children also develop an awareness and open-mindedness toward people who are different than themselves. Societal discrimination has had harmful affects on children of homosexuals as well as homosexuals themselves. Although societal and judicial discrimination persist, the research shows that views toward homosexuals and same sex families are beginning to be more supportive. Needless to say, my hypothesis was supported by the data I gathered and provided a great deal of information on societal trends and the repercussions of discrimination, which both the homosexual and the child of the homosexual face (Bozett 1987).
The dominant views of society oppose homosexuality, which I believe to some degree is a reflection of ignorance. It is important homosexuals gain legal status that is equivalent to heterosexuals, to limit equal protection simply because of one’s sexual orientation is discrimination. Before we as a society judge what is wrong, and what is right, the facts need to be known, the repercussions need to be scrutinized, and further studies need to be conducted. Society will only benefit from the knowledge that is gained about alternative families and homosexuals in general. I believe change begins at a micro-level and eventually spreads to macro-level proportions. My study of homosexual families has endless benefits. My findings will not only benefit those who are homosexuals, but children, lawmakers, businesses, and society in general. However, before this can be accomplished people need to learn the facts and disregard the myths. I personally know several individuals who believe homosexuality is a mental illness, is unhealthy, and contributes to the deterioration of societal values. First and foremost, I plan on sharing the information I have gathered to those that hold this belief to be true. It is important for people to know how their beliefs and actions contribute to erroneous myths and negative beliefs that affect homosexuals and the children who are a part of homosexual families. I would also like to share my findings with gay and lesbian groups to help them understand how it affects their children. As a society we need to be supportive of both the children in same sex families and those who have yet to reveal their sexual orientation.
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