Alternative Families: A Look At The Same-sex Nest Essay, Research Paper
This paper will introduce the “neonuclear” family, homosexual couples with children and attempt to present a brief overview of the unit. First the nature/nurture theories will be presented to explain the origins of sexuality; then discussing the formation of gay and lesbian families including the reasoning for legalization of marriage and the introduction of children to these lifestyles; including scaffolding and barriers to achieving stability within the family. This paper will then discredit some of the stereotypes associated with alternative families while listing repercussions of such stereotypes; then moving onto the issue of AIDS, harassment, and behavioral effects, ending with a discussion of societal acceptance and educational affects.
Alternative Families: A Look at The Same-Sex Nest
As times have changed, there is a noticeable decrease in the traditional family structure of mom, dad, two point five kids and the family dog. This forces society to the realization that the modern family develops over the years into varying forms and that the “nuclear family” is degenerately less of the norm. Diversity of this structure is often the result of divorce, chosen single motherhood and other factors. However, in the more recent years, yet another family pattern is emerging: gay and lesbian couples with children. Gay and lesbian families are often viewed as deviant, immoral, and even dangerous to the development of children by some people. Such beliefs in society will create more than just moral controversy; it will surface issues of legality, decisions of custody, and basic human rights.
The Nature Nurture Debate: Biological vs. Cultural-based Sexuality
Before one examines the issues of same-sex families, the reader should understand the two arguments behind the origin of sexuality. It is debated if sexuality is an innate biological process that takes place as a result of one’s genetic make-up or if it is a result of one’s cultural background and the environment in which one is raised. These two differing theories are known as the nature/nurture debate, nature representing the biological theory for one’s sexuality and nurture representing environmental influences for one’s behavior.
The Biological Argument
From the point of conception, human beings are made up of 46 chromosomes, 23 male and 23 female. After insemination, paternal and maternal chromosomes fuse, this fusion determines the sex of the child. The amalgamation of two X chromosomes creates a female child, while the combination of X and Y chromosomes, leads to the development of a male offspring. Each chromosome contains thousands genes and each gene contains specific information about how part of the body will be formed. Genes are responsible for almost every aspect of the human body, from hair color to the development of our organs, organs like the brain and it is within the brain were the biggest changes take place when our bodies under go their sexual metamorphous, during sexual maturation. When we reach sexual maturity, we have our first insight into our sexuality, an insight which is genetically programmed into our consciousness through our DNA, Whilst in the womb, it seems that our sexuality is being preprogrammed by our genes but there are other biological developments taking place, namely the formation of our hormones, hormones which will lie dormant until the onset of puberty.(Radford, T. 1993)
The nurture theory, put simply, means that our sexuality is not the result of our biology (nature) but rather that our sexuality and characteristics are socially learned through experience. A study by Albert Bandura et al ( 197-) has shown how “children learn their roles from those influential models they observe around them, particularly their parents. If the two sexes are treated differently and have different expectations of their behavior then they will learn to behave differently. These differences include their gender and this might be papering them for the kind of social roles that they find them selves in later” In this statement, Bandura is trying to tell us that the essence of who we are and who we perceive our selves to be, is acquired at an early age, through observational learning and it is through observational learning that we develop our concept of social norms. Social norms are expected patterns of behavior that develop in any social group over time, they become a major part of our culture and one part of that culture is the perception of our sexuality. (Radford, T. 1993)
Emergence of the “NeoNuclear” Family
Traditionally, families have always included a mother and a father. Today, however, more and more families are being headed by gay parents; some having children from previous marriages. Many must use artificial insemination or surrogate mothers because it is extremely difficult for gay couples to adopt children. There is no valid reason for refusing to call lesbian and gay headed household families. They
fall under every conceivable criterion for identifying families and the concept of a family.
“They are groups of coresident kin providing jointly through income-pooling for each others need of food and shelter. They socialize children, engage in emotional, physical support, and make up part of a larger kin network. Homosexual households are also typically characterized by flexible sex role behavior and a more equal division of household labor than heterosexual families, which is viewed as an advantage .These new definitions of family create concerns for mental health professionals. Homosexual families are faced with legal and social obstacles which may be unfamiliar to counselors. In addition, professionals are encouraged to make themselves aware of their own value systems and how those principles may influence the course of counseling. Counselors should also be aware of the role of scientific research in the lives of gay and lesbian families, including how it may affect legal decisions and social conditions, and how research in this area can become less biased by researcher influence(Cox, B. 1994)
Forming the Gay & Lesbian Family
Same-sex Marriage: Reasoning Behind The Push To Legalize
Currently there is much debate on homosexual couples right to legalize marriage. The institution of marriage is held in a highly respectable position as well as in a sentimental one. If one examines the Declaration of Independence for inspiration, then it is stated that “all men are created equal”. Logically, one would assume this to include homosexuals. So then, assuming they would be granted the same freedom as heterosexuals as far as marriage is concerned.
By the simple public act of marrying, men and women achieve a substantial package of rights and duties which, collectively provide support and predictability to their marital relationship: 1) legal recognition of their sexual union, 2) legal enforcement of their mutual obligation to financially support each other, 3) automatic guardianship and custody of the children of that union, 4) improved ability to adopt the children of others, 5) legal enforcement of their mutual obligation to support their children, 6) legal recognition of their constitutionality and the constitutional sanctity and importance of their marriage, 7) insurable interests in each others lives, 8) next-of-kin status in medical emergencies, and, 9) in the event of death, the right to one-half of each other’s estate.” (Love And…1997)
Therefore, through that reasoning, it would appear banning same-sex marriages would be discrimination. Because America was founded on the Constitution, in which all men are created equal; one shouldn’t have the power to deny the basic legal right of marriage to a class of individuals due to his or her sexual preference.
Children of Same-sex Couples
Although some gay couples do decide to raise a child in a “nuclear” family, others families headed by lesbians or gay men tend to be blended. Occasionally, a parent in a heterosexual marriage will realize that she/he is gay then retreating to a homosexual relationship. The gay counterpart then may act like a stepparent to the children without a full exposure of legal rights or responsibilities that the former spouse’s new partner will attain. In other instances, a gay couple may cooperate in baby-making and child-rearing with another individual or couple. Also, gay and lesbian adoption has been available to families seeking children unable to have their own.
Helping The Child Of Non-Traditional Families Prosper
There are basic requirements for all families with children, although alternative groups will have a select number more prerequisites. Firstly, the needs of the child in gay and lesbian families will need to be met, allowing him or her to develop his/her own identity and healthy levels of self-esteem. Balancing a healthy social life for the child with both gay, lesbian, and traditional families and supporting the child’s identity formation when associated in cross-gender play activities. And lastly, participating in activities and providing resources that provide continuous cultural sensitization.
Barriers to the family growth
Unlike heterosexual parents and their children, however, lesbian and gay parents and their children are often subject to prejudice because of sexual orientation that turns judges, legislators, professionals, and the public against them, frequently resulting in negative outcomes such as loss of physical custody, restrictions on visitation, and prohibitions against adoption. The current legal standing of homosexual parents seeking custody of their children remains precarious. Courts determine custody and visitation on the basis of the ‘best interests of the child.’ Current judicial rulings reflect a bias against awarding custody or granting visitation rights to homosexual parents, favoring the heterosexual parent or heterosexual relative of the child(ren). (Allen, M. & Burrell, N. 1994)
This issue however, must be examined morally and not politically. The child should be the most important factor in the adoption process. So this cannot be an issue of gay rights, it must instead
be looked at as who will provide a better home for the child. Placing a child in a position where he or she will be removed from a loving home can be traumatizing.
Parenting Skills among hetero and homosexual families
The gay rights movement of the 1970s has led to more gay parents who are “out” or public about their sexual orientation. More gay and lesbian parents want to be honest and open about their orientation so that their children can form positive self-concepts and value difference in others. (Koerner, M. & Hulsebosch, P. 1996).
“Parenting skills of homosexual and heterosexual parents tend to be similar on most measures, including general attitudes about parenting (Mucklow & Phelan, 1979),and a variety of back ground variables . Parents also scored alike on measures of self-concept and responses to child behavior. Lesbian and heterosexual mothers scored alike on measures of maternal attitudes and parent effectiveness .Both groups also equally emphasized the value of social support from friends and family . Children from these families were also quite similar to children from heterosexual homes. These children scored alike on measures of moral maturity, intelligence, locus of control, family and peer relationships, adjustment to single parent family life and self-concept .These categories are commonly used by researchers to assess overall adjustment. Contrary to some of the societal beliefs reviewed earlier, these children also scored alike on measures of sexual identity and gender role preferences. Counselors should be aware of these similarities. They indicate that having a homosexual parent does not completely redefine the meaning of family.(Kramer, L. 1997)
Issues facing Same-sex Families
Society Views & Stereotyping
There are many homophobic individuals in today’s society who are the main cause of negative stereotypes against lesbians and gay parents. These negative stereotypes often prove to be irrational and falsified, revealing that gay and lesbian parents could be equally as fit as traditional parents. 1)”The accusation that majority of gay men are child molesters has been rejected in that the overwhelming majority of child sexual abusers area heterosexual men, who abuse both boys and girls”(Kramer, L.1997)
2)The fear that children of lesbian and gay parents will become lesbian or gay is irrational in that studies show that the sexual orientation of the parents has no effect whatsoever on sexual orientation of youths. “Examined the sexual orientation of 82 adult sons of 55 gay men. Found that more than 90% of the sons whose sexual orientation could be rated were heterosexual. Gay and heterosexual sons did not differ on potentially relevant variables such as length of time they had lived with their fathers.”(Bailey, J. 1995)
3)The concern that the children of gay and lesbian headed families will not develop so called appropriate gender identity or gender behavior has been introduced. This was proved incorrect in that when comparing children of gay parents to children of straight parents, there was no significant difference in these two areas. (Kramer, L. 1997)
4)The last stereotype involving the fear that emotional damage will effect the child due to coping with the issue of having lesbian or gay parents. Once again this was proved to be false and the general psychological well being of children in gay and lesbian households matches that of children of heterosexual parent households.(Kramer, L. 1997)
Repercussions of Stereotyping
These common stereotypes heard frequently in today’s society have, for the most part, been proved incorrect .Therefore it is illustrated that homosexual parents are repeatedly stereotyped against unfairly . Lesbians and gay men are commonly thought of by society to have a negative influence on children. This places an enormous strain and great pressure on same-sex headed families. Society must come to realize that every family, not just gay headed families, experience problems in their homes.
Another major issue facing gay parents is AIDS. AID’s is known as the gay disease it has been studied and many feel that homosexuals are more prone and susceptible to contracting the disease than heterosexuals. Many feel that the children of gay parents are in increased danger due to the fact that AIDS is increasingly spreading and if their parent has it then they are at high risk to contracting it.
This is “strongly related to heterosexism and homophobia prejudicial attitudes and practices against lesbian and gay men . Individuals with antigay attitudes are far more likely than others to have irrational fears about HIV transmission AIDS is a growing epidemic with no cure that affect millions. A great portion of today’s society feel that children should not be exposed to this disease if it may be prevented. Therefore they attack these gay parents seeing that AIDS is the “gay” disease. Society has to realize that anyone may contract it and there is no one in the world that is immune to it. It is up to gay parents as well as straight parents to assure in preventing the contraction of this disease to any child. Also to protect themselves from contracting it, the loss of a parent is traumatizing to a child.(Roleff, T. 1999)
Harassment & Child Safety
“Another problem unique to homosexual couples is the experience of gay-bashing. Gay-bashing is physical violence directed at a person based solely on their perceived sexual orientation Indirectly, all lesbian and gay people are affected by the fear of violence.(Eliason, M. 1997) “Many people in today’s society have a negative stereotypical attitude towards homosexuals. This influence is then passed onto their children in turn is then taken out on peers. This especially effects those who have gay parents. That child may be harassed at school, both mentally and physically, and teased constantly. This may then affect the child psychologically, emotionally, and physically, either then or later in life. (Roleff, T. 1999)
Children have increasingly become more cruel with peers which takes its toll on the child being harassed, whether the effects are visible or not. The child living with homosexual parents may not only be harassed for being in that situation, but also for being gay themselves. Many have the idea that children who grow up in a gay home become gay themselves. They believe this to be true in that the child learns the parents’ ways and want to be just like their role model, their parent. People have to realize that in today’s society children tease one another for the oddest reasons, if there is not a reason to tease or gang up on someone, someone is sure to find or make up something just to have something to do.”Dealing with other people’s prejudices continues to be a rite of passage for children in gay families. Gays say they hope that being honest with the outside world will ultimately increase tolerance, just as parenthood makes them feel more connected to their communities. (Kantrowitz,B.1996)
Affected Behavior & Emotional Development
A child of homosexual parents may also have affected behavior. Serious health problems may incur from being a child of gay or lesbian couples. Past research on children of lesbian or gay couples is marred by methodological problems, including heavy reliance on self-reporting and a tendency to ignore evidence not supporting a conclusion. Boys raised by masculine fathers feel more secure and generally do not commit crimes. Boys of lesbians may be susceptible to this behavior. Homosexuals also have a history of unstable relationships, so the children may suffer family disruptions often. Another peril involved with same-sex couples is their history of substance abuse. As a group, same-sex couples are known for substance abuse, which may lead to a shorter life expectancy than heterosexuals, as well as a bad influence on children (Love And…1997)
Legalities aside, gay parents–and those who disapprove of gay families–are also concerned about issues of the children’s emotional development. Most same-sex parents say they make a special effort to ensure that their kids learn to relate to adults of the opposite sex. Psychologists say the best time to tell kids how their families are different is either in childhood or in late adolescence. Young adolescents– from about ages 11 to 15–are particularly vulnerable because they are struggling with their own issues of sexual identity. . (Kantrowitz,B.1996)
The Road Leading To Today
Many experts agree that homosexuality has existed as long as human beings themselves, although the attitude towards them has undergone dramatic changes in some countries. Accepted by many societies during Greek and Roman era, most of the time homosexuals were considered to be sinners and criminals. In Medieval and modern periods homosexuals were prosecuted. Enlightenment brought some liberation, substituting death penalty for imprisonment. And, in Nazi Germany so-called “doctors” tried to “cure”gays by the ways of castration .Until 1973 attempts to find a cure against homosexuality, viewed as a disease, were continued. This controversial issue can be seen even today reaching into political campaigns.
“Vice-President Gore says ‘gay and lesbian couples should be able to form civil unions, which would give them the same rights and benefits afforded to married couples under state law’. Vermont enacted such a law last April, the first state to do so. But Gore also says he ’supports the Defense of Marriage Act, a law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that allows states to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states.(NBCi. 2000.)
Increasing Awareness For All Students
Teaching sex education in public schools alone has become a very controversial subject with some parents and community members. So, one can only imagine the reaction to the issue of teaching homosexuality in the sex education curriculum . Is important because it affects all children. Some educators believe that it is important while teaching sex education to help the students unlearn negative feelings and stereotypes about gay and lesbian people (Roleff , T. 1999).
‘”On the other hand, other educators feel certain that teaching children to be open-minded about gays undermines the authority of the parents who consider homosexuality to be morally wrong (Roleff, T.1999).
Providing Materials For The Alternative-family Child
Although an estimated 6 to 14 million children live with a sexual minority parent, it is apparent that these children’s needs are not being entirely met by school efforts to be more inclusive. This study examined: (1) how well or poorly the resources of elementary and middle school libraries meet the needs of these children; and (2) what educators’ views and ideas are for implementing curriculum changes and support services for these students. Availability of library books and other school related materials depicting alternative family experiences and lifestyles was assessed in a cross-section of schools. (Rubin, S. 1995.)
In conclusion, with the emergence of so many new alternative family lifestyles it is not surprising that homosexual families would be the center of so much controversy. The issues border on civil rights to morality and ethics to discriminating on the constitution. And, although many people do not agree with this particular lifestyle it is not for one to pass judgment on others and refuse them rights that he himself would refuse to give up. So, therefore it is in this author’s opinion that everyone be they Homo or heterosexual, minority or majority be allowed the same basic rights as their counterparts, because only then can a population claim to be “created equal”.
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