What has sexuality got to do with parenting?

March 16th, 2014  |  Published in Gender; Sexuality, Guest posts

 Guest post by Brett Allen

Winner 2020socialjustice student award 2013-14


“What has sexuality got to do with parenting?”

“Not much,” is the short answer.

Children raised by gay or lesbian parents develop socially and emotionally in much the same ways as children raised by a father and a mother. Such is the conclusion of thirty years of research; not trivial when you consider the additional stress and adversity same-sex parents and their children face because of social stigma and legal disparities.

Children thrive in circumstances that are stable, consistent, loving, and low-conflict. Their wellbeing depends on a range of factors that hold across family types, and are independent of the sexuality of their parents. These include:

  • The quality of relationships within the family;
  • The parents’ sense of competence;
  • The availability of economic and social supports.

Social context of same-sex parenting

same-sex parentingSame-sex parents are nonetheless disproportionately affected by external factors such as discrimination under the law. They cannot, for example, legally marry in Australia – not yet, at least. Such inequality creates stress, which in turn can affect health and wellbeing.

Research indicates that marriage can strengthen families, so why should some families and children be excluded from this choice – one that is unquestioned for most of the population?

Additionally, same-sex parents and their children come up against attitudes that are heteronormative and homophobic. If such attitudes are internalised, children may feel insecure about their identity and fearful of discrimination.

Discriminatory laws and social policies challenge the stability of same-sex relationships, and the optimal social and emotional development of the children of these relationships. It is therefore particularly remarkable that the children of same-sex parents match their mainstream peers in terms of social and emotional development.

But still, same-sex parents and their children would be better placed if they did not have to deal with prejudice and its reflections in the law. Marriage equality could reduce stigma and thus enhance social stability, acceptance, and support.

Contributing to social change

Social workers, psychologists, and other professionals can contribute in large and small ways to social change for same-sex parents by being aware of heteronormative assumptions and bringing them to attention in organisations and social institutions.

Consider, as one small example, the design of forms in places like family health clinics. How often do such forms ask for both mother’s name and father’s name? How simple, and yet potentially effective, to redesign such forms to ask for first parent’s name and second parent’s name. This would signal that same-sex parents are included and accepted from the outset.

Working through procedures ‘as if’ they were to be completed by same-sex parents would highlight many additional examples that could be relatively easily remedied and at the same time contribute to constructive change. Guidelines for healthcare providers working with same-sex parented families (click here) are a useful starting point.

At another level, The American Academy of Paediatrics has argued that there should be no social or legal impediments to same-sex couples havingSame-sex parents with children children. Their position, based on several decades of evidence, is that access to assisted reproductive techniques, adoption, and foster parenting should focus on the competence of the parents not their sexual orientation. And, as already noted, same-sex parents are on a par in terms of competence.

Parenting is a relationship. Whether or not it is an effective relationship depends on many factors, but the sexuality of the parents is not one of them.

It is time for justice for same-sex parents.

Sources for this essay by Brett Allen

Barrett, A., Power, J., Perlesz, A., Schofield, M., Pitts, M., Brown, R., McNair, R., & Bickerdike, A. (2010). Understanding resilience in same-sex parented families: The work, love, play study. BMC Public Health, 10, 115-125.

The Bouverie Centre (2012). Guidelines for healthcare providers working with same-sex parented families. VicHealth: Retrieved from http://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/Publications/Health-Inequalities/Guidelines-for-Health-care-Providers-working-with-Same-Sex-Parented-Families.aspx

Perlesz, A. (2004). Deconstructing the fear of father absence. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 16(3), 1-29.

Perrin, E. & Siegel, B. (2013). Promoting the well-being of children whose parents are gay or lesbian. Pediatrics, 131(4), 1374-1383.


photo-2Brett Allen, guest blogger, and winner of the 2020socialjustice student award 2013

Brett is currently a student in the combined Social Work/Psychology degree at RMIT University in Melbourne. After graduation he would like to work as a counsellor, or as a caseworker in the homelessness sector.



Same-sex parenting essay

Essay on same-sex parenting by Talia Meltzer, 2020socialjustice student award winner 2016-17


Same-sex parents have increased by 32% since 2006 and together are responsible for 33,714 children in Australia (Power et al., 2010).

Research validates same-sex parenting

Studies have reported that the developmental, social and emotional outcomes for children raised in same-sex parented families are equal to heterosexual parented families. These studies further suggest that within the family, children’s wellbeing, especially around their relationships with their parents, as well as their psychosocial wellbeing is higher for same-sex parented families (Power et al., 2010).

While I personally don’t need studies to prove that a child can be raised by two mothers or two fathers, unfortunately society’s oppressive history towards same-sex parents requires research in the attempt to change this perception.

Same-sex parenting no disadvantage

Service providers lag behind research

Furthermore, despite research that supports same-sex parenting, same-sex parented families are experiencing significant marginalisation, stigmatisation and hostility, and this is particularly important in relation to service providers.

Research highlights a significant educational gap in health services’ acknowledgement and understanding of same-sex parents. Power et al. (2010) highlight assumptions within family health services about biological ties between parent and child that marginalise non-biological parents. This is further evident in welfare and community services, as same-sex parents have reported service providers do not acknowledge their family structure, or present negative attitudes towards their relationships.

Lived experience of parenting versus the narratives available to describe it

The structure of a same-sex parented families is unfortunately not comfortably spoken about or accepted in public view. Perlesz (2005) discusses how her daughter will describe her family as her mother, birth mother and her father. Perlesz further notes how her daughter describes both her father and mother as having equal presence in her life, when in reality a same-sex parent primarily raised her.

This story suggests a dissonance between lived experience and the story this young person felt she needed to present to the public. This experience may be understood by feminist reflections on masculinity, which suggest men can feel threatened and therefore demand that children need a male presence in their lives. Perlesz (2005), on the other hand, argues that there is no social, psychological or development justification to legislate for a father presence.

Again, it is unfortunate that academic articles and studies are needed to demonstrate and challenge societal oppressive practices and conventional perspectives.

Promoting resilience in same-sex parented families

Power et al. (2010) describe the importance of encouraging family resilience, and discuss how this can be achieved by implementing higher levels of education among health, community and welfare services. Legal recognition of same-sex parenting on children’s birth certificates and access to economic, social and health supports will further enhance same-sex families’ resilience.

Love is loveIn conclusion, children do not need both a mother and a father, and conservative positions are holding society back from accepting and recognising that there is no difference between a child’s welfare whether they come from heterosexual or homosexual parents.

Sexuality and parenting need to be considered as independent dimensions in the lives of both parents and children.


Sources for this essay by Talia Meltzer

Allan, J. (2009). Weaving together the personal and the political in loss and grief. In J. Allan, L. Briskman & B. Pease, Critical social work (2nd ed.). Crows Nest NSW: Allen and Unwin.

Hayley, J. (1979). Conducting the First Interview. Ch 1 in Problem-Solving Therapy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Macfarlan, S. (2009). Opening spaces for alternative understandings in mental health practices. In J. Allan, L. Briskman & B. Pease, Critical social work (2nd ed.). Crows Nest NSW: Allen and Unwin.

Perlesz, A. (2005). Deconstructing the fear of father absence. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 16(3), 1-29.

Power, J. J., Perlesz, A., Schofield, M. J., Pitts, M. K., Brown, R., McNair, R., & Bickerdike, A. (2010). Understanding resilience in same-sex parented families: The work, love, play study. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 1.

Trotter, C. (2013). Collaborative family work. Crows Nest NSW: Allen and Unwin.

Young, J., Bailey, G., & Rycroft, P. (2004). Family grief and mental health: a systemic, contextual and compassionate analysis. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 25(4), 188-197.

Young, J., (2016). Presentation to RMIT students, Wednesday 28th September 2016.

Talia Meltzer, winner 2020socialjustice student award 2016

Talia Meltzer


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4 comments on “What has sexuality got to do with parenting?”

  1. I would like to congratulate Talia Meltzer, winner of the 2020socialjustice student award, 2016-17, for her essay on this topic of same-sex parenting.
    Talia will also be the final recipient of the essay prize as the funds for the award have been transferred to a program providing financial assistance for students in need. Five scholarships of $2500 each will be finalised in March 2017.
    Interestingly, the essay prize has come full circle on this issue of same-sex parenting, with the inaugural prize-winner, Brett Allen, also having written on the same topic. Meanwhile, Australia has remained stalled on the matter of marriage equality, partly on the basis of spurious arguments about the needs of children.

  2. Relevant article from “The Conversation”: “FactCheck: is having a mum and a dad the very best thing for a child?” https: //theconversation.com/factcheck-is-having-a-mum-and-a-dad-the-very-best-thing-for-a-child-44181

  3. Brett Allen says:

    Thanks Joan, it’s been great working with you too.
    Warm regards,

  4. I would like to congratulate Brett Allen, as the inaugural winner of the 2020socialjustice student award. It has been exciting for me to establish this award (as a form of passing the baton) and great to work with Brett in shaping this piece into blogese from its academic form.
    Best wishes, Brett…Joan Beckwith.

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