Same-sex adoption: The last prejudice?

While gay marriage has become more accepted, support for people to have children continues to lag behind

baby in icu
(Image credit: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany voted to legalise gay marriage today, shortly after Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled she would be willing to allow her MPs a free vote on the issue.

Civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples were established in the country in 2001, giving them many of the same rights as married heterosexuals - but not the right to adopt children.

During her election campaign in 2013, Merkel said she was "not sure" about the effects of gay adoption on children.However, at a public forum hosted by magazine Brigitte this week, the Chancellor said a lesbian constituent's invitation to visit the home where she and her partner were fostering eight children had forced her to question her outlook.

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"If the state gives a homosexual couple foster children to care for, I can't continue to argue simply on the grounds of child welfare," she said.

While acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage have undergone a steep rise in popularity in recent years, same-sex adoption and parenting remain a sticking point for many.

A poll in 2013 showed a significant proportion of those swept along by the "marriage for all" movement harboured lingering doubts when it comes to gay couples exercising what many still consider the fundamental outcome of marriage - starting a family together.

While 56 per cent of those questioned backed same-sex marriage in the British Social Attitudes Survey, the most recent poll on the issue, only 48 per cent said gay couples should have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples.

A survey carried out in Northern Ireland in 2012 found 58 per cent of people supported same-sex marriage, but only 40 per cent and 36 per cent thought lesbian and gay couples respectively should also have equal adoption rights.

The reluctance to embrace same-sex parents often goes hand-in-hand with a widely-held belief that same-sex parents cannot offer a child the same quality of upbringing as a straight couple.

In 2011, research by children's charity Barnardo's found a third of Britons believed heterosexual couples were inherently better parents than gay couples.

However, does the data bear out this presumption?

The short answer is: no. Of the 79 studies of children raised in same-sex households collected by researchers at Columbia Law School, all but four showed no discernible difference in outcome compared to their peers in heterosexual households.

Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld told The Atlantic the handful of dissenting studies represented a "noisy fringe".

In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the 25 years of research had found "no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment".

Indeed, the scientific consensus is that a stable home life is the key predictor of healthy emotional and academic development, regardless of whether that is provided by gay or straight parents.

A 2013 Cambridge University study of 130 families also debunked the common claim that children of gay parents were more likely to be gay or to experience "confusion" about their sexuality.

Their research found "no evidence" to support "speculation that children's masculine or feminine tendencies are affected by having gay or lesbian parents", The Independent reports.

In fact, the children of gay fathers appeared to fare particularly well in the Cambridge study. "Gay fathers appeared to have more interaction with their children and the children of gay fathers had particularly busy social lives," the report found.

Gay fathers were also less likely to report symptoms of depression than lesbian or straight parents.

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