While research has consistently found that children raised by homosexual parents are as well adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents, Stacey argues that there are what sociologists call selection effects that actually favor children raised in “lesbigay” households. She also discusses how single people choosing to parent for intimacy is historically unique.


Professor Emerita of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU, Judith Stacey is the author of several books, including Unhitched: Love, Marriage and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, as well as “How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?” (co-authored with Timothy Biblarz) in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

“How Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter” was a title that I chose with my co-author, Tim Biblarz, to imply a double meaning, and to raise the question of whether it does matter at all, and also to suggest that there are ways of thinking about how it matters, that aren’t just the obvious ways that the debates politically had gone on.

There had begun to be a shift, and there had, by now, been a lot of research published, and all of said that there were no differences in the parenting of lesbian and gays, and heterosexual parents, and in particular that there were no differences in the outcomes for children. The reason that I became interested is that the claim that there were no differences sounded a little bit surprising to me, and it also sounded a bit defensive to me. It accepted too much of the notion that of course, heterosexual parents would be the best parents, and as a sociologist, I don’t think anything is ‘of course’ or that we should presume anything like that from the get-go.

I think that there are two kinds of differences that are likely between children raised by lesbian, or lesbi-gay parents, and heterosexual parents. The vast majority are very small differences, and are a product of what sociologists or social scientists call selection effects. And so a lot of these selection effects actually favor lesbian and gay parents and their children, and some of them go the opposite way. For example, because of the amount of planning that’s involving in choosing to be a parent as an out lesbian or gay person or couple, and especially for the men, they’re older parents, and they tend to be more educated, and with greater educational resources. Those are all factors that generally, on average, lead to better outcomes for children. But the other thing is that because of discrimination and sensitivity, and a lack of equal acceptance, you are likely to get more consciousness of those issues, and more careful parenting around issues of respect for others, tolerance, diversity, things of that sort.

And finally, I do think that it’s very likely that children with gay and lesbian parents will feel more open to pursue their sexual desires, whatever they are, than children with heterosexual parents, on average. I’ve been one of the people who’s been very unhappy to see same sex marriage become the overwhelming centerfold policy goal. I understand it. But of the LGBT movement, and in particular, I find it a bit disturbing and irrational that the question of the efficacy of gay parenting should be brought up in the question about legalizing same sex marriage.

And so from my point of view, one of the paradoxical effects of legalizing same sex marriage, which I of course support, because I wouldn’t favor discrimination on grounds of sex orientation—but one of the unfortunate side effects of that will be to increase inequality by class and race. Disproportionately, same sex marriage is going to be, has been, and will continue to be a white, middle-class and affluent institution. And we know this is true of heterosexual marriage, as well—that poor people and people of color are less likely to marry, unemployed people are less likely to marry, or to be able to sustain their marriages. And disproportionately, that means non-white people and their children. And so one of the paradoxical, ironic, unintended effects of one form of equality is to exacerbate another form of inequality.

When I advocate a pluralistic approach to family change and contemporary family life, I would like to get away from the idea that there is a gold standard for one family structure that is the ideal model, and the preferred type of family life, and everything else should be compared to that, and is either equal to it, or not as good as it, or perhaps better—but I don’t think that’s correct, either. I really deeply believe that people are different, families are different, societies are different, cultures are different. We can make judgments about them; in fact, we can probably not avoid making judgments about them. But I firmly believe that there is not a single best one that would be good for everyone.