In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gay and Lesbian Parents

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Decision-Making Processes
  • Child Outcome Studies
  • Gay Fatherhood
  • Family Practices
  • Children with Lesbian Mothers
  • Children with Gay Fathers
  • Legal Aspects
  • Critical Issues and Public Debates
  • Attitudes toward Gay and Lesbian Parents
  • Relations Outside the Immediate Family
  • Welfare Services
  • Health Care Services

Childhood Studies Gay and Lesbian Parents
Anna Malmquist, Karin Zetterqvist Nelson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0082


Research on gay and lesbian parenthood is diverse, covering a wide range of topics approached from different theoretical perspectives and using different methodological approaches. The research area is relatively young, having started in the 1970s and expanded slowly at first, growing into a large research field today. At first, research was often initiated in response to issues regarding care of children. In the 1970s, after divorces from their children’s fathers, lesbian mothers were legally compelled to fight for custody of their children. Because of prevailing heterosexist prejudices and strong heteronormative notions of parenthood and family life, lesbian motherhood and gay fatherhood were persistently called into question, both in legal and social contexts. The alleged risk was that children’s psychosocial health was at stake. Such concerns triggered a range of outcome studies in which the psychosocial health and development of children with gay and lesbian parents were examined. The “child outcome” issue is a strand of research that still thrives today, although the context has changed. Contemporary outcome studies often focus on lesbian couples having children through assisted reproduction. Some research projects are also designed so that lesbian couples are compared to heterosexual couples in the same situation. Today, lesbian and gay parenthood is seen as a diverse category. It demonstrates various routes to parenthood for lesbian and gay persons or couples who wish to form families with children. This development reflects a broader social change, in which alternative ways of forming families have become more acceptable and recognized both at a sociopolitical level and in the general public. In a parallel development to the child outcome studies, sociological and anthropological approaches to gay and lesbian parenthood have evolved. In this direction, topics such as family practices, relations with the surrounding society, and legal and sociopolitical dimensions of gay and lesbian parenthood have been explored, often using a qualitative approach. In addition, children’s own voices and perspectives have been taken into account beyond the structured interviews and questionnaires often used in the child outcome studies. In a broad perspective, irrespective of the disciplinary perspective and the methodological approach taken, the research field is marked by a strong recognition of gay and lesbian rights. It does not exclude the presence of conflict. Queer theory has contributed to question previous certainties concerning parenthood. Gendered parenthood and heteronormativies have consequently been highlighted. Conceptualizations such as transgender parenthood, bisexual parenthood, and queer families illuminate how a category such as “gay and lesbian parents” has to be broadened to also encompass bisexual, transgendered, and queer parenthood, or basically what is captured in the acronym LGBTQ-parenthood, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer parenthood.

General Overviews

Anthologies and books providing literature reviews of research on gay and lesbian parenthood reflect the diversity of contemporary research perspectives. Goldberg 2010 provides a broad overview of psychological research on parents and children, including critical dimensions drawing on feminist and queer theories. Tasker and Bigner 2007 is an anthology (copublished as the Journal of GLBT Family Studies 3.2–3 [2007]), which offers an overview of different family forms and discussions of specific issues. Hicks 2011, by a British sociologist, summarizes and discusses important insights from research on LGBTQ (see Introduction) family practices, which mainly draws on sociological theory. In Takâcs and Kuhar 2011, an anthology dealing with gay and lesbian parenting, research on family practices in different European countries is discussed by contributors from these countries. An anthropological perspective is taken in Weston 1991, a classic book on gay and lesbian families, in which the conceptualization of gay and lesbian families as “chosen families” was coined. Golombok 2000 focuses on parenting in various family forms and demonstrates how outcomes of parenting are related to relational skills rather than specific family forms.

  • Goldberg, Abbie E. Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1037/12055-000

    In this comprehensive overview of current research, important insights and conclusions in psychological research on lesbian and gay parenthood are presented.

  • Golombok, Susan. Parenting: What Really Counts? London: Routledge, 2000.

    In this book, Golombok compares parenthood in different settings, such as adoption families and planned lesbian-parent families. The author shows how outcome of parenthood is a relational skill, beyond structural family aspects.

  • Hicks, Stephen. Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Parenting: Families, Intimacies, Genealogies. Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230348592

    This book offers an updated view of contemporary LGBQ family practices from sociological perspectives, including interactionist, feminist, discursive, and queer theories. The engagement with theories is combined with empirical studies of the “messy world of everyday lives.”

  • Takâcs, Judit, and Roman Kuhar, eds. Doing Families: Gay and Lesbian Family Practices. Ljubljana, Slovenia: Peace Institute, 2011.

    In this anthology, the possibilities and obstacles in the (un)doing of LGBT families with respect to specific national contexts in Europe are discussed. It provides important insights into contexts that are covered infrequently in the Anglo-Sachsian research tradition.

  • Tasker, Fiona, and Jeremy J. Bigner, eds. Gay and Lesbian Parenting: New Directions. Binghamton, NY: Haworth, 2007.

    This book contains contributions from many well-known researchers (Golombok, Pattersson, Bigner, Tasker, etc.). It provides a rich overview of contemporary findings and issues, such as reproductive alternatives, against the backdrop of historical overviews of a growing research field (copublished as a special issue of Journal of GLBT Family Studies 3.2–3 [2007]).

  • Weston, Kath. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

    Weston’s book draws on ethnographic studies and interviews from San Francisco in the 1980s. The book discusses how lesbians and gay men build their own kinship networks as an alternative to the often conflict-ridden relations of their “biological” families.

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