Parenting and children. Before the emergence of visible gay communities in the United States, many lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people married heterosexually for a variety of reasons, including social and family pressures, a desire to avoid stigma, and a perception that such marriages were the only available route to having children. Sometimes individuals have recognized their homosexuality or bisexuality only after marrying a person of the other sex (e.g., Higgins, 2006). Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals became parents through such marriages. In more recent times, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults have conceived and reared children while in a same-sex relationship. Other same-sex couples and sexual-minority individuals have adopted children. In a 2005 Internet survey with a national probability sample of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults, approximately 35 percent of lesbians and 8 percent of gay men reported having at least one child, as did 67 percent of bisexual women and 36 percent of bisexual men (Herek et al., 2010). These numbers may be higher among younger sexual-minority individuals. Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) indicate that more than 35 percent of lesbians aged 18–44 had given birth and that 16 percent of gay men in that age group had a biological or adopted child (Gates et al., 2007). Fewer sexual-minority than heterosexual individuals are parents, but there are many lesbian mothers and gay fathers in the United States today (Patterson, 2000, 2009).
Thus, many children are currently being reared by one or more sexual-minority parents. The legal status of those parents and of their children varies from state to state. For example, states differ on whether they consider a parent’s sexual orientation to be relevant to custody or visitation in divorce proceedings (Patterson, 2009). In recent years, some states have enacted laws or policies forbidding gay and lesbian individuals or couples from foster-parenting or adopting children; other states have considered laws banning same-sex couples, or all unmarried couples, from foster-parenting or adopting children (Gates et al., 2007; Joslin and Minter, 2009; Patterson, 2009). A long-standing ban on adoptions by lesbian or gay parents in Florida was overturned in 2010. As discussed in later chapters, this variability in legal status has implications for the health of sexual-minority parents and their children.