Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Same-sex couples: a tale of two paths to parenting

Guest Blogger

Gary Gates

While adoption and the use of reproductive technologies grows as a path to parenting for LGBT people and same-sex couples, U.S. Census Bureau data show substantial differences between same-sex couples who adopt and other same-sex couples. While more than 15,000 same-sex couples are currently raising an adopted child under age 18 (according to my analyses of data from the 2010 American Community Survey), nearly 74,000 same-sex couples are raising a biological or stepchild. Same-sex couples with biological or step children show evidence of substantial economic disadvantage while those with adoptive same-sex parents are economically advantaged.

Relative to same-sex adoptive parents (and same-sex couple generally), same-sex couples with biological or step-children are younger, have lower levels of education, are much more likely to include a racial or ethnic minority, and are more likely to live in socially conservative parts of the country like the South and Midwest.  The demographic diversity that we observe among same-sex parents, especially those raising biological and step-children, should prompt us to broaden our understanding of the most pressing issues facing LGBT families. Many likely face challenges associated with economic disadvantage including poverty, health care, nutrition, and access to quality schools.

The differences between adoptive parents and those who report having biological or stepchildren also raise important concerns. Adoption and reproductive technologies are expensive and may not be economically feasible for many LGBT people. Increasing LGBT access to adoption and fostering through public agencies would offer more affordable alternatives to those who wish to be parents. So, too, would providing coverage to LGBT people for reproductive technologies as a routine component of health insurance policies.

Polls and recent voter support for marriage equality suggest a growing acceptance toward LGBT parenting in the American public. But as positive as these changes may be, a complete picture of LGBT parents in the U.S. would show a community with substantial socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diversity. Policy makers and LGBT advocates must consider issues of economic disadvantage and broad community access to adoption and reproductive technologies as they pursue policies that will most help LGBT families in the future.

Gary Gates is Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. You can reach him by e-mail at gates at

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