In Focus: Family and Parenting
*This section was created as a collaboration between GLAAD, Family Equality Council, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights
In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that every American has the constitutional right to marry the person they love. In July 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, which would reaffirm that the freedom to marry is the settled law of the land and provide comfort and clarity to millions of families across the country, protecting from additional attacks from the existing majority on the Supreme Court. As of July 2022, the U.S. Senate has not yet taken up the bill.
As of June 2022, according to Gallup, a record high number of Americans, 71%, support marriage equality. When reporting on marriage for same-sex couples, preferred terminology includes marriage equality and marriage for same-sex couples. Note, the terms “gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” should be avoided, as they can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages.
Between 2 million and 3.7 million children under age 18 have a parent who is part of the LGBTQ community. Many of these children are being raised by a single parent or by a different-sex couple where one parent is not straight and/or not cisgender. According to the U.S. Census, approximately 191,000 children are being raised by two same-sex parents. Overall, the Williams Institute estimates that 29% of LGBTQ adults are raising a child who is under 18. Same-sex couples are also much more likely to have adopted or foster children.
Racial and ethnic minorities who are LGBTQ are more likely to be raising or having kids. More than a third of same-sex couples raising children are racial or ethnic minorities — approximately 12% are Black LGBTQ parents and 15% are Latinx LGBTQ parents. Out of all LGBTQ people 25 or older, 34% of Black adults and 39% of Latinx adults are raising children, compared to 21% of white adults.
The state of LGBTQ family expansion
With the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision, married same-sex couples should have greater access to adoption, including in states that require adoptive couples to be married. Joint and second-parent adoption are now legal in all 50 states for married same-sex couples. A 2019 survey by the Family Equality Council found that 63% of LGBTQ millennials are considering expanding their families, either becoming parents for the first time or by having more children. The gap between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ millennials considering expanding their families is much narrower than in previous generations. As of February 2022, there are laws in 11 states that allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to turn away qualified parents because they are LGBTQ. Other states are considering similar laws, despite the fact that, according to Gallup polling, 77% of Americans oppose this type of discrimination.
Depending on the state in which they reside, LGBTQ parents who have no genetic ties to their children may not be legally recognized as parents. Many states only recognize non-genetic parents of children conceived through assisted reproduction when parents are married or use only certain kinds of assisted reproduction but not others. Only about half of states explicitly allow surrogacy arrangements, and some of these states exclude same-sex couples from surrogacy.
Adoption by unmarried same-sex couples, assisted reproduction laws, single-parent adoption by an LGBTQ parent, foster parenting and surrogacy laws vary. For more information, please contact the organizations listed below.
Family Expansion: Language and terminology
When reporting on LGBTQ families, it is important to treat those families, parents, and children with dignity and respect — both during the newsgathering process and in the language used to tell their stories.
Never put quotation marks around descriptions such as family, parents, mothers, or fathers when describing families with LGBTQ parents. Such tactics are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups to denigrate, delegitimize, and dehumanize loving families. An LGBTQ parent, or set of parents, are just that: parents.
Ask people how they identify, Do not make assumptions about what children in a family may call their parents.
In addition to adopting and fostering children, LGBTQ people may also welcome children to their families through assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy. Keep in mind that LGBTQ parents who choose to disclose using an egg or sperm donor are still parents and should be described as such. A donor should be referred to as a donor. A surrogate should be described as a surrogate. Do not call an egg or sperm donor or surrogate a child’s “real parent.” Additionally, an LGBTQ parent who did not carry their child or provide an egg or sperm should be considered as much of a valid parent as their LGBTQ partner who provided an egg or sperm, or who carried their child. These parents should simply be called “parents,” not “second parents” or “step-parents.”
Second parent adoption: Allows a second parent to establish or confirm their parental rights through adoption of the child of an existing legal parent without terminating the first parent’s parental rights. The result is that both the first and second parents are recognized as legal parents. This is a common choice for LGBTQ couples. Note that LGBTQ parents who intended to have children from before their birth and complete a second-parent adoption to confirm their parentage are not “adoptive parents,” they are simply “parents.” Not all states allow second-parent adoption for unmarried couples.
Step-parent adoption: Allows a new legal spouse, civil union partner, or state-recognized domestic partner to establish or confirm their parental rights through adoption without terminating the parental rights of the first parent.
Joint adoption: Allows both members of a couple (often restricted to married couples) to adopt a child at the same time, creating legal ties to both of the parents in a single step. The availability of joint adoptions for LGBTQ parents can be made more difficult by local legal restrictions or the personal objections of child welfare service providers.
Foster care: Most decisions regarding with whom a foster child can be placed are made within the child welfare agencies in each state. Similar to joint adoption, becoming an LGBTQ foster parent can be more difficult by local legal restrictions or the personal objections of child welfare service providers.
Surrogacy and other assistive reproductive technologies (ART): ART, including surrogacy, is an option for LGBTQ prospective parents who would like to have a child who is genetically related to one or both parents, though it is often cost-prohibitive, and often not readily covered by insurance in every state. Parents who have a uterus may conceive children through ART at home using a known sperm donor, but in these cases, many states may recognize the sperm donor as a legal parent rather than a donor. In addition, a patchwork of state laws and regulations makes accessing surrogacy difficult by creating barriers and uncertainty regarding the determination of parentage.
Research on parenting and adoption
Many anti-LGBTQ activists have inaccurately and unfairly raised questions about LGBTQ people’s fitness and right to parent, debating or refusing legal protections for LGBTQ families.
There is a large and growing body of research about children raised by LGBTQ parents. These studies have consistently shown that parenting by LGBTQ parents has no adverse effects on children.
Additionally, nearly every credible authority on child welfare (including the Child Welfare League of America, North American Council on Adoptable Children, Voice for Adoption, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Association of Social Workers) has determined that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with the ability to be a good, loving, effective parent.
Most of the studies cited by those opposed to LGBTQ parented families have a significant flaw: they do not study LGBTQ parented families. Instead, they generally compare children with single parents to those living with their married parents. As such, it is inappropriate to use this research to argue that the sexual orientation or the gender-composition of parents affects the well-being of their children. When reporting on LGBTQ-parented families it is crucial to position biased, anti-LGBTQ studies in the context of the dozens of legitimate studies which show that LGBTQ parenting has no negative influence.
By the same token, it is important to note that research does not show that children with LGBTQ parents are “exactly the same” as kids with straight, cisgender parents. There may indeed be differences. For example, one study found that children of LGBTQ parents performed at least as well or slightly better academically than children of cisgender straight parents. Another found that female children of lesbian parents are more willing to consider career paths that could be thought of as atypical for women. The relevant question is whether such differences are harmful, and again, the considerable body of research demonstrates that they are not.
Media sometimes unintentionally but inaccurately frame discussions about same-sex parenting as a false dichotomy, pitting parenting by cisgender, heterosexual couples against parenting by LGBTQ couples. Research shows that people with good parenting skills come in all types — gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, and more. Academics and practitioners agree that sexual orientation and gender identity are not relevant factors when it comes to good parenting.
Transgender and nonbinary parents
Transgender and nonbinary parents who are married or partnered can face the risk of losing their children if their spouse or partner chooses to make their gender identity an issue in a custody case. According to Lambda Legal, “Courts are generally allowed to base custody or visitation rulings only on factors that directly affect the ‘best interests of the child.’ If a transgender parent’s gender identity can’t be shown to hurt the child in some way, contact should not be limited, and other custody and visitation orders should not be changed for this reason.” And many courts have upheld this principle. However, some courts have unfairly ruled that simply because a parent is transgender, there is a risk of “social harm” to the child.
Transgender and nonbinary parents who wish to be genetic parents may be excluded from using ART to preserve their sperm or eggs prior to undergoing medical transition steps that may result in infertility because it is cost-prohibitive and not covered by most insurance. Furthermore, some states still require surgeries that may result in infertility before transgender people can legally change their gender.
It is important to note that trans and nonbinary people with a uterus can and do give birth to children. It’s important for media to understand this is not a rare or unusual occurrence, and media should not sensationalize this method of forming a family.
Transgender parents who transition after having children may decide, with their family, that they want to continue using the gendered parental word “mom” or “dad” that they used before transition. (Although they may agree not to do that in public in a way that could be unsafe.) Or they may decide, with their family, to use the gendered parental word that aligns with their true gender. Other families may invent new words like maddy or moppa. If appropriate and relevant to the story, journalists should ask what word the children use to refer to their parent.
GLAAD encourages media to share the stories of LGBTQ families as they are, on their own terms, without requiring them to defend themselves against the attacks of those who believe they should not be allowed to exist.
Please reach out to the below organizations — or GLAAD (email@example.com) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople:
Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride
Child Welfare League of America
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
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