When most people decide to start a family, they do not have to worry about the biological, social and legal implications of parenting a child. However, the LGBT community, often experience problems that opposite-sex couples tend to take for granted – who will become the biological parent of the child? Is it legal in the state or country for an LGBT couple to parent a child, whether biological or adopted? And what will be the reactions of the couple’s relatives and friends?
Most people may associate LGBT couples with same-sex parenting, but the term “LGBT couples” actually also includes couples in which one or both of the parents are transgender. Both same-sex and transgender parents often face social stigma and prejudice but in different ways. The general public may believe that any deviation from the traditional man and wife is a recipe for raising a dysfunctional and scarred child, a misconception that has led to numerous complications for LGBT couples. Some people also believe that gay or transgender parents have a higher likelihood of raising a child that is similarly gay or transgender, but numerous studies since the 1970s have shown no evidence of this claim.
Legal and Societal Issues
Some gay couples are fortunate enough to live in a country where same-sex parenting is legal, and their families are accepting of it. However, in other countries, people can be jailed or even executed for any public display of same-sex affection. Even in places where the same-sex attraction is legalized, these couples are not always allowed to have children, whether biological or adopted. As a result, same-sex couples tend to face more difficulties than the average straight couple when starting a family.
Only 27 countries around the world allow joint adoption of children by a same-sex couple. An additional five countries allow step-child adoption if the child is the biological offspring of one of the parents. While there are some prominent families headed by same-sex couples, many of these couples around the world may choose to hide their sexual orientation, remain unmarried, or even live with a consenting person of the opposite sex so as not to raise any questions. Nobody can really verify the number of same-sex couples that are raising children, but it is estimated that 2 million LGBT people in the United States are interested in adoption.
Bringing up the topic of “The Pregnant Man” may raise a few eyebrows in certain social circles. Unfortunately, transgender rights are still in tandem, including the right to parenting.
The issue of transgender parenting questions the right of a transgender parent to take care of a child. While any other person might have the option of becoming a biological single parent, transgender people face the additional hurdle of proving that their gender identity is as valid as anyone else’s. Many transgender parents find themselves in divorce, especially if they transitioned after marriage and their partner is unable to come to terms with their identity. In such cases, a custody dispute may be brought to court over the child, where the judge or partner may attempt to justify that the transgender person is incapable of parenting the child. Even though some transgender people are in loving, straight relationships, they may still run into legal issues when they want to have a biological or adopted child.
In the United States alone, which has already been more progressive than other countries, only six states have laws in place to prevent discrimination against transgender parents when fostering or adopting a child. In the other 44 states, a parent can be denied the right to have a child on the sole basis of their gender identity. Even if the law does not explicitly bar transgender persons from becoming a parent, the ultimate decision is typically left up to the individual biases of a judge, agency or individual staff member.
One pressing question for gay couples looking to have children is: who will bear the child? Most gay people are just as fertile as the average heterosexual cisgender person, but when both persons in the relationship are of the same sex, they will have to look towards a third party to donate one-half of the genes. While lesbian women will typically seek out a sperm donor, gay men will have to find both an egg donor and a surrogate mother.
Transgender people may experience more complications when having a biological child. Transgender hormone replacement decreases the chance of fertility the longer it is maintained and the higher the dosage, with the possibility of permanent sterility. Additionally, transgender people who have undergone complete removal of the gonads are irreversibly sterile. Some transgender people bank their gametes before undergoing any medical procedures if they intend to have children later in life. However, this is a costly process. If the person has not undergone surgery, they may be able to cease hormonal treatment to become pregnant or inseminate a partner, but the chances are not guaranteed. Not all transgender people go through medical transition. Regardless, producing a child in a biological manner can cause transgender people to feel extreme distress.
It is important to note that these issues are not unique to the LGBT community. A fair number of people in conventional relationships struggle with fertility issues, sometimes requiring special techniques such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination, surrogacy or donorship to conceive a child. Some people are born infertile, as in the case of the medical issues polycystic ovary syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Swyer syndrome, De la Chapelle syndrome and many more. It is believed that 10 to 15 per cent of couples in the United States are infertile.
Are LGBT couples capable of raising healthy children? This has been a topic of hot debate ever since LGBT people came into prominence.
On one hand, the opposition argues that LGBT couples are incapable of providing a normal home for their children because of the parents’ unconventional makeup. People of this opinion are often concerned that the children will not grow up in a healthy environment, and may have a higher chance of “becoming” LGBT like their parents. It has been claimed that children in LGBT-headed households grow up unhappier than their peers raised in conventional households, which may be due to the increased risk of rejection and bullying from others who are aware of the child’s parental background.
In contrast, awareness of LGBT parenting is on the rise, along with the acceptance of LGBT rights. Some suggest that LGBT parents may in fact be able to provide a better home because they rarely have children by accident, unlike the accidental pregnancies or obligations that conventional couples may face. When LGBT couples choose to have children, they have often considered it for a long time and decided that they are ready to welcome a new member of the household. Studies have shown that children who grow up in LGBT-headed households do not lack anything their peers have, and may actually become more empathetic and accepting of other minorities.
In summary, there are a number of unique peculiarities for LGBT people who wish to parent children, which the majority of conventional couples will never have to deal with. However, just as LGBT people can experience infertility, societal rejection and other problems, so too can straight couples. It is important to remember that at the end of the day, what matters most is that children get to grow up in loving homes.