This paper addresses how the law affects LGBQ-parent families. We first outline the legal landscape that LGBQ parents face in the US, underscoring that it varies drastically by state and creates inequity for families. Reviewing existing social science research, we then address how the law affects three processes for LGBQ people: desiring parenthood, becoming a parent, and experiencing parenthood. Our review indicates that the law affects if and how LGBQ people become parents. LGBQ people consider the law as they make decisions about whether to pursue adoption, donor insemination, or surrogacy and often view the latter two pathways as the most legally secure. Further, the law continues to be salient for LGBQ parents throughout parenthood and affects family well-being. Specifically, legal inequity diminishes parent’s well-being, the relationship among couples who are parenting, and parents’ ability to effectively advocate for their children in institutional settings like healthcare contexts. Finally, we address directions for future research for scholars interested in the law, family processes and outcomes, and LGBQ families.
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It is important to note that our review highlights only laws that specifically relate to parenthood and sexual orientation. Yet these are not the only laws that impact LGBQ parents. Other laws, including ones relating to immigration, for instance, also affect LGBQ-parent families but are not addressed here (Acosta 2013; Moore and Brainer 2013).
We use the term “LGBQ” to reflect the research reviewed (i.e., some of the studies reviewed include self-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer individuals in the sample). Due to the dearth of literature on transgender parents and the distinct legal contexts and issues facing transgender parents, our review focuses on LGBQ parents. For work addressing transgender parents and families, including the legal context they face, see for instance: Downing 2013; Pfeffer 2012; Pyne et al. 2015; Ryan 2009; Veldorable-Griffin 2014).
Scholars note a generational shift in how LGBQ people become parents insofar as older generations are more likely to have become parents in the context of a different-sex relationship and/or before coming out, and younger generations are more likely to have become parents in the context of a same-sex relationship and/or after coming out (see Patterson and Riskind 2010 especially pp. 331–334 for more discussion). However, it is important to note that the majority of LGBQ parents in the US likely had their children in the context of different-sex relationships (Gates 2013; Goldberg et al. 2014). The literature that we review focuses almost exclusively on LGBQ parents who had children within the context of a same-sex relationship, a point we return to in the discussion.
Litigation is pending on this issue in Mississippi (Amy 2015).
It is important to note that the law is less likely to have an effect in this regard for LGBQ people who had children prior to coming out and/or in the context of a different sex relationships (Baumle and Compton 2011, p. 107).
Although this research focuses on sexual minority women who become pregnant through insemination either through a clinic or at home, another route to becoming pregnant for sexual minority women includes having sex with a man. There is very limited research on this population. Reed et al. (2011a, b) focus on pregnancy among young Black lesbians. They find that those who planned their pregnancies had sex with men to become pregnant and referred to these men as “sperm donors” (Reed et al. 2011b, p. 754). For more research on adolescent pregnancy among LGBQ individuals, see Saewyc (2014). Although existing literature does not address how these individuals think about the law, this is an area for future research. For a discussion of legal issues in terms for LGBQ women who have sex with men to become pregnant, see Polikoff (2010).
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We would like to thank the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Sociology for its financial support that made this research possible.
This study was funded by the Department of Sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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Kazyak, E., Woodell, B. Law and LGBQ-Parent Families. Sexuality & Culture 20, 749–768 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-016-9335-4
- Donor insemination
- Familial relationships
- Same-sex parenting