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Life that Matters: Same sex parenting — a challenge that haunts the new age

Life that Matters: Same sex parenting — a challenge that haunts the new age
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By Vanita Srivastava  Mar 14, 2023 2:18:53 PM IST (Updated)

The legal recognition of same-sex relationships has been a critical step forward in advancing equal marriage rights for sexual and gender minorities. Several studies and research have been done on the children with the same-sex couple. As a five-judge bench of India's Supreme Court is to hear several petitions seeking legalisation of same-sex marriage as a constitutional case soon and also in the wake of Indian government's stand opposing the legalisation, our columnist Vanita Srivastava looks at the issue in a broader perspective, including the issues associated with the same-sex parenting.

Over the last several decades there have been many changes in legislation and social attitudes towards same-sex relationships and marriage. Many countries have moved forward from criminalisation of same sex relations to providing a support system that allows them to formally marry and adopt children.

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Public debate opposing same-sex marriage has been growing amidst concerns on the growth of a child in this set up. There has always been a social, cultural, political and legal divide on the subject of same-sex family and there is an ongoing debate on whether the sexual orientation of the parents affect the family growth.
Although the number of children in families with the same-sex parents has increased same sex parenting continues to remain a controversial topic around the world.
Some studies have shown that children of the same-sex parents do not face adverse outcomes. However, some studies, have shown contradictory results.
The opponents have been arguing that same-sex parenting is harmful for children maintaining that child’s biological mother and father play a vital and distinct role in raising a child. They have justified their claims by arguing that same-sex marriage would be harmful to children and would undermine the strength of the family as an institution.
Proponents, on the other hand have however argued their views saying that research did not support the claim that there were differences in child outcomes.
They feel that the sexual orientation and gender identity of parents are far less important to children’s outcomes and development as compared to what happens within families, such as quality of parenting and family relationships.
Legalising Same-Sex Marriage in India?
In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India had decriminalised homosexuality. After the judgement, there was an uproar arguing that India was imbibing a western culture. One of the main argument against it was that defied the Indian cultural values.
The road from decriminalisation to seeking legalisation of same-sex marriage has been swift.
In 2020, a couple of public interest litigations (PILs) were filed in the Delhi and Kerala high courts for the legalisation of homosexual marriage. The petitions were later submitted in the Supreme Court which in turn asked the Indian government to put their case forward.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Monday, the Centre has argued that ‘despite the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the petitioners cannot claim a fundamental right for the same sex marriage to be recognised under the laws. The affidavit contended that the same sex marriage was incompatible with the concept of an Indian family unit.
While opposing legal recognition for same sex marriages, the Central government has submitted before the Supreme Court that the concept of marriage between a man and a woman is deeply embedded in religious and societal norms and any interface with this will cause a complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country and in accepted societal values. It has asserted that the court should refrain from recognising the same-sex marriages.
The Centre has spelt out that the same sex marriage will make it difficult to implement various laws pertaining to adoption, maintenance, and any recognition over and above the conventional relationship of marriage between a man and woman would cause ‘irreconcilable violence’ to the language of the statute.
The Supreme Court said that a five-judge bench will start hearing final arguments over granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages on April 18, proceedings of which will be live-streamed on its website and Youtube.
Global Studies
The issue of same sex marriage has many times sparked emotional and political clashes between the supporters and the opponents. While there have been legalising of the same sex marriage at various national and subnational levels, in some regions, measures have been adopted to prevent same sex marriage from being sanctioned or laws enacted that failed to give recognition to these marriages.
In 1989, Denmark was the first country in the world to introduce a law allowing same-sex partnership registration. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage in all 50 states, ending more than a decade of legal battles.
In contesting this issue, a growing number of governments around the world are considering whether to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages. There are currently 32 countries where same-sex marriage is legal: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Uruguay.
The legal recognition of same-sex relationships has been a critical step forward in advancing equal marriage rights for sexual and gender minorities. Several studies and research have been done on the children with the same-sex couple.
According to a recent research published in BMJ Global Health done by researchers in the US and China, children with gay, lesbian, transgender or other sexual minority parents fare as well as, or better than, children with parents of the opposite sex.
The research notes that in countries and regions where same sex relationships are legalised, most of the family outcomes are similar between sexual minority and heterosexual families and sexual minority families have even better outcomes in some domains. The sexual minority families may experience some additional stressors related to their sexual minority status.
The quantitative synthetic results suggested that sexual minority families may perform better in children’s psychological adjustment and parent-child relationship than heterosexual families.
The review study has its own set of limitations including an overestimation of the pooled estimates. The finding cannot be universally applicable as it is drawn from research conducted in areas where same-sex relationships have been legalised.
Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin published a study  in 2012 that claimed that people raised by same-sex parents experienced worse health and socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood than people raised by different-sex parents.
Another research study published in the American Sociological Review in 2020 from Netherlands said that children raised by same-sex parents from birth perform better academically than children raised by different sex couples. The researchers from the University of Oxford (UK) and Maastricht University (the Netherlands) claimed that children with same-sex parents outperform others at both primary and secondary school levels.
The study reviewed the administrative longitudinal data of 2971 children with same-sex parents in the Netherlands, which was the first country to legalise the same-sex marriage. Exactly 2786 children’s parents were lesbian couples, while 185 children had gay male couples as parents.
The data included all children born between 1998 and 2007 and their academic performance was tracked until 2019.
Long, Bumpy Road
Unlike many heterosexual parents’ children, lesbian and gay parents’ children face greater prejudice because of the sexual orientation of their parents.
The global studies that have been done in the past have various shortcomings. They are either very low sample sizes or they are restricted to a specific time, which means they could not arrive at a conclusion over a longer period of time since birth.
More global studies on a wider sample and broader time period needs to done to arrive at a valid conclusion. Most of the current literature relies heavily on small selective samples or samples that are based on cross sectional survey data. Although widely used in policy debates, research on children’s outcomes when raised by same-sex parents mostly relies on small selective samples or samples based on cross-sectional survey data. This has led to a lack of statistical data.
Various studies have broadened the understanding of parenting and child development. While the studies have shown that parents sexual orientation is not in itself an important determinant of children’s development, there is a strong stigma and poor social support.
The law in India only recognizes heterosexual marriages and children of same sex marriages are kept out of legal and social recognitions.
Another challenge for India is the limited recognition of LGTBQ+ rights and accessibility to laws and rules. If the same sex marriage gets a legal recognition in India, it would mean a restructuring of many Indian laws. This again will be an extremely challenging task.
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