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Gay Parents

Becoming Parents And Negotiating Parenthood

Gay males become parents for a variety of reasons and through a number of means (Patterson and Chan 1996). The largest percentage of gay male Jon Holden (left), and his partner, Michael Galluccio (right), holding their adopted son Adam. In the United States between one and two million gay men are parents. AP WIDE WORLD PHOTOS parents in the United States constitutes divorced men who entered into a heterosexual marriage and had children prior to publicly declaring themselves as gay. Such men report entering into marriage because they loved their spouses, wanted to have children, and desired to live a married life, and because of social and familial expectations or pressures. Some hoped marriage to a woman would diminish or dispel emerging or present homosexual identities and desires. Others became aware of their homosexual identity only after having married. The majority of marriages between gay males and heterosexual females eventually end in divorce, and courts have, in such cases, historically granted child custody to the mother. Cultural beliefs that female and heterosexual parents are more fit parents have dominated custody decisions. Still, gay fathers are sometimes awarded custody of their children and serve as the primary caretakers. Others may live with a variety of visitation arrangements. In instances where gay fathers lose custody of their children, establishing a gay male identity may take place in conjunction with a painful grieving process.

Besides heterosexual marriage or sexual encounters, gay men may become parents through adoption, surrogacy, and joint parenthood with a woman or women (Patterson and Chan 1996). Adoption of children by individuals of a sexual minority status falls into two categories: stranger adoption and second-parent adoption. Stranger adoptions occur when unrelated adoptive parents take children in as their own because the biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for offspring. Second-parent adoptions take place when only one member of the couple is the legal or biological parent of a child or children, and the second couple member wishes to pursue adoption of the child(ren) as a means of legally recognizing the relationship between that parent and the child(ren) (Patterson, Fulcher, and Wainright 2000). Internationally, the majority of countries deny legal adoption rights to people who identify themselves as lesbian or gay, and if one member of the couple adopts or has birth children, his partner is not given parental rights (Savin-Williams and Esterberg 2000).

Surrogacy is another avenue to parenthood for some gay males. This method involves fathering a child with a surrogate mother, often through sperm donation by a member of a couple. Frequently, the couple makes a contract with the birth mother to relinquish her parental rights and responsibilities, making the father the legal parent (Patterson and Chan 1996). In gay male couples who become parents through these means, the nonbiological parent may eventually seek adoption of the child via the process described above.

Joint conception and rearing of a child or children with a woman or women is another way for gay males to become parents. Such individuals may enter an agreement in which one member of a gay male couple donates sperm, which is used to inseminate a lesbian or heterosexual woman who is either single or in a committed relationship. In quadra-parenting, children brought into the world in this manner may split their time between the two homes (Patterson and Chan 1996). All of the parents together negotiate the specific arrangements.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsGay Parents - Gay Relationships And Legal Matters, Gay Fathers As A Distinct Group, Becoming Parents And Negotiating Parenthood