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More than 12% of same-sex couples are parenting a child. Most report that the biggest problem they have is discrimination, either against them or their children. Read about one same-sex couple who are raising two children on the NSW north coast, and about the challenges faced by gay parents all over Australia.

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Kelly and Marie Anne have two children: Isabella, aged six, and Massimo, aged four. They live in Mullumbimby, New South Wales.

Kelly
‘We were in a relationship for several years and we both decided we wanted to have children. We weren’t that fussed about who had the children, it just so happened that I was considerably older and we felt that Marie Anne’s family had to be eased into the situation. We’ve had two children, one each, to the same sperm donor. But we don’t make biological distinctions – they are both our kids and we’re both their mummies. They know whose tummy they came out of, and that Dave is their donor dad and they have an older sister, Ruby, but other than that, in their family they have two mummies.

‘Once the babies came along, it changed things with our families considerably. Grandparents want interaction with their grandchildren and our relationships were then greatly improved with Marie Anne’s family. Her background is non-Anglo and they’re strict Catholics. It took a long time for them to warm to our relationship, but the kids really helped. My family still experiences a level of fear. They still have a fair way to go, but they’re doing their best. After all, there are so many diverse family structures nowadays – ours is just one.

‘The children have contact with their dad – he’s in Melbourne with Ruby. In the future we might move back to Melbourne or they may want to spend more time with their extended family. The situation is open and we’re just going to leave it up to them when they’re older.

‘One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of legal recognition of a same-sex relationship. Things like being on the same Medicare card, small things that people take for granted. If we could legally recognise our relationship and therefore our children within that relationship, then things would be much simpler. But we’re currently not allowed to do that in New South Wales.

‘The other thing is the way people view same-sex families. We live in a small country town – homophobia is the same everywhere, people find difference a challenge. But we do an enormous amount for the schools and we are very involved in the community. I think this is helpful for the community; they know we’re a two-mummy family and the children are very open about that. People soon realise we’re just a pretty average family – what makes us special isn’t our family structure, but just us!’

Share your ideas and experiences with other same-sex parents in our discussion forums.

At a glance

  • In 2011, there were 32,365 same-sex de facto relationships/couples in Australia. Approximately 12% of same-sex couples are parenting a child.
  • In 2011, 6,120 children were living with same sex couples. Of these, 89% were same-sex female couples.
  • Research shows no differences in the outcomes for children of heterosexual parents and same-sex parents.

The challenges

When it comes to parenting, the challenges are the same, whether you’re same-sex parents or not. Having said this, there may be additional challenges for same-sex parents. Same-sex parents can face problems to do with being accepted and supported within society; however, this is improving as same-sex parented families become more visible as part of today’s wider variety of family structures.

Fears and concerns
If you’re now in a same-sex relationship but your children were born in a previous heterosexual relationship, you might worry about losing custody, or fear that courts will favour heterosexual parents. If you have children through donor insemination, you might have to consider additional issues, such as your children perhaps wondering about who their donor father is.

Children growing up in same-sex parented families may be concerned about what others might say about their family, and may feel different from their peers who have a mum and dad living in the same household. Same-sex parents may also be concerned with how their children will be affected by growing up in a household of same-sex parents. Parents may feel there is a lack of support and acceptance for their family form and their role as parents.

Prejudice
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing same-sex couples is prejudice, either on a personal level or an institutional level (such as a lack of support groups, services or legislation).

In addition, the non-biological parent might not get enough recognition for being the ‘other parent’.

Children may be singled out by their peers, or teachers might be insensitive to their situation; their prejudice may be expressed by blaming the children’s same-sex parents for any trouble.

Meeting the challenges
Same-parent families encounter challenges similar to other families. For example, same-sex couples with children from one partner’s previous marriage have a lot of the same problems as step-parents in heterosexual relationships, as well as some very different ones.

If you’re in a same-sex relationship you might worry your children will be bullied or teased for being different from other families. You can help your children by pointing out the things you think are special or that are positive aspects of your family arrangement. You can also talk to them about discrimination and help them think about why people tease or bully others.

You can help your child’s school or community understand more by:

  • suggesting children’s books that deal with the issues for the school library
  • talking to your child’s teacher so they can help to educate other children about your family structure

Being part of a support group with your children can help them feel part of a larger social network, and they can develop bonds with other children of same-sex relationships. Being part of a wider gay community can help children feel they fit in somewhere, even if they’re having problems at school.

For further help

National LGBTI Health Alliance is a national organisation promoting the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The website has links to member organisations in each state and territory as well as other services which can provide advice and support to same-sex parents.

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  • Last Updated 03-01-2011
  • Last Reviewed 15-05-2006
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). Family characteristics and transitions, Australia, 2006-2007, Cat no. 4442.0. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4442.0Main+Features12006-07?OpenDocument

    Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012-2013. Cat. no. 2071.0. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features852012-2013 

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