About 11% of gay men and 33% of gay women in Australia have children. Most report that the biggest problem they face 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 of same-sex parenting all over Australia.
Kelly and Marie Anne have two children – Isabella, aged six, and Massimo, aged four. They live in Mullumbimby, New South Wales.
‘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 might 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, 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!’
Same-sex parenting at a glance
- In 2011, there were 33 714 same-sex de facto relationships or couples in Australia. Approximately 12% of same-sex couples are parenting a child.
- In 2011, 6300 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.
Challenges of same-sex parenting
When it comes to parenting, the challenges are the same, whether you’re same-sex parents or not. 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.
There might be additional challenges for same-sex parents, though. Same-sex parents can face problems to do with being accepted and supported within society. This is improving as same-sex parenting becomes more visible in today’s wider variety of family structures.
Fears and concerns
If you’re 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 might be concerned about what others say about their family and might feel different from their peers with a mum and dad living in the same household. Same-sex parents might also be concerned about how their children will be affected by growing up in a household of same-sex parents.
Same-sex parents might feel there is a lack of support and acceptance for their family and their role as parents.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing same-sex couples is prejudice, both on a personal level and an institutional level – for example, the lack of support groups, services or legislation.
In addition, the non-biological parent might not get enough recognition for being the ‘other parent’.
Children might be singled out by their peers, or teachers might be insensitive to their situation. Their prejudice might be expressed by blaming the children’s same-sex parents for any trouble.
Meeting the challenges
If you’re in a same-sex relationship and worried that your children will be bullied or teased, you can help them by pointing out the things you think are special or positive in 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 about educating 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 LGBTI member organisations in each state and territory as well as other services that can provide advice and support to same-sex parents.