The 2000 U. S. Census Bureau revealed that there were 601,209 same-sex families, with approximately 301,000 gay male households and 293,000 lesbian households, in the United States (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). However, it is estimated that actual numbers are significantly higher, because many gays and lesbians may be uncomfortable reporting their sexual orientation on the census forms.

Many gay and lesbian couples become parents, and they cite most of the same rea­sons for wanting to be parents that straight parents do (Bigner & Jacobsen, 1989). Fearing that same-sex parents might “make their children homosexual” or at least pro­mote sex-role confusion, courts have often granted heterosexual parents more custody than same-sex parents. Research has found no significant differences between the off­spring of lesbian and straight mothers, including their children’s sexual orientation (Golombok & Tasker, 1996; Hicks, 2005). (See the accompanying Personal Voices, “Same-Sex Parents.”) Yet some courts assume that lesbian mothers are emotionally un­stable or unable to assume a maternal role. All of the scientific evidence suggests that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents do as well emotionally, cognitively, socially, and sexually as do children from heterosexual parents (Perrin,

2002) .

Lesbian couples may become pregnant through intercourse or artificial insemina­tion. It is not uncommon, in fact, for lesbians to ask gay friends to donate sperm for that purpose. However, gay male couples who want children do not have that option.

Some gay men and lesbian women have tried to adopt children, but many are re­fused adoption because of their homosexuality. Three states, Florida, Mississippi, and Utah, specifically bar homosexuals from adopting; several other states make it very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt (Price, 2001). Gay and lesbian adoptions are le­gal in California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Some gay men have tried finding surrogate mothers to bear their children, whom they then adopt, but that can be very expensive, and surrogate mothers are difficult to find in general. Some organizations, such as PFLAG and LAMBDA (a national organization committed to the civil rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals), support gay and lesbian parents and are helping to make it easier for homosexuals to adopt.

Gay and lesbian couples encounter many problems that heterosexual parents do not face. Because same-sex marriages are not yet legally recognized nationally in the United States, gay couples may have trouble gaining joint custody of a child, and employers may not grant nonbiological parents parental leave or benefits for the child. A gay or lesbian couple may also experience discrimination and disapproval from family, friends, and the community. For the most part, our society assumes a heterosexist view of parenting. For example, most official forms ask about mothers and fathers (not mothers and mothers, or fathers and fathers). Yet gay and lesbian couples today are creating new kinds of fam­ilies, and the social system is going to have to learn how to deal with them.