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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

A Parent's Life A Parent's Life

Same-Sex Parenting and Marriage -- What the Experts Say

November 18, 2013

By Claire McCarthy M.D.

Boston Children's Hospital

When it comes to the well-being of children, the sexual orientation of their parents really doesn't matter. What matters is that they have parents who have the financial and emotional resources to care for them. 

That's the bottom line of a policy statement about same-sex marriage issued in the spring of 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It follows an AAP report from 2006 that said essentially the same thing. 

You may wonder why a medical organization would weigh in on an issue like this. After all, same-sex parenting is controversial. Many people believe that same-sex relationships are wrong. They are upset by the idea of children being raised by same-sex parents. 

But no matter how one feels about that, the fact is that more than 2 million children are currently being raised by same-sex parents. And there are millions of children in foster homes who need homes. So the experts wanted to know: Is being raised by same-sex parents bad for children? 

The answer, in study after study, is no. 

What children need, say the studies, is a stable home, preferably with two parents who are committed to each other and have adequate financial resources. (This is more likely when parents are married, which is why the AAP supports same-sex marriage). They need nurturing and consistency. They do better when they are connected to extended family and to community resources.  

Sexual orientation simply doesn't matter. Compared to children raised by opposite-sex parents, children raised by same-sex parents:

  • Do not have more mental health problems or social problems
  • Are not more likely to be gay
  • Are equally healthy
  • Do just as well in school 

Marriage affords children certain legal rights. Legally married parents can make medical decisions that affect a child. And marriage can affect the ability to get medical insurance and other benefits. 

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court's action extended the protections and benefits to the children of same-sex couples. 

Ultimately, no matter what one believes about sexual orientation, this is about families. Children need families. Children deserve families. And children are growing up in all sorts of different families right now—some of them traditional, some of them far from traditional. 

The best thing we can do for children, says the AAP, is support those families.

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Boston, and medical director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, a neighborhood health service of Children's Hospital. She is a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications.

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