Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gays lead the way in relationships and parenting -- Queer Lesbian Gay Families --

Gays lead the way in relationships and parenting -- Queer Lesbian Gay Families --

Gays lead the way in relationships and parenting

by Beth Dreher

On the website of the Christian conservative group Family Research Council, Timothy J. Dailey, Ph.D, writes, "A growing body of research indicates that in key respects homosexual and lesbian relationships are radically different than married couples."

Turns out, Dailey's right: According to studies from the University of Washington, the Rockway Institute and several other reputable research centers, gay and lesbian relationships are different. In some ways, they're actually better. In one study published in the Journal of Homosexuality, for example, researchers observed 40 gay couples' and 40 straight couples' interactions and found a distinct difference in the way the groups approached conflict discussions.

"Heterosexual couples are more likely than same-sex couples to begin conflict discussions in a harsh or aggressive way," says Robert-Jay Green, Ph.D, a distinguished professor of psychology at Alliant International University in California and a leading expert on gay and lesbian couple/family relationships. According to Green, a harsh way to begin a conversation about family finance might be "What the hell is this credit charge for a $300 necklace? Do you think I'm made out of money?" A more sensitive start, says Green, would be, "Hey, I noticed there was a credit-card charge for a $300 necklace. I'm worried that we're spending beyond our budget, and that we're not saving enough for those other plans we have. Can we talk some more about that?"

In many cases, an underlying feeling of equality within same-sex relationships explains the more positive communication tone.

"I think that by being the same sex, gay and lesbian couples are more likely to feel entitled to be treated more equally in the relationship" says Green. "There's also research showing that the partner who earns more money tends to have more power in the relationship.

"In a lot of heterosexual relationships, husbands earn more than wives, and in many ways men still have more say in decisions, whereas women have been socialized to defer to their husbands in order to avoid conflict. This leaves women tending to feel resentful and angry in many conflict discussions and leaves men tending to act domineering and controlling."

"Same-sex partners, on the other hand, are more likely to earn similar incomes and expect to be treated as equals in the relationship," Green says.

Brad Harvey, a culinary content manager for, who lives with his partner, Brad Kelley, and their kids, Cece and Rolla, in Oakland, Calif., agrees with that notion.

"We've been together for 15 years, so we've figured out how to resolve conflict without yelling or hurting each other's feelings," Harvey says. "I'm not sure we have any tools or approaches that straight couples don't have access to, but we aren't so tied down to the traditional roles and responsibilities that seem to dog a lot of straight relationships. It gives us a certain freedom and flexibility."

Flexibility and equality also carry over into same-sex couples' experiences as parents. In her extensive summary of studies on same-sex parents and their children, Charlotte J. Patterson, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, reports that gay and lesbian parents divide household and family labor more evenly than heterosexual parents.

"There's no preordained cultural script for same-sex couples about who is supposed to do what in relation to child care," says Green. "But for heterosexual couples raising children, there is a powerful script. Mothers are still expected to do the bulk of the feeding, diapering, etc."

"The division of labor in our family is based on skill set and time available," says Emilia Rastrick, who lives with her partner, Kelley Collings, and their two daughters in Philadelphia. "We're very flexible with our roles -- laundry and cooking for the kids are done by whoever has more time that week."

Patterson's review also showed that lesbian parents had more positive interactions with their kids than did heterosexual parents. And, interestingly, very few lesbian or gay parents reported using physical punishment to discipline their kids.

But at the end of the day, says Green, there are some excellent and not-so-excellent heterosexual partners and parents, and the same can be said of lesbian and gay partners and parents. As men and women in heterosexual couples increasingly value equality in their relationships and see its long-term benefits for both partners -- as homosexual couples do -- they will be more likely to relate as equals.

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