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Families & the Community

Study Paints Statistical Portrait of Same-Sex Parents in America

By Karla Scoon Reid — May 01, 2015 2 min read
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While the nation waits to learn how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage, recent research suggests that at least 145,000 American school-age children have same-sex parents.

An analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the National Health Interview Survey from 2013 by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that, overall, about 122,000 same-sex couples were raising almost 210,000 children under age 18.

I wrote about the Williams Institute study, which was released in March, for an Education Week story published earlier this week. Gary J. Gates, the report’s author and the research director at the Williams Institute, told me that even if the Supreme Court justices legalize same-sex marriage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all same-sex couples will get married.

However, he did say same-sex couples with children are more likely to marry. His research found that in the District of Columbia and the states where same-sex couples could legally marry at the time the data was collected in 2013, the parents of 51 percent of the children being raised by same-sex couples were married. (Examine more data from the study here.)

While schools have always served same-sex, couple-headed families, Gates said those same-sex parents who had either “stayed under the radar” or appeared to be a single-parent family because they were unmarried could become more visible at their children’s school in the future.

Polly Pagenhart said her children represented 90 percent of the reason that she married her longtime partner in California in 2008. Pagenhart told me in an interview last week that her “heart would be shredded” if something tore her away from their son and daughter. (Pagenhart’s spouse is the biological parent of both children.)

Pagenhart is the director of family programs for the San Francisco-based Our Family Coalition, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender family advocacy and education group. Although California lawmakers have passed strong laws protecting LGBT students and families in recent years, she said the application of those laws on a school-district level varies.

Meanwhile, research conducted by the New York-city based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN in 2008, showed that the majority of same-sex couples send their children to public school. The survey also found that a higher percentage of same-sex couples send their children to non-religious, independent private schools than their different-sex counterparts. They also are more likely to seek schools with a diverse, multicultural student enrollment.

“We found that almost 50 percent of LGBT parents said they specifically sought out the school before enrolling their children,"Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN’s chief strategy and research officer, told me earlier this week.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.