Last week, the University of Melbourne released their findings of a study into the health and wellbeing of children of same-sex couples. The study found that, despite missing a parent of a particular sex, these children were often above average (about 6 per cent better) in physical health and family cohesion than children of the general population.
While this study proves incredibly good ammunition for shooting down anti-marriage equality arguments and the hate speech spouted by the likes of Family Voice Australia (FVA) and Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, when you look into the finer print, it’s really not all that surprising.
Data for studies such as this is extremely difficult to find, particularly given that the census data does not record information like sexual orientation. So this research, like much before it, used convenience sampling, where the study was advertised in forums, and willing participants contacted the researchers.
What makes this study so significant was its much larger size than those that preceded it.
Groups such as FVA claim that children need both a mother and father to grow up into well-rounded individuals. Setting aside the fact that we’ve largely constructed gender differences ourselves, as this excellent video from ABC’s The Checkout shows, these arguments forget that there’s one other pretty important thing children need to grow up healthy in our capitalist society: money.
Raising a child is expensive, no matter who you are or who you have sex with. That said, many same sex couples immediately have the added cost of conception or adoption.
An ABS study from 2007 found that approximately 2.5 per cent of Australia’s babies were not conceived through heterosexual sex, while 80 per cent of the children in this study, lead by Dr Simon Crouch, were conceived through assisted fertility.
It’s pretty clear that those in same sex partnerships more frequently feel the burden of these extra expenses.
The added conception costs point to another key finding in Crouch’s study: the 500 children surveyed tended to be from wealthier families than the average.
In 2011, the average Australian household income was approximately $64,000. 81 per cent of the households in this study were earning above $60,000, with 33 per cent earning above $150,000.
With this kind of money, parents can probably afford to keep their children healthy.
As well as being wealthier than the general population, parents in this study were also generally better educated. 46 per cent of the children had a parent with a postgraduate qualification, well above the nationwide average of 5 per cent. 73 per cent of the children had parents with any form of tertiary education.
Add to this the fact that 77 per cent of respondents lived in metropolitan areas (where access to health and education is substantially better), and it hardly seems surprising that parents who are educated, wealthy and living in the city are more able to keep their kids educated and healthy.
Given these rather important contextual factors, left out of most news stories on the study, it hardly seems surprising that the children of this study have outperformed the general population.
What is important about this study, however, is that it points to a statistically significant gap in access to parenting for same sex couples.
This study tells us that in order to become a parent in a same sex relationship, you need to be wealthy. Your level of education will also no doubt help play a factor in an adoption, and living in a metropolitan area will certainly help that IVF process.
Adoption and IVF processes generally fall under the jurisdiction of states and territories. It is currently still illegal for LGBT couples to jointly adopt in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. These laws have apparently been under review in Queensland and Victoria since 2008 and 2007 respectively, but changes have yet to occur.
The legality of IVF is different for the different genders, which makes things complicated for trans* people. Lesbian couples cannot use IVF in South Australia (unless they’re infertile), as we saw when Penny Wong and partner Sophie Allouache had to go interstate to conceive their child.
An equality of access to IVF bill was introduced to the South Australian parliament in May 2012, but has fallen by the wayside after failing to pass the lower house.
Queensland, under the watchful eye of our beloved Campbell Newman, is looking to roll back the rights of lesbian parents and outlaw IVF in the Sunshine State too.
Gay couples face the same problems with IVF in SA and QLD, and it’s illegal in Western Australia as well.
The Northern Territory doesn’t have laws surrounding IVF for gay men at the moment, which also makes it pretty difficult.
The process for same sex couples to have children is barely legal, and when it is, it’s incredibly expensive. Until access to such services becomes more freely available to all LGBT people, not just those who can afford it, it’s not surprising that data in surveys like this will continue to be skewed.
The study also identified that children of same sex couples are likely to face a certain level of stigma, given their parents’ sexual orientation. Again, hardly surprising given that a huge chunk of the country would still prefer it if same sex couples didn’t have children at all.
The stigma these kids face is not something that can be fixed by their parents’ level of education or wealth. Their parents can’t fix it at all.
This one, as SBS’ Rebecca Shaw points out, is the fault of the (anti-gay) heterosexual parents.
Eliminating stigma faced by these children is the job of the rest of Australia, and making access to parenting legal and equitable would be a good place to start.
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