A new Drexel University study shows that judges are still biased when deciding custody cases involving gay parents.
Researchers say that custody decisions are often marred by discrimination based on sexual orientation—without the first priority remaining what’s best for the children.
“By allowing the research to influence legal decision-making in this area, our society can help ensure that the best interest of the children whose custody is at issue will be served,” said graduate student Emily Haney-Caron in a press release.
The study, published last month in the first issue of the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, a new journal from the American Psychological Association, gives recommendations to mental health professionals, judges, and lawmakers to ensure decisions that are fair to children. Psychologists and judges need to be familiar with current laws and research on the subject and keep personal biases at bay, while legislators should enact laws that would prevent judges from taking a parent’s sexual orientation into account when deciding custody cases.
There isn’t a wide pool of research on gay and lesbian parents, the study acknowledges, but the studies that do exist show no difference from heterosexual parents in matters of a child’s development. The study does not extend to bisexual parents as there is little research and custody battles to draw from.
Psychology professor and researcher Kirk Heilbrun says that the legal system needs to catch up to the changing nature of families in today’s society.
"There’s been a sea-change within the past five to 10 years – several states are currently going through the process of legalizing same-sex marriage – and a by-product of that change is that there are more people in same-sex relationships that have been legitimized by society,” Heilbrun said in the press release. “This means that there are also more children involved in custody disputes where one parent is in a same-sex relationship. This has become an increasingly relevant issue and one that needs to be addressed.”
“As our views as a society change, we want our courts to reflect that,” said Haney-Caron. “Our legal system should reflect the values and the realities that we hold.”