Study: States with anti-gay adoption laws have more mental health issues

Gay and lesbian couples who adopt children and live in states with anti-gay adoption laws are more susceptible to mental health issues in their first year as parents than those living in more accepting states, according to a new study.

Published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the study showed that same-sex couples with children who are more supported by their family, workplace and neighbors had reported better mental health than those who did not.

The study, co-authored by Clark University assistant professor Dr. Abbie Goldberg and University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Center for Research on Families methodological consultant JuliAnna Smith, is said to be the first to measure changes in anxiety and depression in same-sex couples during the first 12 months of adoptive child-rearing.

Fifty-two lesbian couples and 38 gay male couples were interviewed at three times over the first year of parenting an adopted child.

In Utah, any “person who is cohabiting in a relationship that is not in a legally valid and binding marriage” is prohibited from adopting children. This includes heterosexual couples, though those couples have the option of legally marrying to appease the law.

An effort to change that law had been tabled earlier this year by a committee of the Utah State House of Representatives.

Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah have laws or policies restricting same-sex couples or unmarried couples from adopting. Many states, or jurisdictions within them, restrict second-parent adoptions, similar to Utah.

The report said that internalized homophobia caused a more severe change in mental health in states with negative attitudes about homosexuality.

“Our findings provide compelling evidence regarding the importance of considering the role of both enacted and internalized forms of stigma in sexual minorities’ mental health—particularly during the transition to parenthood,” Goldberg and Smith wrote in the report. “Interestingly, persons who reported high levels of homophobia and lived in states with unfavorable legal climates started out with high levels of depressive symptoms and showed the most dramatic increases in depressive and anxious symptoms over time.”

The study showed that parenthood tended to “render individuals’ sexuality more visible,” which would be “disconcerting for individuals who are not comfortable with their sexuality and who also live in communities that are intolerant of sexual minorities.”

“In contrast,” the report continued, “individuals with high levels of internalized homophobia who lived in states with favorable legal climates actually experienced decreases in depressive symptoms across the transition.”

Goldberg and Smith wrote that “counselors working with sexual minorities should be mindful of, and should possibly explore directly, the role of the broader legal context on sexual minorities’ mental health. Furthermore, these findings suggest that counselors should consider their states’ legal climate alongside their clients’ level of comfort with their sexuality, as the two may interact in important ways.”

The study was the first to interview gay male adoptive parents, but mirrored findings published in the Journal of Homosexuality last month by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State’s Family Acceptance Project.

Ryan spoke of her research in January at a conference organized by the Utah Pride Center, as well as earlier conferences hosted by Affirmation and the Sunstone Symposium.

The full report can be found at http://bit.ly/eu679D

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