Fears that children adopted by gay and lesbian couples do less well in life are completely unfounded, according to the first study into how children and parents in non-traditional families fare compared with heterosexual households.
The findings, from the University of Cambridge's Centre for Family Research, will be published in a report by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering tomorrow. Researchers found that gay and lesbian parents are at least as good at coping with the demands of parenting. Children do not suffer any disadvantage, and the vast majority are not bullied at school, but the report warns: "Bullying and teasing are much more of a problem in secondary schools than primary schools; thus, only follow-up will reveal how things turn out in the future."
The experiences of 130 gay, lesbian and heterosexual adoptive families in Britain, with children aged four to eight, were examined – focusing on the quality of family relationships, how parents cope and how children adjust. The study concludes "there was no evidence" to support speculation that children's masculine or feminine tendencies are affected by having gay or lesbian parents. Family life and the quality of relationships are very similar for children regardless of their parents' sexual orientation, it says.
Professor Susan Golombok, director of the Cambridge centre and report co-author, said: "What I don't like is when people make assumptions that a certain type of family, such as gay fathers, will be bad for children. The anxieties about the potentially negative effects for children of being placed with gay fathers seem to be, from our study, unfounded."
Gay men are less likely to have depression, anxiety, stress and relationship problems while coping with parenthood. One reason cited is that "same-sex couples were much less likely to have experienced infertility on their route to parenthood and were more likely to come to adoption as their first choice". In addition, "gay fathers, in particular, are extremely committed to parenting".
The former TV presenter Phil Reay-Smith, who has an adopted son, said: "I'm not at all surprised that gay couples have been found to be just as good adopters as straight adopters are. I look at my own family, which is me, my husband, Michael, and our son, Scott, who is six, and we just have a very boring family life. We haven't had any problems in the playground yet. My main concern is perhaps what happens at secondary school, but my belief is that if we educate him to have the confidence in himself about his family situation, he'll be able to deal with anything that does crop up."
The issue of children being brought up by same-sex parents divides opinion. Welsh Secretary David Jones was condemned last month after claiming that gay couples "clearly" could not provide a "warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children". He has since said he is not opposed to same-sex adopters.
More lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should come forward, said Sir Martin Narey, the Government's adoption adviser. Speaking on the eve of LGBT adoption and fostering week, he said: "I have seen how LGBT people, who tend to come to adoption as their first choice for becoming parents, bring determination and enthusiasm to it. Many more gay adopters need to be encouraged to come forward."