How do you see lesbian relationships 1


Pia Bergold

To person

Pia Bergold is a graduate psychologist and works at the State Institute for Family Research at the University of Bamberg. There she researches same-sex partnerships and family education.

Dr. Andrea Buschner

To person

Andrea Buschner studied sociology at the Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg. Since June 2006 she has been working as a research assistant at the State Institute for Family Research at the University of Bamberg with a focus on same-sex lifestyles and pluralization of lifestyles and family forms.

Same-sex couples with children are also called "rainbow families" in Germany. Pia Bergold and Andrea Buschner summarize how many people in Germany live in this family form, how the legal framework for starting a family has changed, especially with the opening of marriage, and the results of studies that deal with family coexistence.

Since October 1, 2017, same-sex married couples have been able to adopt strangers' children together. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)


Same-sex couples with children are also called rainbow families in Germany. These represent a relatively rare, albeit very diverse, family form, although an exact estimate of their number is difficult due to the available data [1]. The rainbow families include adoptive and foster families as well as families whose child comes from a heterosexual partnership or was born in the current lesbian relationship by means of insemination, i.e. the artificial transmission of semen (Buschner / Bergold 2017a; Rupp / Dürnberger 2010) . As a representative household survey, the microcensus of the Federal Statistical Office only offers the possibility of estimating the number of same-sex couples with a common household.

In 2016, around 95,000 same-sex couples formed a common household. About one in ten of these partnerships (n ≈ 10,000; 10.5 percent) can be described as a rainbow family in the narrower sense, since at the time of the survey at least one unmarried child lived in the household of the male or female couples [2]. Around 14,000 children in Germany were part of such a rainbow family in 2016 (0.07 percent of all single children in Germany; Federal Statistical Office 2017: p. 140).

In comparison, 7,894,000 different-sex couples and 970,000 unmarried partnerships with unmarried children as well as 2,701,000 single parents formed a family household in the same year (Federal Statistical Office 2017: p. 76f.).

“Marriage for All” - historical development and public discourse

Parents in rainbow families, but also childless lesbian and gay couples and other committed people have persistently fought for equality between same-sex partnerships with opposite-sex partnerships over the past three decades. Since October 1, 2017, two women or two men can marry in Germany. Existing registered civil partnerships can be converted into a marriage. This development represents a milestone in equality. As early as 25 years earlier, gay and lesbian couples demanded access to marriage as part of the "Aktion Standesamt" by going to registry offices all over Germany to order the contingent. After they were refused marriage, some of these 250 or so couples took legal action, which ultimately led to a judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court on October 4, 1993 [3]. It contained a passage that is still quoted by opponents of equality today. At that time, the court counted "the gender difference as one of the defining characteristics of marriage", which is why same-sex couples were (still) denied access to it. The equality critics argued as follows: According to Article 6 of the German Basic Law, marriage and the family are subject to the special protection of the state. Marriage is worth protecting because, as the "nucleus" of society, it is geared towards reproduction - that is, towards children. Marriage, it is further argued, has always represented a connection between man and woman. This means that an important criterion of marriage - the difference between the sexes - is not fulfilled by lesbian and gay couples. Advocates of equality and the opening up of marriage argued even then that the concept of marriage, as used in the constitution, is not clearly defined, but rather is open to interpretation and is therefore subject to change in society.

Introduction of the registered civil partnership in 2001

In 2001, an alternative legal framework for same-sex couples was created with the registered civil partnership - what was then often referred to as "gay marriage". The Civil Partnership Act formed the legal basis for formalized partnerships exclusively for same-sex couples. The registered life partners received almost all duties, but hardly the rights of spouses at the time. In the following years there were numerous adaptations and modifications of laws to bring the civil partnership into line with marriage [4]. Only since 2005 has it been possible, for example, for female couples who have fulfilled a common desire for children for the non-biological mother to adopt the child of their registered partner in a stepchild and thus receive full parental rights and obligations. While registered life partners were taxed like single persons until 2013, they have since been able to benefit from the tax advantages of spouse splitting with income tax. The possibility of successive adoption in 2014 ultimately created legal conditions that came relatively close to joint adoption, since as a result both partners ultimately adopt the child one after the other. However, as long as only one partner has adopted the child, the parent-child relationship with the other parent is not legally secured. If the adoption is carried out successively, the period during which the child legally only has one parent can vary widely. The adoption by the second parent can take place as part of two subsequent legal proceedings or it can only take place months later. These examples illustrate the increasing equality between civil partnerships and marriage, in which the Federal Constitutional Court was significantly involved with its case law.

Change of meaning of the concept of marriage at the Federal Constitutional Court

Parallel to the alignment of registered civil partnerships with marriage, a change in the understanding of the concept of marriage took place at the Federal Constitutional Court as early as 2002. More precisely, it was stated in a judgment: “The Basic Law itself does not contain a definition of marriage, but presupposes it as a special form of human coexistence. (...) The legislature has considerable room for maneuver to determine the form and content of marriage ”[5]. In the spring of 2015 there were signs of a further development towards the opening of marriage when the justice ministries of the federal states passed important resolutions on this topic. They described the legal unequal treatment of marriages and civil partnerships as "no longer acceptable" and considered the opening of marriage in the sense of comprehensive equality to be appropriate and necessary. Finally, they made it clear that opening up marriage to gay and lesbian couples - the so-called "marriage for everyone" - would not require any change to the Basic Law. They justified this with the changed understanding of the constitution. [6]

Friederike Wapler argued similarly in a report [7] that she had prepared in 2015 on behalf of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. According to Wapler, the history of the creation of the Basic Law does not show that the concept of marriage must always be interpreted in terms of a different-sex couple relationship. Rather, the author sees the concept of marriage as open to interpretation and thus adaptable in the course of changes in social conditions and views. She therefore called for marriage to be opened up. For her, marriage and civil partnership represent functionally identical connections. Both form permanent communities of responsibility and solidarity, which, according to her, ultimately constitutes the core of the special protection of marriage and families (cf. Art. 6 GG). The reproductive function of marriage, which is used as an argument by many opponents of equality, was given less importance here. Wapler argues that in view of the increasing number of marriages remaining childless and the increasing number of extramarital births, there is a lack of empirical basis for the argument that marriage is specially designed for the birth of children. Another two years later, in June 2017, the law on opening up marriage to same-sex couples was finally passed in the Bundestag.

Current legal situation for rainbow families

Marriage for All was a big step towards starting a family on an equal footing. Since October 1, 2017, same-sex married couples can adopt other children together - and not one after the other. A legal difference between rainbow families and families with parents of different sexes still exists today in the right of parentage and thus also in the legal protection of children. This mainly affects rainbow families in which a partner is the child's biological parent. Children who are born in a marriage of the opposite sex have two legal parents from birth, even if the wish to have children has been implemented, e.g. by means of a foreign sperm donation. In contrast, children from lesbian insemination families have only one legal parent at the time of their birth, namely the woman who gave birth to them. If mother and father are unmarried in opposite-sex partnerships, the acknowledgment of paternity and the regulation of joint custody can also take place before the child is born, so that these children also have two legal parents at the time of birth. In rainbow families, life partners * and, since October 2017, same-sex spouses * still have to adopt the biological child of their partner (stepchild adoption) in order to legally safeguard an actually existing parent-child relationship with the social mother. This process can take different lengths of time and ultimately ensures that the child only has one legal parent until the process is ended.

Until the opening of marriage in 2017, joint adoption by same-sex couples was one of the last major areas of law in which there were differences from married couples. In order to prevent complete equality, critics increasingly argued, in contrast to the 1990s, with the child's well-being, which may be at risk. They saw the best conditions for children to grow up in families with a father and mother, and expressed various concerns about the development of children in rainbow families. Proponents of equality, and thus also of joint adoption, countered that the equality of lesbian and gay couples with married couples in particular is beneficial to the child's welfare, since only this would provide sufficient legal security for the families and thus also for the children. They also argued that there was no sound research to raise concerns about the child's best interests.

The development of children and adolescents from rainbow families

Previous research on rainbow families has focused heavily on the question of whether children in these families develop as well as children from heterosexual nuclear families. Above all, deviations in the sense of an undesirable development or a deficit were of interest (such as emotional or behavioral problems, low self-esteem, poor school performance, exclusion from the group of peers, etc.). On the other hand, the focus was less on differences between the types of families per se or even the strengths of families with same-sex parents. In the public discussion about rainbow families, fears are also expressed which affect the psychosocial and sexual development of children. Typical prejudices are that children of lesbian mothers or fathers will later become gay or lesbian themselves, that they do not develop adequate gender role behavior or that they are confused about their own gender identity [8]. These fears are particularly expressed about boys from lesbian families. It is assumed that lesbian women generally cannot allow any closeness to men and consequently have a negative attitude towards everything male. There is also the concern that children in lesbian families may lack male gender role models due to the very feminine early education system. It is also argued that these children could be discriminated against because of the sexual orientation of their parents, which in turn could have a negative impact on their (psychological) development.

Gender role behavior, sexual orientation, and gender identity

As Gender role behavior behaviors are understood that are defined as belonging to the male or female gender within a culture. Often times, these are measured in terms of preferred toys, activities, and career aspirations. While with sexual orientation the perceived attraction and the associated choice of sexual partners is meant is below Gender identity to understand self-identification as a man / boy or woman / girl.

Studies show that children and adolescents from rainbow families identify themselves just as often according to their biological gender and feel just as often attracted to the opposite sex as their peers from heterosexual families (Fedewa et al. 2015). Growing up in a rainbow family or the sexual orientation of the parents consequently have no effect on the gender identity or the sexual orientation of the children and adolescents.

With regard to gender role behavior, the findings are not entirely clear. Most studies come to the conclusion that children and adolescents from rainbow families and those from heterosexual families do not differ in terms of their gender role behavior (Bos & Sandfort 2010; Brewaeys et al. 1997; Fulcher, Sutfin & Patterson 2008; Golombok, Spencer & Rutter 1983 ; Hoeffer 1981; Kirkpatrick, Smith & Roy 1981). Other authors sum up that children and adolescents from rainbow families are somewhat less gender stereotyped (Goldberg et al. 2012; Green et al. 1986; MacCallum & Golombok 2004; Sumontha, Farr & Patterson 2017). The meta-analysis by Fedewa et al. (2015), on the other hand, confirms that girls and boys from same-sex families have more traditional gender role behavior, although this finding may have methodological causes [9]. Overall, however, the differences in gender role behavior are small and within the normal range. However, the discussion about gender role behavior, sexual orientation and gender identity shows a strongly heteronormative orientation and illustrates the devaluation of non-heterosexual orientation and transgender people, who are still not viewed as a natural variation of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mental adjustment of children

Due to the significantly higher number of lesbian families, previous studies have mostly compared children and adolescents from lesbian families [10] with those from heterosexual families. The findings make it clear that both types of family offer favorable conditions for children and adolescents to grow up. An analysis of a total of 33 published and unpublished studies between 1979 and 2009 shows that children and adolescents from rainbow families have a slightly better psychological adjustment [11] than their peers from heterosexual families (Fedewa et al. 2015). Accordingly, children and adolescents from same-sex families show fewer behavioral problems and emotional problems than their peers from heterosexual families.

Need for research in studies of families with two fathers

A common objection from critics of same-sex lifestyles concerns the comparatively small number of studies of children growing up with gay fathers. In fact, there is a need for research here, but an analysis by Millers and colleagues (2017) of a total of 10 published and unpublished studies (from 2005) confirms the previous finding. Children and adolescents from gay fathers also do better in terms of their psychological adaptation compared to their peers from heterosexual families (Miller, Kors & Macfie 2017).However, the peculiarities of gay and lesbian parents in the samples should be noted, which may also have a positive effect on the development of the children: For example, the proportion of same-sex couples with a university degree is significantly higher and they have a higher net income than parents of different sexes (Rupp & Dürnberger 2009, Miller, Kors & Macfie 2017). The path to parenthood is also always a conscious process that is linked to high demands and requires a high level of motivation and a high degree of reflection from those involved. The fact that gay and lesbian parenthood is stigmatized can also lead to same-sex parents looking for resources and support, which in turn have a positive effect on the development of the children (an overview of possible positive influencing factors can be found in Miller, Kors & Macfie 2017) . Much more important for the development of children and young people than the sexual orientation of the parents is the quality of family relationships. Factors are, for example, the partnership quality of the parents and their frequency of conflict, the stress experience in the role of parents, the bond and the emotional bond between parent and child (see e.g. Becker-Stoll & Beckh 2009; Farr 2017; Wainright & Patterson, 2006, 2008 ; Wainright, Russell & Patterson 2004). According to the current state of knowledge, the question of whether boys in particular need a male role model in order to develop mentally healthy can also be answered in the negative. According to the adolescents themselves and the mothers, there are no significant differences in terms of psychological adjustment between girls and boys who grow up with or without a male gender role model (Bos et al. 2012).

Discrimination experiences and their effects

But what about the feared effects of possible experiences of discrimination that children from rainbow families could be exposed to due to the sexual orientation of their parents? Results so far indicate that children and adolescents from rainbow families are attacked and discriminated against as often as their peers from heterosexual families (Rivers, Poteat & Noret, 2008; Takser & Golombok 1995; Wainright & Patterson 2006). In contrast to children from different-sex families, however, they were more often said to be homosexual themselves (Tasker & Golombok 1995). In Germany, almost every second young person from a same-sex family reports about such experiences. These usually come from people of the same age, often take the form of insults or exclusion from groups and take place mainly in the school context (Becker-Stoll & Beckh 2009). As a result, negative effects on the well-being and mental health of children and adolescents were demonstrated in several studies. Although discrimination is a risk factor for development, the scores of these children and adolescents were comparable to others. This indicates possible protective factors. National and international studies have shown that the effects of such negative experiences through a good relationship with peers and the family (van Gelderen et al. 2013) as well as through an emotionally secure relationship with the biological parent (Becker-Stoll & Beckh 2009; Buschner & Bergold 2017b) can be weakened or even offset. LGBT curricula in schools (Bos et al. 2008), the participation of mothers in the lesbian-gay community (Bos et al. 2008) and frequent contact with children from other rainbow families (Bos & van Balen 2008) have proven to be additional protective factors ) proved.


The studies of the last decades show that it is not the family structures per se (one-parent vs. parent-couple; same-sex vs. opposite-sex) that are decisive for the development of children, but the processes within the family, i.e. the quality of the relationships between the individuals Family members. These can be just as beneficial as they can be a hindrance - for children in all types of families.

Despite the fact that marriage has now also opened up to same-sex couples, a closer look at rainbow families makes it clear that there is still a need for legal action in the case of family forms that do not correspond to the classic nuclear family of father, mother and biological children in terms of their origins and their composition. In its final report published in 2017, the working group on the law of parentage of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection also raises the question of "whether the current law of parentage still adequately does justice to current realities, because the diversity of today's family constellations and the possibilities of reproductive medicine pose considerable challenges" (BMJV 2017: p. 1). The difficulties arise from multiple parenthood, which affects other types of families in addition to the rainbow family. Even in step families and blended families, as well as in families that were created with the help of sperm or egg donation, the bio-genetic parents are not automatically legal or social parents (Bergold et al. 2017). As a result, the question arises for these families as to which rights and obligations social parents are endowed with and how possible discrepancies between legal and social parenthood are dealt with in everyday life. For the legislature, a challenge can be to coordinate legal parenting, including the applicable regulations regarding care and behavior, with social parenting, i.e. actual parental participation and the assumption of responsibility in the most varied of family forms.


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