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Gay parents are more equal than others


Adele Horin

Dividing household and parenting responsibilities is not an issue ... Dale Newman, left, and Alison Rutherford with ...

Dividing household and parenting responsibilities is not an issue ... Dale Newman, left, and Alison Rutherford with Rafael. The women also share the breadwinning role. Photo: Nick Moir

ALISON RUTHERFORD is a little surprised that so many women she meets complain about their husbands' ineptness around the house.

It is not a problem she experiences with her same-sex partner, Dale Newman, who is the co-parent of three-year-old Rafael.

''There's a female culture of husband bashing which is quite alien to me,'' she said.

Same-sex parents, research shows, are significantly more egalitarian than heterosexual parents in the way they divide household tasks and parenting responsibilities.

With lesbian couples, the mother who carries the baby and breastfeeds it is not assumed to be the parent who will stay at home or be the main nurturer. In fact little can be assumed and everything must be negotiated when couples do not have gender roles to fall back on.

The findings, from the Work, Love and Play study which compared the experience of 317 same-sex parents - including 27 men - and 958 heterosexual parents, challenges the notion that biology is destiny.

''It is not uncommon for the biological capacity of mothers - childbearing, breastfeeding, nurturing - to be used as the rationale for women's more limited participation in the workforce and their primary role as homemaker,'' says Jennifer Power, of La Trobe University, a co-author. But among lesbian couples, generally both women take on a mothering role, regardless of who gave birth, and both tend to take on the work role. In other cases, the women changed roles over time.

The study found that compared with heterosexual parents, both same-sex parents are much more likely to be working part time. Only 6 per cent of Australian couples with children under the age of 15 have neither parent working full time, compared with 23 per cent of lesbian couples.

Perhaps because of the extraordinary effort gay people must go to to have children, spending time with them is a big priority for both parents, the study found.

As a result, both partners tend to take responsibility for generating income and for all household tasks. ''Sharing roles means each partner develops empathy for what the other is doing,'' said the study, published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy.

Dr Rutherford, 41, from the school of public health and community medicine at the University of NSW, and Ms Newman, 47, a freelance illustrator, have been together 11 years. The planning and making of Rafael took four years, Ms Newman said.

Though Dr Rutherford was the main breadwinner, she was the more determined to have children and is Rafael's biological mother.

She took six months' maternity leave before returning to work three days a week. Then Ms Newman, who works from home, did more of the parenting.

The decision to live on two part-time incomes until Rafael started school was fairly easy. ''We're older parents, we'll only have one child, and five years is not a huge chunk of our lives,'' Dr Rutherford said.

While their closest friends are a heterosexual couple both of whom work part time, most parents of preschoolers they encounter are in more traditional relationships where women complain that their husbands do not do enough housework.

''I get jealous that the women don't have to be breadwinners as well as mothers, so there's always something to complain about,'' Dr Rutherford said.

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  • I guess the next logical step is to ban heterosexual couples from having and raising children. This reminds me of a seminar in Melbourne a couple of years back, where people were advocating removing word's from our vocabulary that discriminated against same sex parent's. Word's like, mum, dad, mummy daddy et al. Who exactly pays for this research, oh thats right, we do.

    St Kilda
    Date and time
    December 29, 2010, 9:41AM
    • Utter Crap

      Date and time
      December 29, 2010, 9:49AM
      • It sounds like the ideal way to bring up kids. I think mainstream 'nuclear families' are way too focussed on full time work and unbalanced and unfair gender roles in the home, at the expense of our health, wellbeing and family lives, including our relationships with our kids. This family seems to have found a wonderful balance that can only be good for their child.

        Date and time
        December 29, 2010, 10:13AM
        • Simply appalling.

          Bring on The Great Chastisement I say. The poor lad in this photo - if it reflects the article will sooner rather than later realise that he and his "family" is extremely unusual.

          He will be mercilessly tormented and I imagine seriously contemplate suicide and self harm before he is into high school.

          An absolutely disgraceful situation - the nation is in peril.

          The Observer
          Date and time
          December 29, 2010, 10:14AM
          • More equal? So straight parents are disadvantaging their kids now?

            I guess when "gender studies" just equals "womens studies" it is only natural that any papers they publish draw the conclusion that families without men are superior.

            Date and time
            December 29, 2010, 10:17AM
            • Wow, thanks for the homophobia Bob (and I'm not sure whether Homo was responding to Bob or the article).

              Perhaps the next step should be to stop making gender such an important thing, and actually sharing the second shift (the house work at the end of a work day) and for some men to stop being so insecure if their female partner earns more than they do, and to actually ensure that women get equal pay for equal work (which despite being pushed for, for decades, still doesn't happen).

              How about valuing feminine characteristics as much as masculine ones, and not using them to bash others with "Oh, you're such a girl" is said to people in order to silence them, but why is being a girl bad?

              It shouldn't come as a great surprise that same-sex couples share housework and other gendered activity - after all, they don't have traditional gender roles to fall back on.

              In an office somewhere
              Date and time
              December 29, 2010, 10:21AM
              • I have no problem whatsoever with homosexuals - they are 100% free to do as they please with their own lives without being discriminated.

                What I do have a problem with is the modern society's obsession to equate homosexuals with heterosexuals in all aspects of life, including parenting. For example take this [questionable] study: gay parents are not only equal to straight ones, they're even better! Wow

                I think it's important that we come to terms with the fact that homosexuals have a disorder (ah yes, the good old days of DSM) but that they shouldn't be discriminated against -and I'll even go a step further now- or even treated for this disorder. And because of this disorder, there are some things that make them different to heterosexuals.

                For example: "...extraordinary effort gay people must go to to have children". Yes, extraordinary because NATURE DOESN'T ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN. Isn't this enough of a proof that homosexuality wasn't meant to be? They cannot reproduce which is the essence of every living species. They need the opposite sex to have children!!

                Date and time
                December 29, 2010, 10:39AM
                • Hey Bob - I'd love to hear more about this seminar that advocated removing the words "mum" and "dad" from our vocabulary. Could you check the name of it on your booking receipt, or tell me where I can get a copy of the transcript?

                  No? That's alright, I didn't really expect you would.

                  Date and time
                  December 29, 2010, 10:44AM
                  • Bob - banning hetero couples from raising kids is a great idea, you'll see a sharp decline in child abuse for a start

                    Date and time
                    December 29, 2010, 10:46AM
                    • More egalitarian? Maybe that's because they're both women.

                      Date and time
                      December 29, 2010, 10:55AM

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