This article examines same-sex couples as a sign of the Second Demographic Transition, investigating how gay and lesbian couples living together in Brasília build their family, whether they intend to have children, and what challenges they face. We conducted semi-structured interviews online to investigate the family formation process and parenting intentions of 42 couples living together in Brasília in 2019, 20 lesbian and 22 gay couples. The organizing themes in the interviews were marriage, children, work, and stigma. This study advances existing scholarship on families by articulating points of connection between the legal institution of same-sex marriage in Brazil, changing social norms regarding family life, and parental gender expectations as signs of the Second Demographic Transition. Studying same-sex couples contribute to a more complex understanding of the family, the gendered division of labor, and the dimension of fertility and parenting intentions.
This article aims to investigate the family formation processes of same-sex couples in Brasília and their parenting intentions. Same-sex unions have both the potential to subvert the existing social order and/or to preserve the conservatism of marriage. The hypothesis is that, although same-sex couples are an obvious break away from the classic family model, they value child-rearing, and they seek union stability and the social legitimacy it brings. In this sense, choosing to examine new demographic configurations challenges the heteronormative configuration of what family is and how fertility shapes it.
Analyzing same-sex couples with a gendered angle in the context of the Second Demographic Transition allows us to explore how their experiences, perceptions, and desires are contrasting or not to the traditional perspective of family formation. In this respect, we seek to identify which subject matters are structuring to their discourse about conjugality and parenting.
When it comes to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and sexual minorities (LGBT+) groups, Brazilian society can be discriminatory and intolerant, reflecting persistent religious and moral conservatism (Itaborahy, 2014). After the reinstatement of democracy in 1988, all elected presidents, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Roussef from the Workers’ Party, have sought the support of powerful Evangelical politicians in the Legislative branch during their mandate and, therefore, were not allies to the LGBT+ cause (Encarnación, 2018). The current president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-), internationally known for his misogynistic and homophobic remarks, ensures domestic and foreign policies on gender issues are based on confronting the so-called “gender ideology”. His government favors homophobia, anti-gender policies, the naturalization of male/female binary categories, the divisibility of human rights, and a nationalist discourse (Martins, 2019).
Hitherto, no federal legislation has been approved regarding same-sex families and the progress in that area has taken place on the Judiciary front only. The Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court) approved domestic partnerships between people of the same sex in 2011. The ruling gave same-sex couples in domestic partnerships the same financial and social rights of those in heterosexual relationships (Supremo Tribunal Federal, 2011). Later, in 2013, the Conselho Nacional de Justiça (National Judicial Council of Brazil) legalized same-sex marriage in the entire country, ruling that all civil registries must notarize same-sex marriages and convert previous domestic partnerships in marriage if the couples so wish (Conselho Nacional de Justiça, 2013). Hence, no law legitimates same-sex marriage, but it is a right guaranteed by jurisprudence.
It should be noted that the Federal Constitution mentions the union between a man and a woman as the basis for family formation. However, the Federal Supreme Court has an inclusive interpretation that considers individuals. In September 2019, the Supreme Court excluded from the Civil Code any interpretation that would prevent recognition of same-sex couples as a family entity, ruling all families should have access to family-oriented public policies.
The establishment of joint parenting by gays and lesbians using reproductive technology is recent in Brazil. To date, there is no specific legislation regarding assisted reproduction, only medical regulations. In Brazil, gamete donation cannot be commercially negotiated. Following its previous resolutions, the Conselho Federal de Medicina in Portuguese (Federal Medical Council) most up-to-date resolution on the matter (No. 2,294/2021) states uterine hosts must be up to fourth-degree relatives (mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, aunt, or cousin) of the genetic donor (Conselho Federal de Medicina, 2021).
Serviço Único de Saúde (SUS), the universal health care system in Brazil, offers a human reproduction program in twelve hospitals in the country, one of them in Brasília. Serviço de Reprodução Humana do Centro de Ensino e Pesquisa em Reprodução Assistida do Hospital Materno Infantil de Brasília, a public reproduction center, offers assisted reproduction procedures to infertile heterosexual couples and to lesbian couples. Although men cannot physically get pregnant and give birth, surrogacy as allowed by the Federal Medical Council, could also be offered to gay couples, but it is not.
It is not surprising, then, that most gay couples in Brazil choose to adopt. Adoption occurs through a judicial process and is regulated by the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (Statute of the Child and the Adolescent), under federal laws 8.069 (Presidência da República e Casa Civil, 1990) and 12.010 (Presidência da República e Casa Civil, 2009). It establishes that in order to adopt a child or adolescent, one must be at least 18 years old, and 16 years older than the adoptee, and not be a sibling or ascendant of the adoptee.
It is possible to adopt as a single person, but if two people choose to adopt together, they must be married or living under a domestic partnership, proving their family structure is stable (Presidência da República e Casa Civil, 2009). The Child and Adolescent Statute does not mention the gender or sexual orientation of the adoptive parents as requirements to be considered in the adoption process. If same-sex couples meet the requirements of age and stable familial context, there is no impediment for them to become adoptive parents.
As aforementioned, there are clear discrepancies between the paths to parenthood that are allowed to gays and to lesbians. Compared with the range of possibilities for women to access assisted reproductive technologies, the options available to men in same-sex relationships are certainly narrower, limiting to some extent the transformation of gender relations. In this sense, this study gives visibility to new family arrangements, bringing inclusion to groups that still suffer stigma in their processes of conjugality and parenting. Hence, the present study is of great importance to broaden the horizons of the demographic analysis related to fertility and family formation, especially in relation to gender perspectives.
Studies on family formation and desired fertility are mostly focused on the reproductive behaviour of heterosexual couples and the fertility intentions of women. Choosing to examine different configurations of families and of paths to parenthood is important to challenge the heteronormative configuration of what family is and how fertility shapes it. Although the demographic literature tends to discuss gender and fertility based on naturalized precepts, the traditional family configuration defined by the heterosexual nuclear family has been increasingly changing around the world in the last fifty years (Mills & Blossfeld, 2013; Sobotka & Toulemon, 2008).
In addition to factors such as increasing divorce rates and decreasing fertility, one of the many variables that shape this transformation is the process of social, legal, and political acceptance of same-sex marriage. Zrenchik & Craft (2016) call for a collective shift inside the field of family studies to properly include and expand the experiences of the LGBT+ community. This study is a step in this direction.
The article consists of five sections. This introduction is followed by the theoretical framework, which outlines how the Second Demographic Transition Theory relates to the family formation and parenting intentions of same-sex couples. Then, we describe the qualitative methodology and the interviewed couples. Next, the interviews are analyzed according to the thematic analysis proposed by Attride-Stirling (2001). Finally, we present the final considerations about the alignment of same-sex families with the Second Demographic Transition in Brazil, considering their specificities as an urban middle-class educated group.
The weakening of patriarchal authority, and the resulting changes in gender relations, opened space for the diversification of household patterns and domestic arrangements. Same-sex relationships are fundamentally important to this transformation, ideally leading the way to more egalitarian forms of connections, democratizing intimate life, and transforming the day-to-day of families (Weeks, 2007). In this sense, same-sex couples are part of a historical move toward family as a site of emotional and sexual gratification. The separation of sexuality from reproduction results in the dissociation between reproduction and heterosexuality, revolutionizing the possibilities of organizing family life (Matos, 2000).
A fundamental conceptual framework regarding families, declining fertility, societal norms, and the ideational sphere is the theory of the Second Demographic Transition (SDT). Originally, Lesthaeghe & Van de Kaa (1986), and later Lesthaeghe (2010, 2014, 2020), characterize the SDT in the West based on the trends of fertility decline, secularization, a shift of importance from the child to the couple, and the dissociation between sexuality and reproduction, due largely to the dissemination of hormonal methods of contraception. These transformations structure their argument for a new demographic era.
The authors argue that not only socioeconomic changes enabled all these transformations, but also ideational changes allowed individuals to have freedom of choice, to be more self-centered and focused on their higher-order needs, following the Maslowian preference drift (Maslow, 1954 as cited in Lesthaeghe, 2010). These changes are related to many different life events, such as older ages at first union and first child, higher divorce rates, higher educational attainment of women, and an increased number of same-sex partnerships. The SDT has diversified family life, displaying the wide variety of families that do not conform to the idealized traditional family (Carroll, 2018).
The SDT can develop in different societies as different combinations of characteristics. In that sense, demographic trends are likely outcomes, rather than determinants, of institutional changes in contemporary societies, reflecting a shift in gendered power hierarchies (Carlson, 2019). Institutions that used to have authority over and regulated domestic behaviors, such as religion, for instance, no longer have that much power to influence individuals’ family decisions (Lesthaeghe, 2010). Although Verona et al. (2015) call attention to signs contrary to the SDT in Brazil, it is important to consider the SDT is overly complex and its indicators do not have the same onset nor follow the same rhythm (Lesthaeghe, 2020).
Lesthaeghe & Esteve (2016) explain the power of an “ethical revolution”, which includes the acceptance of homosexuality over time and with advancing education. The trends of fertility postponement and the rise of cohabitation worldwide point out that part of the explanation about rising cohabitation comes from this ethical revolution that stands on strong individual autonomy over weakening traditional norms (Lesthaeghe, 2020).
Nonetheless, the concept of the SDT is not consensual among demographers. Coleman (2004) argues that the phenomenon is only secondary; it is neither a transition nor demographic, because it does not involve other demographic components. Notwithstanding, the author concedes the SDT is valuable in depicting new lifestyle choices and behavior preferences in modern societies.
Bernhardt (2004) questions the lack of gender perspective in the SDT. In this sense, Goldscheider, Bernhardt, & Lappegård (2015) defend that the family trends analyzed in the SDT framework are products of a gender revolution that will be complete when men participate in the domestic sphere as women have done in the public arena. In this scenario, fertility will become stable at the replacement level. However, their article reduces gender to a proxy of the heterosexual nuclear family in developed countries.
The inclusion of same-sex relationships in the field of fertility studies is a crucial step to broaden the discussion on family, fertility, and gender. Demographers usually interpret fertility intentions as a proximate determinant for actual fertility or as a variable to determine the gap between intended and actual fertility as a driver of low fertility. For same-sex couples, fertility intentions are not only predictors but determining factors for fertility behavior. They reliably represent the case of intentional and reasoned action when it comes to having children.
Fertility intentions and parenting intentions
Much has been written about fertility intentions (Ajzen & Klobas, 2013; Bongaarts, 1992; Morgan & Taylor, 2006; Quesnel-Vallée & Morgan, 2003; Schoen et al., 1999). Fertility intentions theories, however, do not explicitly address gender identity or sexuality issues. One can assume non-heterosexual women will probably never face an unwanted pregnancy and the challenges they face to achieve their desired fertility are different than those of heterosexual women. Hence, it is crucial to bring to light the impact of sexuality on fertility intentions.
Deciding to be a parent is a highly intentional life transition for someone who falls out of the cis-heteronormative world. The planned nature of their parenthood means their parental timing is deliberate. Gato, Santos & Fontaine (2017) found a cohort effect for lesbians’ and gay men’s parental aspirations—younger people come out earlier and include parenthood in their life plans. In previous decades, having children in a heterosexual relationship before getting involved in a same-sex relationship was the most common route to parenthood.
Nonetheless, same-sex couples are increasingly choosing different pathways nowadays (Moore & Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, 2013). They include surrogacy, adoption, the biological child of one partner from a previous relationship, and they vary by age and cohort, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, all variables that impact parenting experiences (Gato et al., 2017; Umberson et al. 2015).
Kazyak et al. (2016) found that sexual minority women have a broad notion of motherhood, distinguishing between having and raising children. The authors argue that survey research in fertility could be improved by changing the wording of questions and by addressing the sexuality of participants, to reflect the variety of experiences all individuals can have. Likewise, Stewart (2002) asserts that parity should be conceptualized to reflect the parentage of children.
Given demographers are essential for analyzing the relationship between sexual identity, family formation, reproductive behaviors, and their population consequences (D’Lane & Baumle, 2018), rather than focusing exclusively on predicting live births, demographers could explore intentions from a different perspective, emphasizing the role of parenting to the creation of families. The post-modern family, as defined by Roudinesco (2003), is comprised of two individuals seeking intimacy and sexual satisfaction. In this sense, grounding kinship in love is what determines identity and unity (Weston, 1997). In this scenario, parenthood is considered more an affection bond than a biological one. However, parenting is traditionally considered a heterosexual feminine feature of gender role identity (Kranz, Busch & Niepel, 2018). As social and parental roles are conventionally defined by the male/female dichotomy, the family formation process of same-sex couples challenges the sexual dimorphism upon which the traditional family is based.
We present here a brief overview of studies on same-sex marriage and the pathways gay and lesbian couples take to parenthood. It is noteworthy that internalized homophobia and the perceived need to hide one’s sexual orientation are big obstacles to having children. According to Meyer (2013), internalized homophobia is defined as the assimilation of societal homophobic attitudes related to poor psychological well-being and lower relationship quality among same-sex couples. In this sense, family disapproval of same-sex couples has been shown to be associated with increased relationship strain and lower social network support (Reczek, 2016).
It is known marriage benefits men and women in heterosexual relationships—they are healthier and happier than single individuals (Grover & Helliwell, 2019). Studies about the benefits of same-sex marriage show marital advantages for same-sex couples as well (Chen & Van Ours, 2018). Carpenter et al. (2018) found that being married increased healthcare access and care among sexual minority men in the United States. Moreover, Boertien & Vignoli (2019) show that after the legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, and the consequent reduction of social stigma, there was an increase in subjective well-being for individuals in same-sex relationships.
Befriending queer parents and meeting a partner who is also motivated to parent can be important turning points of the parental pathways gays and lesbians experience, especially if they previously suffered from lack of support and internalized homophobia (Goldberg, 2010). An imbalance of parenting intentions between the partners can lead to the end of the relationship unless one grows into the idea of parenthood and both partners become equally motivated (Gato et al., 2017).
Studies on same-sex family formation and parenting intentions have emerged in many countries. Bowling et al. (2019) in India; in Greece, Voultsos et al. (2019) analyzed how low social acceptance influences lesbian parenthood; Baiocco & Laghi (2013) show gays and lesbians without children in Italy were less likely than heterosexual individuals to express parenting desires and intentions; Costa & Bidell (2017) found younger participants in their study were more likely to express intent to parent in Portugal; in contrast, young gay men in Germany were less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report the desire to become fathers (Kranz, Busch & Niepel, 2018); in the United States Tate, Patterson & Levy (2019) also found that in comparison to heterosexual individuals, fewer lesbians and gays intended to become parents and they reported wanting smaller family sizes than their heterosexual peers.
In Brazil, research in Psychology shows qualitative case studies of same-sex couples, such as Meletti & Scorsolini-Comin (2015), Borges, Magalhães & Féres-Carneiro (2017), Tombolato et al. (2018), and Gurgel & Uziel (2019). They discuss the concern of participants with conjugal dynamics, societal norms regarding children’s well-being, and the stigma of having same-sex parents.
Biblarz & Stacey (2010) defend the strengths typically associated with heterosexual married parents appear to the same extent in same-sex parents. Because parenting skills are not dichotomous or exclusive, the gender of parents is not determinant for children’s psychological adjustment and social success. It has been shown the role of sexual orientation is not a significant variable for children’s well-being (Araldi & Serralta, 2016; Boertien & Bernardi, 2019; Farr, Forssell & Patterson, 2010).
However, that is not to say that socially prescribed gender norms do not impact same-sex parents. Herrera et al. (2018) affirm gay fatherhood is structured upon assimilation rather than differentiation. Consonantly, Pineda & Jaramillo (2020) found similarities in the perceptions of bisexual and homosexual families in Colombia with the traditional family model. Webb, Chonody & Kavanagh (2017) researched attitudes toward same-sex parenting in Australia and found a more positive attitude about lesbians parenting than about gays.
In the United States, same-sex parents are more likely to be female than male and they tend to have less income than same-sex couples without children (Gates, 2013). According to Schneebaum & Lee Badgett (2019), in comparison to heterosexual married couples, same-sex couples are more likely to be poor. Simon et al. (2018) found that lesbian women reported wanting to work full-time and have a permanent position before parenthood more so than heterosexual women. Nonetheless, lesbians’ household incomes usually are lower than those of heterosexual and gay households. Ahmed, Andersson & Hammarstedt (2011) and Aksoy, Carpenter & Frank (2018) show similar results for Sweden and for the United Kingdom, respectively.
Regarding domestic work, same-sex couples tend to embody a more egalitarian structure of household and childcare tasks, dividing them more equally between partners in comparison to heterosexual couples (Bauer, 2016; Giddings et al., 2014; Patterson, Sutfin & Fulcher, 2004). However, gay couples in comparison to lesbian couples are more prone to have problems when allocating chores, because men are generally disinclined to do what has always been considered women’s work (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Brewster, 2017; Kurdek, 2007). Gay and lesbians couples have different experiences due to mainstream gender roles and heteronormativity (Libson, 2012). According to Aguirre (2015), the public/private sphere dualism is the essential variable to analyze the similarities and differences among various family arrangements.
The theoretical framework segment outlined the most relevant contributions in the demographic literature to pinpoint what paradigms are in place when we study the family dynamics and parenting intentions of same-sex couples. The following section explains the methodology employed in this study to examine the family formation of same-sex couples residing in Brasília.
The methodological path
Issues surrounding intentions and desires are, in their nature, subjective and could not be adequately understood with the use of quantitative surveys. Thus, a qualitative methodological approach based on semi-structured interviews is best suited to analyze same-sex couples’ family formation and parenting intentions. One of the main advantages of this technique is that it allows the researcher to obtain information that is not accessible through structured questionnaires. Such information helps to understand the behavior of the interviewees, as well as the representations he or she has about his or her life experiences (May, 2004).
We chose interviews because we are not only interested in the families’ life experiences, but also in the meanings they attach to those experiences, seeking to analyze how individuals interpret and narrate the events in their lives they see as important to understand their families’ formation and parenting intentions.
The invitation to take part in the study emphasized the interview was a talk about same-sex couples who live together in Brasília. Most couples demanded some persistence and flexibility in (re)scheduling to have their participation. The semi-structured interviews allowed the gathering of conversational narratives about the couple’s history and plans, encouraging rich descriptions from participating couples and ensuring some degree of comparison across interviews. The question guide used in the interviews is attached to the .
Although there are advantages and disadvantages to a joint interview, it can bring forward rich dialogues not only between the participants and the interviewer, but also between the partners. It is important to emphasize that in joint interviews couples might minimize disagreements, which increases the chance of producing positive and consensual narratives.
The interviews were conducted online and were convenient both for the researcher and for the couples. There was no need for transportation, scheduling was flexible, and the absence of a formal presence created a relaxed and friendly environment, allowing the couples to be home without any physical interference to their daily dynamics, usually during a calm and private moment that allowed the couples to speak for as long as they wanted. Interviews happened from April to September 2019 and were audio-recorded, typically ranging from 45 to 55 minutes, although several extended beyond that time because couples with children and/or familial difficulties tended to talk more. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. The project was approved by the ethics board, and it is registered in Plataforma Brasil, under number 14914619.0.0000.5149, respecting all the precepts and norms regarding research with human subjects in Brazil.
Requirements for participation in the study were self-identification as a same-sex couple living together in Brasília at the time of the interview. The choice of the city of Brasília stems from the fact that the country’s capital is considered modern and has relatively high development indexes, which, in theory, facilitates recognition and access to the rights of same-sex couples, generating less taboo and social discrimination around this group. Besides, Brasília is a young city that welcomes many migrants from all Brazilian regions since its early years, making the population diverse in terms of familial background.
At the end of the interviews, we asked participants if they could recommend other couples to participate in the study. Thus, the selection of the studied population was not random, since the participants of the research were selected by colleagues’ referrals and new referrals came from the participants themselves, generating a network of participants. Table 1 summarizes the participants’ demographic characteristics. They all belong to a middle-class urban group.
Table 1. Summary of participants’ characteristics
Tables 2 and 3 present the couples’ characteristics. The “current number of children” column shows how many kids the couple raises together, independently of biological ties. In the , the reader can find a brief history of each couple. Here, lesbian couples are presented first, and gay couples are listed next. To protect the participants’ identities, all names are fictitious.
Table 2. Socio-demographic characteristics of lesbian couples
Table 3. Socio-demographic characteristics of gay couples
In this sample, women are more inclined to parenthood than men: 19 lesbian couples out of 20 reported wanting children; ten of them already had children, but only 5 had realized their desired number of children. For men, 8 out of 22 gay couples want children, 5 already have children, and 9 have realized their desired number of children, considering the couples who do not want children.
After the interviews, the material was examined according to the analytical proposition of Attride-Stirling (2001), denominated thematic networks. It organizes qualitative data by categorizing the main themes that appear at different levels and it includes six basic steps: i) the coding of the material; ii) the identification of themes; iii) the construction of the thematic network; iv) the description and exploring of the thematic network; v) summarizing the themes and their patterns, and finally; vi) interpreting the described patterns in light of the research question and the literature review. The next section presents the thematic network we constructed.
Labeling the discourse according to their content, based on keywords and sentence structures used by the couples, allowed us to summarize and highlight the most important and reoccurring themes in their narratives. The central theme of the interviews was family formation. From the couples’ perspectives, the organizing themes to family formation were marriage (broadly used to refer to a coresidential committed relationship), children, work and stigma. Each organizing theme was framed by basic themes, creating a thematic network as shown in Figure 1. The central theme and organizing themes are represented by blue circles, and basic themes by purple ones. Figure 1 does not aim to establish causal relationships among themes but to illustrate the main topics discussed during the interview. Here, “tying the knot” is an umbrella term to encompass cohabitation, domestic partnership, and legal marriage.
The concept of being a family reflected the interviewees’ experiences of conjugality and parenting, reinforcing the notion of kinship based on affection. The couples discussed the conventionality of their living arrangements and the changing social perceptions they were subjected to upon the arrival of children. In this sense, being a family, the central theme of the thematic network, and its organizing themes (marriage, children, work, and stigma) are not isolated constructs. Sexual orientation stigma and the workload the couples bear, inside and outside the home, per pass their decisions to live together, to become parents, and to manage their family life.
Figure 1: Thematic network of same-sex couples in Brasília
It is important to emphasize that the interviews happened during the first months of President Bolsonaro’s mandate. His victory represented a rightward shift in the country and a win for the far-right, which made many of them apprehensive about the future, scared to lose their acquired rights. That was the case for seven couples in the sample, including Bruna and her wife.
Besides the political reasons for tying the knot, couples have decided to live together and get married due to romantic, spiritual, and pragmatic motives, such as health insurance. Although all interviewed couples were in committed relationships, some participants had never talked to a family member about their sexual orientation, living in a form of glass closet (Sedgwick, 1990). Although some individuals had growing support from relatives before getting married and some perceived higher acceptance after getting married, the marriage did not bring support or acceptance from family members for all participants.
As Finch (2007) affirmed, parenthood is built with meaningful practices that generate social legibility. To some couples, the establishment of the family was marked by the arrival of children. The couples with children said they were perceived and legitimized as family units only after having kids.
In this context, family formation and parenting intentions are inevitably shaped by the discriminatory discourse homosexual individuals have been subjected throughout their lives, which impacts their well-being and feelings of self-worth. Young people suffered homophobic bullying and discrimination through discourse and verbal harassment, in addition to physical and psychological violence, sometimes from their own parents and religious leaders. As adults, gays and lesbians reported to be under widespread psychological distress, subject to real and virtual attacks. Many lesbian and gay parents said they feel troubled by the possibility that their children might be harassed or teased because of their family structure.
For same-sex couples, parenthood is a matter of individual choice and self-realization rather than a social imperative. About their pathway to parenthood, male couples focused their narrative almost entirely on adoption since commercial surrogacy is not allowed in Brazil. Female couples had broader discussions: most women talked about home insemination and/or the SUS program, in addition to adoption.
In twenty interviews with lesbian couples, only one couple did not express intent to have children. The most discussed challenges among women were the high costs of private treatments and the possibilities to find a reliable semen donor. Ten of them already had children using different pathways: in vitro fertilization (IVF) through the SUS program, IVF through private clinics, adoption, home insemination, and previous heterosexual relationships. Women who had a known donor, a friend or acquaintance, expressed mixed reactions to his involvement with the baby.
In twenty-two interviews with gay men, eight of them did not intend to have children. In total, five couples already had children and they all decided on adoption. The most discussed challenges among gay couples were the restrictive regulations on surrogacy in Brazil and the long wait for adoption.
Besides their differences on the pathways to parenthood, men and women also differ on what they consider to be the right time to have children. Most women seemed affected by the biological limit between age and fertility to make decisions about getting pregnant. Men’s concerns about age were not related to their reproductive capacities, but to an internal sense of readiness, related to their own youth and mortality.
Regarding domestic work, gender is also considered a driving predictor of relationship experiences. Following the literature (Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1983; Brewster, 2017; Kurdek, 2007) gay couples reported difficulties to allocate chores and men without children were the group most dissatisfied with the fairness of their division, while the lesbian couples described dividing household chores equally.
The necessary workload to maintain a household comprises domestic labor and paid labor. Within the workplace, labor regulations and good work conditions are influence lesbians’ and gay men’s decisions to become parents. Besides children being costly, there is the need to pursue jobs that provide both financial security and flexible schedules to accommodate personal priorities and parental responsibilities. Workplace policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, explicitly promoting a tolerant and inclusive labor culture, seem to minimize the stress homosexual parents might face.
Differently from fatherhood, motherhood was divided by the perspectives of biological and nonbiological mothers, because lesbian couples who conceive using donor insemination have asymmetric genetic ties to their children. The nonbiological mother’s role is less defined, less recognized, and less protected, creating legitimacy struggles when society regards her as less of a parent or not really a mother. The nonbiological mothers reported feeling invisible during the pregnancy, emphasizing their status as an expectant and actual parent was often unrecognized by friends and family members.
Besides biological constraints and corporeal possibilities that drive decisions and behavioral differences, families are exposed to a heteronormative ideal that prioritizes feminine caregiving and other gender stereotypes that influence parental decisions and family life in same-sex households. Parents’ initial reaction to their offspring’s nonheterosexuality typically reflects loss or grief of their heteronormative expectations. Hence, when same-sex couples portray a lifestyle that follows conventional middle-class standards, parents seemed to react favorably, giving the couple feelings of legitimacy, pride, and privilege because of their family support, leaving room to interpretation as to how many social structures must be maintained in order for heterosexuality to be subverted.
Regarding the future, most couples wish to make certain material acquisitions throughout their life, but the dreams and plans they mentioned were different depending on whether they envisioned becoming parents or not. Those who have/desire children plan their family life around them, while those who do not want children focus on their individual satisfaction, as Tomás and his husband.
Same-sex couples who do not want children seek to protect their time together and their freedom. Participants showed attitudinal patterns of career-oriented individuals, who look for personal fulfillment in the quality of their spousal relationship, demonstrating individualistic values associated with childlessness.
Being a family, the central theme of the thematic network, encompasses the totality and the intersections of work, marriage, parenthood, and the stigma around them. Each step of the family formation process—choosing a partner, deciding to live together, and having children, despite the amount of workload and stigma—functions as mechanisms for constructing relatedness, connection, and social legitimacy.
Whether or not they are reinforcing family ideology, their unions display unique dynamics of individual and collective living. The existence of the couples in the public realm shows that a process of de-stigmatization of homosexuality and weakening of the traditional paradigm of the classic family model is in course. Even though family relationships are complex, and all familial relationships do not conform to one specific pattern, the experiences of same-sex couples in the sample give meaning to a construction of affective bonds beyond the heteronormative family ideal, suggesting that although some of the interviewees would like the “Hollywood fairytale”, and some would not, same-sex couples can be seen as a sign of the SDT in Brazil.
We investigated how the couples engage in the struggles of meaning, recognition, and fulfillment with family life; and through them, see how they enact, confront, and renegotiate normative family ideologies. This study represents one of the first explorations on parenting intentions of same-sex couples in Brazil, which limits comparisons with previous findings.
The results fill a gap for qualitative demographic research about same-sex couples in the Brazilian context. The article contributes to the literature by presenting a thematic network that illustrates the structuring themes for the lives of same-sex families, highlighting important dimensions to the family formation process of same-sex couples in Brazil.
Having a willing and supportive partner surely facilitates the transition to parenthood—given the interviewed couples were already living together, they were more likely to have the intention to parent than single individuals. There was variation among gay men, lesbian women, and between the two groups, in regard to the importance they place on parenthood; proportionally, more women reported parenting intentions than men.
The thematic network showed the social locations that influence the paths same-sex couples take to enact their parenting intentions. Gender and sexual identity interact in a way in which same-sex couples have the potential to challenge dominant practices of heteronormative masculinity and femininity, therefore, also of parenthood. The social meanings ascribed to parenthood and kinship, and how legislation and biomedical sciences shape those meanings, are all important for demographic analyzes and projections.
To examine the particular challenges same-sex couples face regarding their parenting intentions and incorporate a gender perspective to demographic studies, one must consider the hierarchical complexity of the relationships between masculinity and femininity, in a multidimensional and intersectional fashion, to establish an integrative understanding of diverse cultural practices and demographic outcomes.
The work on gender, families, and identity is developed and expanded by studying experiences and everyday practices. Many couples consider parenthood to be rewarding: they mentioned their appreciation for their children, family ties, and a home environment of tolerance and love. Nonetheless, it is complex to define to which extent same-sex couples are living an alternative lifestyle and to which extent they have been incorporating the hegemonic family model. Whether in same-sex or different-sex relationships, couples are still figuring out how to change conservative marriage rules to balance them with individual modern values characteristic of the SDT. The initial hypothesis that, although the same-sex couples interviewed are an obvious break away from the classic family model, they value child-rearing and union stability, seems to be valid in the context of committed couples who already live together in Brasília.
Future research could explore larger samples of same-sex couples in different Brazilian cities, especially small municipalities, and rural locations, considering cohort, racial and educational differences, in pathways to and probability of parenthood for same-sex partners. A nationally representative study, carried out with careful queer-aware wording, would be valuable to draw broader conclusions. Researchers will greatly benefit from more qualitative and quantitative sources and investment in future data collections to advance knowledge on same-sex couples. It is likely the experiences out of urban scenarios, or even in other urban scenarios, are different from the ones discussed here. Moreover, future research in the field ought to consider investigating the family formation process and parenting experiences of queer individuals and sexual and gender minorities, beyond same-sex couples.
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