27 May 2015

Lesbian families in Sweden today live settled family lives, with legislation that has strengthened their position in recent years. But a new thesis shows how they still encounter prejudice in dealing with things like healthcare and social services.

For lesbian couples in Sweden, the conditions for parenthood have changed radically since the turn of the millennium. In 2003, a change in the law made it possible for a child to have two legal parents of the same sex. Another change in the law in 2005 opened up the possibility for lesbian parents to have children via assisted conception within the Swedish healthcare system.

“Being a lesbian family in Sweden today works well. But there are still dilemmas and challenges. One purpose of this thesis is to problematize these,” says Anna Malmquist, psychologist and doctoral student at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning.

Unprofessional treatment

The study consists of interviews with 118 parents. They reveal how lesbian families often live with a strong ideology of equality, where many take it as given that paternal leave is shared equally. The interviews also show that many couples encountered prejudice and experience unprofessional treatment in healthcare, for example where the mother who did not give birth to the child tends to be excluded in care contact and not included in the same way as the mother who gave birth to the child.

“But most couples do not stand up for themselves in such situations. Because then there is the risk that the healthcare staff don’t feel they have done anything wrong. For this reason it is important to bring in more LGBT competence into healthcare training,” Ms Malmquist says.

She also mentions the procedures around adoption that are mandatory in those cases where the couple did not have their child via insemination in the Swedish healthcare system.

“There is a requirement for an adoption process so that the non-biological mother becomes a legal parent. This often takes a long time, on average ten months. Thus the child receives worse legal protection than other children; for example, they have no right of inheritance if the non-biological mother dies during the investigation period.”

Trying adoption inquiries

Many lesbian couples are also highly critical of how these adoption inquiries are conducted.

“They meet social services officers who are curious, and ask intimate questions that are not at all relevant in the context. But they don’t always dare to stand up for themselves for fear that they won’t get a good report from the investigator.”

In the study, 12 children between the ages of 5 and 8 were also interviewed.

“There is previous research about young people in lesbian families, but almost none about younger children. The children describe a family as something warm and safe, where you live together and care about one another. In other words, they stress the emotional rather than the structural from a mother, father, child perspective.”

The thesis is called Pride and Prejudice – Lesbian families in contemporary Sweden.