In a well-known case from 1999, a Mississippi judge ordered that a boy stay with his mother in a household where she was being abused rather than allowing to live with his father, who was in a relationship with another man.

 

While less common, Drexel University graduate student Emily Haney-Caron said, a review of legal literature and rulings by judges shows decision-makers in custody cases still rely on notions that social science researchers have disproved.

For example, she said, "Judges have been concerned that children will experience a lot of stigma from their peers if they're being raised by a gay or lesbian parent. And what we find in the research is that children just aren't experiencing more stigma or more teasing by their peers than if they'd been raised by a heterosexual parent."

Working with professor Kirk Heilbrun, Haney-Caron reviewed cases in which judges made custody and visitation decisions that involved choosing between a gay parent and a straight parent.

The research suggested judges are raising such concerns less frequently than in past decades, she said,  but that legislation could help to take these factors out of the equation entirely in custody cases.