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LGBTQ Families


LGBTQ families are part of the American fabric. Two million children are being raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer parents. Children of gay and lesbian parents live in 96% of US counties. And decades of research shows that those children grow up as happy, healthy and well-adjusted as their peers. So why do our laws systematically stand in the way of allowing children of LGBTQ parents to thrive? Current laws deny loving, forever homes to the 115,000 children awaiting adoption. They deny children of LGBTQ families legal ties to both their parents, meaning that families live in fear due to uncertain family ties. They can wrongly separate children from their parents in cases of divorce or the death of a parent.



They deny basic government aid and safety net programs to children of LGBTQ parents simply because their family doesn’t meet a legal definition of family in a particular state. They can deny access to parents’ health insurance coverage, quality child care and early childhood education programs, Social Security Survivor benefits, inheritance, and more. These outdated, harmful laws not only ignore and hurt the roughly 2 million children being raised by LGBTQ parents, they also hurt children in other family configurations, including those with unmarried heterosexual parents.


Public policy has not kept up with the changing reality of the American family. Without common-sense policy solutions that address the needs of LGBTQ and other families, our laws will continue to hurt children of LGBTQ parents and make it more difficult for them to reach their full potential.

[Source: Movement Advancement Project]

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Who's a Family: New Study Tracks Shifting US Views

As much as Americans revere the family, they differ sharply on how to define it. A research project released in September 2010 shows steadily increasing recognition of unmarried couples (gay and straight) as families. But there's a solid core resisting this trend who are more willing to include pets in their definition than same-sex partners. How "family" is defined is a crucial question on many levels. Beyond the debate over same-sex marriage, it affects income tax filings, adoption and foster care practices, employee benefits, inheritance rights and countless other matters.

The new research on the topic is contained in a book-length study, "Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definition of Family" and in a separate 2010 survey overseen by the book's lead author, Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell. Between 2003 and 2010, three surveys conducted by Powell's team showed a significant shift toward counting same-sex couples with children as family, from 54 percent of respondents in 2003 to 68 percent in 2010. In all, more than 2,300 people were surveyed.


Powell linked the changing attitudes to a 10 percent rise between 2003 and 2010 in the share of survey respondents who reported having a gay friend or relative. "This indicates a more open social environment in which individuals now feel more comfortable discussing and acknowledging sexuality," Powell said.

Only about one-third of those surveyed said they considered same-sex couples without children to be a family. And in 2006, when asked if gay couples and pets count as family, 30 percent said pets count but not gay couples. "The sheer idea that gay couples are given less status than pets should give us pause," Powell said in an interview.

In the 2010 survey, 83 percent of the respondents said they perceived unmarried heterosexual couples with children as a family; only 40 percent extended that recognition to unmarried straight couples without children. In line with several recent national opinion polls, Powell's 2010 survey showed a near-even split on same-sex marriage, with 52 percent supporting it and 48 percent opposed.


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Family Equality Council


Even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages, some cities doesn't recognize them. The Census Bureau definition of "family" remains traditional: "A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together."

Many religious conservatives hope the government sticks by that definition, even in the face of shifts in public opinion. "Same-sex marriage is a dangerous social experiment," said Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies for Focus on the Family. "A lesbian couple who legally married in Massachusetts? Are they family? We would say, absolutely not.'" Stanton said it was increasingly difficult to engage in serious debate on the definition question.


"We're moving in this headlong direction toward same-sex families without any intelligent discussion about whether it's actually good for the children and the adults," he said. "This whole issue has boiled down to, Are you a bigot or not?" The shifts described in Powell's research pleased Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, which advocates on behalf of same-sex families.

"People are taking a more expansive view of what a family is," said Chrisler. "But for any family that doesn't fit the 1960s Ozzie and Harriet mold, slow and steady doesn't feel fast enough." Chrisler and her wife, Cheryl Jacques, a former Massachusetts state senator, are raising twin boys.

The Family Equality Council has been lobbying on behalf of a bill pending in Congress that would prohibit states and child welfare agencies from denying adoption or foster care placements solely based on the sexual orientation or marital status of the potential parents. The bill is targeted at states such as Florida, which bans gays and lesbians from adopting, a policy now being challenged in court. The bill, introduced by Rep Pete Stark, D-Calif, has been applauded by the Alternatives to Marriage Project because it encompasses single people as well as same-sex couples. "I get frequent letters and e-mails from people who find the political rhetoric of 'family' to be extremely exclusive of singles," said the project's executive director, Nicky Grist. "For singles, it might be a code for 'You don't count.'"


For Powell, the major finding of his new research is the shifting view of same-sex families, which he compared to the gradual acceptance of interracial marriage. "We envisage a day in the near future when same-sex families also will gain acceptance by a large plurality of the public," he wrote.

His book was published by the Russell Sage Foundation, a social science research center, as part of a series overseen by the American Sociological Association. The surveys were conducted by telephone, among a random selection of households, and the characteristics of the samples were compared with census data to verify that they were representative. There were 712 interviews in 2003, 815 in 2006 and 830 this year.

[Source: The Associated Press]

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Data About LGBTQ Families and Relationships

A recent study reported that 55.5% of gay men and 71.2% of lesbians were in steady relationships. An estimated 6 million to 14 million children have a lesbian or gay parent. Courts in 11 states have ruled that gay men and lesbians, on the basis of their sexual orientation, are unfit to receive custody of their children. A review of 9 studies of aspects of personal development (such as self-concept, moral judgment, and intelligence) revealed no significant difference between children of lesbians and gay men and children of heterosexuals.

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LGBTQ-Inclusive Definitions of Family

Healthcare organizations can ensure equal treatment of LGBTQ patients and their families by adopting an explicitly inclusive definition of “family.” The following definition of “family,” which is being used by healthcare organizations nationwide, incorporates expert advice from hospital administrators, legal counsel, and health professionals:

For the purpose of hospital-wide visitation policy, hospitals are adopting the following definition of "family:" “Family” means any person(s) who plays a significant role in an individual’s life. This may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual. Members of “family” include spouses, domestic partners, and both different-sex and same-sex significant others. “Family” includes a minor patient’s parents, regardless of the gender of either parent. Solely for purposes of visitation policy, the concept of parenthood is to be liberally construed without limitation as encompassing legal parents, foster parents, same-sex parent, step-parents, those serving in loco parentis, and other persons operating in caretaker roles.


This definition of "family" establishes a usefully broad concept of family. The specific enumeration of family members provides guidance to staff and prevents biased interpretations of “family.” It should also be noted that the term “domestic partners” in this definition encompasses not only domestic partnerships but also all legally recognized same-sex relationships, including civil unions and reciprocal beneficiary arrangements. The definition also focuses on a functional definition of parenthood, established by an individual’s role as caretaker of a minor child. This is designed to ensure visitor access for the individuals most responsible for the care of a minor patient, even if this caretaker relationship lacks formal recognition under state law.

This definition of “family” informs hospital personnel about the unique nature of parenthood in the visitation context. While the definition requires that caretaker individuals be granted visitation for minor patients, this caretaker status does not necessarily confer the rights that accompany legal parental status. For instance, applicable state law may dictate that only a biological or custodial parent may determine the course of medical care for a minor child.


[Source: Human Rights Campaign]

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When Kids Ask Questions About LGBTQ Subjects

Sometimes parents can face big questions while driving kids around. The carpool kids in the back seat seem to ask all manner of interesting questions. What happens when they bring up LGBTQ topics like same-sex marriage? Lee Rose Emery is the writer of the award-winning blog, LACityMom: Tips From the Carpool Lane. She shares her insights.

Deep conversations with my kids seem to always arise in the car. "The most important thing about marriage," I told my kids when the subject came up, "is that you pick someone who is kind, and who really loves you." My son (then 6) replied, "Then I would definitely NOT marry John (his friend who punches.) My older daughter (then 8) said, "Boys can't marry boys," to which my son responded, "But Noah has two dads!" And I had thought this was going to be an uncomplicated ride home.


My son's preschool friend, Noah, indeed does have two dads, who have become very much a part of our inner circle of friends. Yet, in that moment in the car, my mind immediately jumped to the subject of the birds and the bees, and I started to feel unsure about what the kids' next questions would be, and how to thoughtfully and appropriately proceed. I decided to poll a range of parents and ask an expert to see how they would discuss the topic of nontraditional families with small children.

Laurie, 20, mother of two, from Massachusetts, says she has not discussed the topic but it has been on her mind. "Our town is homogeneous and traditional. In not mentioning that there are alternative lifestyles, I worry that the kids will just assume that the traditional family structure is the 'right way'. I want to expose them to other ways of life, but I don't want it to be artificial. My brother converted to Catholicism, and his views are becoming more and more conservative. We don't see them a lot, but as the kids get older I wonder what they are going to hear."


A Los Angeles parent wrote to me, "I did have this conversation in the framework of families ... because he is exposed to that in our life. My son is 6 and one client has two children with her partner. My son was more concerned with the science of it. Which one was the No. 1 mommy? He thought the woman who carried the child would be the No. 1 mommy but was going to clarify who that was next time he saw my client. I told him that wasn't a polite question to ask. Unsure if that was the right thing to say or not. He does not know about the birds and the bees but has observed that most kids have some identifiable parent of both sexes."

Parenting expert Betsy Brown Braun said, "There is nothing loaded about this for kids ... it is loaded for parents, as it challenges our ability to discuss our own feelings ... we are all victims of the attitudes and worlds in which we were raised." Braun says how parents approach the topic of difference and how they communicate that to their children will either teach them to accept difference or not. Braun, the author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your Four-to-Twelve-Year-Old Child, also stressed that when the subject of same-sex couples arises it need not be a conversation about sexuality or reproduction, but instead about diversity.


Heather, 37, from Massachusetts, has a 9-year-old adopted daughter. Her daughter knows some children with same-sex parents from school, but no questions have come up on the topic. Heather says, "My faith is something that is very important to me, and it (same-sex partnership) is something I don't believe in, but I also feel that it is not my job to judge." Should the topic arise, Heather said she would discuss it as a choice that some people make.

I called Noah's dad, Greg, and asked what his kids (he also has an 8-year-old daughter) say to other kids about their family. "When Noah and his sister meet a new friend and they ask who their mommy is, they say, 'I don't have a mommy. I have two dads.' " The daughter says she acts as if it is a matter of fact, as if it is the silliest question in the world. Noah's dad went on to say, "Adults get nervous about talking about it because they're thinking the kids are talking about sex." (Just as I had that day in the car.) "It's not about sex," he said, "It's about interpersonal relationships."


Rebecca, from Los Angeles, said: "We have two young children (ages 3½ and 20 months.) And we also have some same-sex couple friends. We have never directly addressed the question, although we surely would if the kids asked. My view is that we do not directly address male-female couples so why treat same-sex couples any differently? We treat our same-sex couple friends and refer to them the same way we do for any other couple. For instance, Dan and Mark are usually discussed as a single unit, just like Jane and Jack."

Keeping the conversation on the level of personal choice rather than sexuality makes it something kids can understand. But what if kids do want to know about the science and the logistics of how a child could be conceived without a man and a woman? With young children, Braun says, "Keep it simple. To make a baby you need a part from a man and a woman." Greg tells his children, "Two men can't have a baby, so we found a woman who was willing to help us."

Traditional family does not exist in the same way that it used to. My kids have friends with single parents, stepparents, adoptive parents and gay parents. Dr. Gloria Walther, author and director of the Walther Pre-School in Los Angeles, advises that when we speak to our young children, "We use a larger brush stroke to define family. The true thing is a family is made up of adults and children that love and trust. That intimate circle of family is defined by the people in it."


[Source: Lee Rose Emery, LACityMom: Tips From the Carpool Lane, CNN, August 2011]

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Debate Over Same Sex Couples Seeking Adoption

In support of adoption by gays and lesbians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and adoption advocacy groups cite research that children with gay or lesbian parents fare as well as those raised in families with a mother and a father. Conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America say the research is flawed.

Children in foster care "are already scarred" by abuse and neglect, says Bill Maier, a child psychologist with the conservative Focus on the Family. "We would want to do everything we could to place them in the optimal home environment." There are about 520,000 children in foster care, according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children in St. Paul. Of those, 120,000 are available for adoption, but only 50,000 find permanent homes each year. "The child welfare system is already in crisis," said Rob Woronoff of the CWLA. "We don't have enough families as it is."

Actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell, a foster parent in Florida who helped lead a failed effort in 2004 to overturn that state's ban on gay adoptions, said in an interview that gays and lesbians are often willing to take children that straight couples won't. She said she once cared for a girl who had been in 30 foster homes and who was later adopted by a friend. "As a gay person, as a child, you kind of know what it's like to be the odd one out," said O'Donnell, a lesbian who has four adopted children, including one born to her partner, Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell. "To deny people the right to try to reach kids who are unreachable is wrong."


The government doesn't keep statistics on adoptions by gays and lesbians. Gary Gates, a UCLA demographer who studies gays and lesbians, analyzed 2000 Census data and estimates that about 250,000 children are being raised by same-sex couples and that 5% of those children, or 12,500, were adopted. The push against adoption by lesbians and gay men comes after successful campaigns in 11 states in 2004 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. At least six more states (Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin) may put marriage on the ballot in the near future. But if gay marriage unites most conservatives in opposition, gay adoption does not. Already, there are splits among Republicans.

"This is not an issue about gays," says Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican, who was adopted as a child. "This is about children." Although he favored legislation to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, he opposes the adoption bill and has no plans to schedule a hearing to discuss it. Recent polling by Democratic consultant Peter Hart for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, also indicates the issue may not find favor among the general public. Asked about a constitutional amendment to ban adoptions by gays and lesbians, 58% of Missouri voters and 62% of Ohio voters said they would vote against it. "Conservatives may well overreach if they try to ban gays from adopting children," Brookings Institution political analyst Thomas Mann says. "Americans have become more tolerant of same-sex relations, and this action may strike them as unnecessarily punitive."

[Source: USA Today]



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