Friday, September 17, 2010

Attitudes Changing About Same-Sex Couples, Legislation Slow to Follow

Americans’ perception of same-sex couples seems to be changing slowly over time, despite the legislation corresponding to the altered attitudes lagging behind. The findings are reported in a new book, Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family, according to part of a survey conducted this year as well as in 2003 and 2006 by Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. The book was published on Wednesday, September 16 by the Russell Sage Foundation. Since the surveys began, the proportion of people who reported having a gay friend or relative rose 10 percentage points, according to Powell.

Major findings of the survey [free subscription required] included that most Americans now say their definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as well as married gay and lesbian couples. The survey also found a growing acceptance that genetics, rather than parenting, peers or God’s will, was responsible for sexual orientation. However, most do not consider unmarried cohabiting couples, either heterosexual or same-sex, to be a family unless they have children. The researchers also believed that while many Americans were willing to accept same-sex marriage today, there was a significantly lower amount who were willing to embrace the idea.

While the slight shift in attitude is a positive sign that Americans are becoming more accepting, the reluctance to label LGBT couples as a family is slightly disheartening. The resistance reflects the failure of our federal government to extend equal rights to LGBT individuals and their families regarding this issue, despite the progress evidenced in some places across the country, as well as the capability displayed by LGBT parents and families in those areas. Approximately 1 million LGBT parents are already raising about 2 million children in the U.S. according to data taken from the 2000 Census. An estimated 27 percent of same-sex couples have at least one child under 18 living in their home. Some states already apply non-discrimination principles in their foster care and adoption practices to great success. There are even states like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey and New York that affirmatively allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly.

Sadly, the majority of states lack non-discrimination policies and remain silent on how prospective LGBT foster and adoptive parents are to be considered. Moreover, many states like Florida, Utah, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah have policies and practices that adversely impact LGBT and unmarried parents. These restrictions for LGBT families come in light of 30 years of scientific research that overwhelmingly confirms that children raised in LGBT-headed households have the same advantages and expectations for health, social and psychological adjustment, and development as children whose parents are heterosexual.

PFLAG, in coalition with other national organizations, is taking the lead in advocating for the Every Child Deserves a Family (ECDF) Act, a bill which would prohibit any child welfare service provider receiving federal assistance and involved in adoption or foster care placements from discriminating against prospective adoptive or foster parents solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, or on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved. The bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide support for service providers to ensure understanding of the legal, practice, and culture changes required by this Act in making foster care and adoption placement decisions. PFLAG is committed to such legislation because every child deserves to grow up in a safe and supportive environment, and passage of ECDF would open the doors to the homes of more than 2 million LGBT people who would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents but face barriers because of existing laws or policies.

PFLAG encourages you to urge your members of Congress to support passage of ECDF. Please be sure to click here to take action today!

For more information on PFLAG’s commitment to ECDF or to learn more about the legislation and what you can do to help, please click here.


This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

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