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Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Accepting same-sex families

By Brian Powell
Guest Blogger

About this blog: Ask Sarah Palin what makes a family. Then ask Rep. Barney Frank. The two answers will likely be so different you’ll want to grab your Webster’s and look up the meaning of family. Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, has asked the same question of many Americans of all kinds of backgrounds and discovered something that might surprise you: the notion of family has become malleable over time, raising the prospect that Americans will come to accept same-sex families just as most now have no objections to interracial families. In “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family,” recently published by the Russell Sage Foundation, Powell presents the results of many surveys to show that Americans are expanding their definition of family. Here, he explores the historical evolution of these perceptions and the outlook for the future.


Who do Americans count as a family these days? The U.S. includes a rich diversity of families, whether or not they are officially recognized as such. My interviews with more than 2,000 Americans in 2003, 2006, and 2010 show that Americans are moving toward a more open and inclusive definition of family. Equating “the family” solely with husband, wife, and their biological children – all presumably from the same race – is becoming an increasingly obsolete concept. 

Many relationships that in the past would have been seen as immoral or unacceptable no longer carry strongly negative connotations or elicit hugely judgmental reactions. For example, legal recognition of interracial marriage was once unthinkable in most of the United States. The few polls conducted on this topic in the 1950s and 1960s confirmed that opposition to interracial couples was nearly universal among white Americans.

Yet this resistance weakened shortly after the Supreme Court in 1967 ordered the removal of laws that prohibited interracial marriages. Today, interracial relationships are tolerated, accepted, even embraced by most Americans.

Despite resistance by some to acknowledge the similarity between interracial and same-sex couples, there are strong parallels between the two. Those who most strongly opposed interracial marriage – the elderly, the self-described religiously devout, Americans with lower levels of education, Southerners – are the same who most strongly oppose same-sex marriage. They also do not count gay and lesbian couples as “family” -- even if these couples have children and have lived together for a long period of time.

Some Americans’ discomfort with gay and lesbian couples closely resembles Americans’ discomfort with interracial couples from years ago. Their arguments to resist the inclusion of same-sex couples as family are jarringly similar to arguments that were advanced against interracial couples, for example, that these couples are abhorrent, unnatural, and against the law of God.

At the same time, the reasons many Americans currently give in support of a more open, inclusive definition of family that includes gay couples are strikingly similar to those given in the past to support interracial marriage: for example, that love and commitment define family regardless of its members, and that neither sexual orientation nor race can be chosen.

Today, the very idea that interracial relations were legally prohibited in relatively recent memory seems unfathomable. We already have reached the point where same-sex families have gained acceptance by a large plurality of Americans—68 percent in 2010. And our research tells us we are very close to the day when the denial of similar rights to same-sex couples will be nothing more than an antiquated memory, when same-sex couples will no longer be counted out.

By Brian Powell  | December 7, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags:  acceptance of same-sex families; same-sex couples  
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To this gay Canadian, it appears that an exceptionally corrosive and unkind "wedge issue" is rapidly disappearing from the US political discussion. Congratulations!

And yet, while many individual Americans of devout Christian, Judaic and other faiths are clearly allowing their consciences to lead them toward acceptance, tolerance and love, many of your Churches seem intent on maintaining a differentiation between "true believers" and "backsliders" on this issue, among others.

The legal and political battles around the issues of rights for the "differently oriented" are important. But surely the religious battle can't be said to have been fully joined, or, as nearly as I can see from a daily reading of your press, even seriously considered.

The recent, tragic suicides of gay and lesbian teens may have been precipitated by bullying (itself, admittedly a complex phenomenon), but the acceptability of bullying in these cases was ultimately provided by Church teachings, whether or not the bullies were believers.

Such teachings also rob these bullied kids of the sense of self worth essential for coping and avoiding the despair of what they must have seen as hopeless, never ending rejection and harassment.

I'm a former "Roman" Catholic, forced out of my Church as a gay teenager by teachings about me I knew in my heart (and soul) to be wrong. The "Canadian" Catholic Church hasn't changed its dogma, but it has moderated its rhetoric. I wonder what changes might occur if the "American" Catholic Church were to decide that an elderly, male theologian with no personal experience of sexual love was not the best arbiter of sexuality in the United States.

I'm not suggesting that Vatican City be declared a "Rogue State" (although if Churches try to maintain hate speech as your politicos gradually reject it, it might be an idea worth considering). But I am suggesting that people of faith, particularly heterosexual people of faith, and most particularly, people who believe the Bible to be the literal word of God, start asking your faith leaders why so many men and women of faith and conscience, including many who can legitimately claim a deep and thoughtful understanding of these teachings, reject them.

I'm pretty sure that no Church can send you to hell for asking questions. And questions, as we've been taught from the time of Socrates, often lead to illumination.

In spite of the regrettable Canadian inferiority complex recently revealed by Wikileaks, this Canadian has a deep admiration for your country and the American people - very nearly as deep as I have for Canada and the Canadian people (in spite of our very own homophobes).

Posted by: gerrybeech | December 7, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

To this gay Canadian, it appears that an exceptionally corrosive and unkind "wedge issue" is rapidly disappearing from the US political discussion. Congratulations!

= = = = = = = = = = =

No, it's not disappearing. The agressive promoters of the gay lifestyle aren't going to quit.

They will keep driving that wedge into society. Armored by their self-righteousness, they simply cannot fathom the meaning of their endless rejections at the polls.



Posted by: ZZim | December 7, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

It is just as perturbing to me that homosexual marriages are accepted as the fact that interracial marriages once were not accepted. A man goes with a woman no matter what race they are--end of story.

Now I could be wrong about this, but my gut feeling tells me that just because the Nazis and other hate groups don't like blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and so on it does not mean that all these groups are natural and kosher. If the Nazi would have thrown in, say, pedophiles on their list of hated groups I bet there would be a big movement for pedophile rights. Things are not clear cut, like I am saying.

I think in the long run that it is going to be proven that homosexuality is a physical and mental malady for such a species (like pedophilia) and that this garbage about gay marriage being like a black dude marrying a white lady is going to be debunked.

You could teach everyone from birth that it is natural and normal for a man to marry a dog and these people would be astounded and flabbergasted when they found out that a man is not meant to marry a dog for such a species. Most of you folks I think are going to be recipients of this same kind of astonishment when you find out that a man is not meant to marry another man. You f%cking retards really piss me off too because I have to be some sort of hate monger or something because you are to goddamn dumb to even understand the basic biological concept of a man going with a woman. Again it is like, to me at least, arguing with you about whether it is biologically natural for a man to marry and fornicate with a dog of such a species. It should be obvious that a man does not go with a dog, much akin to how it is obvious that a man does not go with another man for such a species.

Again, I do leave open the option that I could be wrong.

Posted by: robert_curley_jacobs | December 7, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Again, I do leave open the option that I could be wrong.

Oh, no doubt, you're most definitely wrong, but mostly you're just ignorant. Feel free to crawl back in your myopic little hole.

Posted by: wille66 | December 7, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Personally I believe that I come from 'the stork' (by 'the stork' I am referring to what parents tell their kids when they are little about where they come from, and to me it meant I came out of the ether...I once was not and now I am.) Anyway I believe this for a lot of reasons. I think everyone that DNA denotes as being biologically related comes from 'the stork.' All I am saying is that I sure as hell am not biologically related to my eternity wife. The way I figure is that the big bang did in fact create the inanimate objects on this world (and the world itself), but the first simple cell bacteria that scientists claim are the foundations of life also came from 'the stork.' The simple bacteria had a family (which came from 'the stork') and it its family was a bit biologically different. This different bacteria had a family from 'the stork' and so on and so on with 'mutations' continuing until 'the stork' brought the apes and then it brought black people and again so on an so on until it brought you and me. Each generation was raised by the previous generation with branches splitting off so that their are birds and fish and deer and whatever other animals. None of these species (including 'humans') are related though biologically or in the sense that people may believe they are.

I just do not believe that 'the stork' brought in a 'mutation' as such that a man's eternity partner is another man. I mean it is possible, but by this rational people that like beastuality sex (human and alligator sex for example) could just as easily have been brought in by 'the stork' via a new 'mutation.'

Either way though, my wife and I ain't related biologically. In fact, if you believe that you and your eternity spouse are biologically related you should just go out and buy a gun, put it to your head, and send yourself to the afterlife. Spare everyone the display of docility and retardation.

I could be wrong about all this though (minus the part about my wife and I being biologically related). Just like I could be wrong about it not being natural for man and another man to be eternity partners. Who knows. Again though if you are going recognize gay marriage what is next? Man and gator marriages? Incest marriages? 12 year old and 60 year old marriages?

Posted by: robert_curley_jacobs | December 7, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

For the religous:
God in any religon says it is not correct.

For the atheis / agnostic:
If man was supposed to be with man then they would naturally die out because they could not reproduce to continue the man on man love. (natural selection)

Posted by: WhatBubble | December 7, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Calling people retards shows that you are a hate monger. Why do you care what other people do in their bedrooms?

Posted by: WickedRose | December 7, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

What tripe. Just ask any seven year old anywhere on the planet — across culture, race, ethnicity, creed or any other characteristic — what marriage and family mean. Why don't you get back to us with the results of that survey.

Marriage means husband and wife. Interracial marriage always has existed, and while it may in some circumstances have violated certain taboos, nevertheless it never required the word marriage itself to be redefined. To recast marriage as anything other than the union of husband and wife is to create out of thin air something that never has existed, and logically cannot exist.

Posted by: thebump | December 7, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

This would be an interesting experiment: Pack all sociology professors off to Gitmo for a year and see if anyone notices.

Posted by: thebump | December 7, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

WhatBubble wrote:
"For the religous:
God in any religon says it is not correct.

For the atheis / agnostic:
If man was supposed to be with man then they would naturally die out because they could not reproduce to continue the man on man love. (natural selection)"

First of all, not all religions and certainly not all Christian denominations condemn gays or gay relationships. I work for a church that does accept GLBTQ folk.

Your second assumption is that all relationships/families are for the purpose of having children. There are hetero couples who either choose not to or biologically cannot have children, but they are still a family.

Not all men are meant to be with men, just the select few. We leave the heteros to keep producing our successors.

Posted by: BootmanDC | December 7, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Why does every writer who wishes to promote a new definition of marriage bring up race, which has no relevance pro or con to the issue of changing marriage? Could it be that the writer cannot think of any relevant rationale for his position?

Posted by: concernedcitizen3 | December 7, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

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