Accepting same-sex families
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.
| December 7, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: acceptance of same-sex families; same-sex couples
Save & Share: Previous: BOOK WORLD - December 5, 2010
Next: Gift books for Palin and Obama groupies
Posted by: gerrybeech | December 7, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ZZim | December 7, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: robert_curley_jacobs | December 7, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wille66 | December 7, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: robert_curley_jacobs | December 7, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: WhatBubble | December 7, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: WickedRose | December 7, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thebump | December 7, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thebump | December 7, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: BootmanDC | December 7, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: concernedcitizen3 | December 7, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse