My spouse and I have four dogs and two cats, and we consider them a part of our family. Sadly, according to a new survey, some people would agree that pets are part of the family – but that my spouse and I – since we are both women – would not qualify under the term “family.”
The study, “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definition of Family” looks at the changing definition of family since 2003. The study’s lead author is Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell, who was interviewed by the Associated Press:
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.
Or, paws … as the case may be. While putting my family just below the dogs and cats may seem a bit unpleasant, there is good news in the survey.
When the researchers reviewed the first round of survey results in 2003, they found that about 41 percent of the respondents supported gay marriage, yet 53.6 percent agreed that two men living with a child constituted a “family,” and 55 percent said the same thing about two women living with a child. By 2010, not only did a majority (52 percent) say they were in favor of gay marriage, but the proportion who believed that gays living with kids are families had grown to 68 percent.
And, it seems, that religion – or at least a belief in God – played a significant role:
Over the last seven years, Powell says, the researchers were also able to document a “profound shift” in what the public considers to be the determinant of an individual’s sexual orientation. “By 2010, the proportion who say homosexuality is the result of either ‘genetics’ or ‘God’s will’ is over 60 percent, and those who say it’s caused by bad parenting has gone way down. That means the number who think [sexual orientation] cannot be changed has gone up.” Interestingly, the 15 to 20 percent who say homosexuality is the result of God’s will also tend to be among the most open to gay rights, he says.
That’s bad news for James Dobson who has made his living writing books teaching parents how to “prevent” homosexuality in their children. This is exactly what Dobson and other anti-gay religious leaders have feared all along – once people realize that being gay isn’t a choice or something you can pray away – then gay and lesbian families would simply become part of the American landscape – a member of the modern family.
Conservatives, though, share part of the blame, according to Powell.
When they talked to their first group in 2003, Powell says, “a lot of people would lower their voices before saying the word ‘gay.’ They didn’t want to say it out loud.” But starting the next year, as defense-of-marriage laws became a major political issue and there was much more public discourse about gay issues, people seemed to become more comfortable discussing the topic. Respondents began to mention, for example, “the impact of seeing Lynne Cheney talking about her daughter on TV,” Powell says, and “people became much more likely just to say the word. The sheer fact of talking about it seems to make a difference. It brings it out of the shadows.”
I’m sure it didn’t help the anti-gay cause when Laura Bush voiced her support for marriage equality, either.
But, all in all, it seems that people are finally getting it that it’s not the correct mix of genitals and offspring that make a family – but love is what truly makes a family – even if some continue to insist that gay inclusion means it’s all going to the dogs.