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Study Shows American Attitudes About Family Changing

Researchers at Indiana University released the results of a survey this week that shows a definite shift in Americans' definition of family. Data gathered in 2003, 2006 and 2010 from more than 2,300 interviews revealed that, over the past seven years, Americans have increasingly recognized both straight and gay unmarried couples as families -- a trend that is noteworthy to family law attorneys in Illinois and around the country.

Such a change in attitude has a ripple effect in both society and the law. With greater acceptance comes less social fragmentation over time. It does take time, though, for some social structures to catch up with prevailing attitudes. The study's author points to the acceptance of interracial couples as a comparison.

Social attitudes move at a different pace from the law, though. Same-sex marriages are legal in only five states and the District of Columbia. The 2010 Census questionnaire defined a family as "a group of two people or more ... related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together." 

The ripples from recognition of non-traditional families in the law would likely reach income tax filings, employee benefits, inheritance rights, adoption laws, child custody agreements -- just about everything associated with daily life.

Because the ramifications could be so profound, the opponents to official recognition of same-sex families are a diverse group. The specific survey results illustrate this.

  • There was a 10 percent increase in the number of people who reported having a gay friend or relative.
  • 68 percent of respondents in 2010 counted a same-sex couple with child(ren) as a family, compared with 54 percent of respondents in 2003.
  • One third of respondents did not consider a same-sex couple without children to be a family.
  • 30 percent of respondents in 2006 included pets in their definitions of family but not gay couples.
  • 83 percent said unmarried heterosexual couples with children were a family, compared with 40 percent granting that unmarried straight couples with children were families (2010 results).

The survey asked about same-sex marriage in 2010. Respondents were almost evenly divided, with 52 percent in support and 48 percent in opposition of it. The debate will continue to be heated, especially as the federal government takes up proposed legislation that would extend the rights of same-sex rights with regard to adoption and foster care placements.

But more on that in future posts.

Resource: Associated Press "Who's a Family? New Study Tracks Shifting US Views" 9/15/10

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