The definition of a family in America is critical, especially in Charlotte, North Carolina – it can affect tax filings, adoption proceedings, employment benefits, inheritance rights, and many other legal matters. A majority of Americans now say that their definition of a “family” includes same-sex couples with children, as well as gay and lesbian couples. However, most Americans also report that they do not consider unmarried cohabitating couples, either heterosexual or homosexual, to be a family – unless they have children. These findings emerged from a study based upon telephone interviews conducted in 2003, 2006, and 2010 by author and Indiana University professor Brian Powell. Powell concludes that the framing of the issue of equality of same-sex couples in terms of “the best interests of the child” might prove to be the most successful political argument.
The survey also indicates that since 2003, the proportion of people who reported having a gay friend or relative rose 10 percent, which Powell attributes to “a more open social environment in which individuals now feel more comfortable discussing and acknowledging sexuality.” Furthermore, Americans appear to be almost equally divided on same-sex marriage and more open to seeing same-sex couples with children as families, even when they hesitate to recognize the parents’ union as marriage. The survey also demonstrated a growing belief that genetics, rather than parenting, peers, or religion, is responsible for sexual orientation. Those who remain opposed to same-sex marriage indicated to the surveyors that they were more willing to include pets over same-sex partners in their definition of family.
Although five states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages, these marriages are not recognized by the federal government. The Census Bureau defines family as “a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.”