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Counted Out

Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family

Brian Powell
Catherine Bolzendahl
Claudia Geist
Lala Carr Steelman
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  • Book Info
    Counted Out
    Book Description:

    When state voters passed the California Marriage Protection Act (Proposition 8) in 2008, it restricted the definition of marriage to a legal union between a man and a woman. The act’s passage further agitated an already roiling national debate about whether American notions of family could or should expand to include, for example, same-sex marriage, unmarried cohabitation, and gay adoption. But how do Americans really define family? The first study to explore this largely overlooked question, Counted Out examines currents in public opinion to assess their policy implications and predict how Americans’ definitions of family may change in the future. Counted Out broadens the scope of previous studies by moving beyond efforts to understand how Americans view their own families to examine the way Americans characterize the concept of family in general. The book reports on and analyzes the results of the authors’ Constructing the Family Surveys (2003 and 2006), which asked more than 1,500 people to explain their stances on a broad range of issues, including gay marriage and adoption, single parenthood, the influence of biological and social factors in child development, religious ideology, and the legal rights of unmarried partners. Not surprisingly, the authors find that the standard bearer for public conceptions of family continues to be a married, heterosexual couple with children. More than half of Americans also consider same-sex couples with children as family, and from 2003 to 2006 the percentages of those who believe so increased significantly—up 6 percent for lesbian couples and 5 percent for gay couples. The presence of children in any living arrangement meets with a notable degree of public approval. Less than 30 percent of Americans view heterosexual cohabitating couples without children as family, while similar couples with children count as family for nearly 80 percent. Counted Out shows that for most Americans, however, the boundaries around what they define as family are becoming more malleable with time. Counted Out demonstrates that American definitions of family are becoming more expansive. Who counts as family has far-reaching implications for policy, including health insurance coverage, end-of-life decisions, estate rights, and child custody. Public opinion matters. As lawmakers consider the future of family policy, they will want to consider the evolution in American opinion represented in this groundbreaking book.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-720-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Family Counts
    (pp. 1-15)

    Family counts. That is, a family counts for its members and for its inextricable ties to other institutions. It counts for society at large because it represents a major conduit through which cultural knowledge flows from one generation to the next and beyond, and because it is a means by which necessary goods are distributed to members of society. Family and society are so interwoven that arguably, without family, we would have no society. Virtually all socialization theories see familial influence as pivotal from childhood to adulthood. Inequality also has deep roots within family. Scholars representing diverse theoretical leanings agree...

  6. Chapter 2 Who Counts as Family?
    (pp. 16-36)

    Who do Americans count as family? Do they see family through the lens of nostalgia or through conventions that favor traditional forms? Alternatively, does public opinion indicate movement toward greater acceptance of various nontraditional living arrangements, most notably same-sex couples? Or do public views appear so jumbled that they lack any consistency?

    Finding consensus among existing definitions of family is not easy. The disagreement even among academicians is evident from the brief overview presented in chapter 1. It has been common for social scientists to express or reinforce—often inadvertently—a heteronormative orientation in their writings regarding ″family″ or ″the...

  7. Chapter 3 Family Accounts: How Americans Talk About Family
    (pp. 37-70)

    In the previous chapter, we identified the living arrangements that Americans count or do not count as family. We found deep disagreement, especially regarding same-sex couples and childless heterosexual cohabiting couples. From their responses, we also discovered that Americans belong to three broad but distinct categories: exclusionists, moderates, or inclusionists. We speculated on the commonalities and distinctions in the reasons for the boundaries between family and nonfamily that these three groups make. Still, our speculation is just that: mere speculation based on inferences from the closed-ended questions. Answers to these questions are useful, but they do not tell us why...

  8. Chapter 4 Family Counts Divided: Social Location and Definitions of Family
    (pp. 71-102)

    To this point we have outlined Americans′ definitions of family and whether same-sex couples are counted in or out of these definitions. Americans splinter into three distinguishable groups that set markedly dissimilar boundaries between family and nonfamily—inclusionists, moderates, and exclusionists. These boundaries are consequential: they are implicated in Americans′ views regarding family policy, notably same-sex marriage. And as we saw in chapter 3, these boundaries are accompanied by an assortment of competing justifications—from a concentration on structure to an emphasis on what families actually do.

    In this chapter, we take another look at boundaries. But here we explore...

  9. Chapter 5 Accounting for Sexuality: God, Genes, and Gays
    (pp. 103-136)
    Danielle Fettes

    Up until this point we have identified ways in which Americans define family—and in particular, the extent to which same-sex couples are counted in or counted out of these definitions—and have articulated how such definitions are shaped by location in the social structure, among these factors being gender, age, and education.¹ But the boundaries that Americans make between families and nonfamilies tell us even more. As described in the previous chapter, a large segment of the American population is equivocal about or opposed to the inclusion of same-sex couples in the definition of family. This ambivalence or resistance...

  10. Chapter 6 Discounting Sex: Gender, Parenting, and Definitions of Family
    (pp. 137-169)

    In the previous chapter, we saw that Americans′ views about the etiology of sexual preference are intertwined with their definitions of family. When respondents attributed sexual preference to external factors beyond individual control, including genetics and ″God′s will,″ they were more likely to express a wide-ranging view of family that included same-sex couples. By contrast, those who endorsed the idea that sexuality is ″controllable″ and sexual preference is due to parenting or environmental factors were much more restrictive in whom they counted as family. Among the most conservative members of our study, parents matter because it is their duty to...

  11. Chapter 7 Family Names Count: Marital Name Change and Definitions of Family
    (pp. 170-200)
    Laura Hamilton

    In the last chapter, we explored how gendered views of the ideal parent in single-parent living arrangements are related to the boundaries that Americans draw in defining family.¹ Respondents who had the most gendered approach to parenting had the most restrictive view of who counts as a family. From this perspective, a same-sex arrangement—boys with fathers and girls with mothers—is ideal because fathers and mothers have fundamentally different parenting capabilities that are best suited to meet the gendered needs of sons and daughters, respectively. Those with a more moderately gendered view—they see mothers as the ideal parent...

  12. Chapter 8 Changing Counts, Counting Change: Toward a More Inclusive Definition of Family
    (pp. 201-218)

    Family counts. Few would dispute this statement. Family is assigned a great many responsibilities and in turn is afforded a great number of benefits. It has a profound influence on our lives. But ″family″ counts too. How ″family″ is defined determines which living arrangements are expected to perform these responsibilities, which are granted these benefits, and upon which social legitimacy is conferred. Definitions of family—and especially whether same-sex couples should be seen as family—currently lie at the heart of passionate scholarly and public controversy and debate. Whether same-sex couples are counted in or out of this definition, we...

  13. Appendices
    (pp. 219-266)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 267-290)
  15. References
    (pp. 291-308)
  16. Index
    (pp. 309-320)