(Reposted with permission of the Center for American
Making Public Policy Work for All Households
How Current Laws Fail to Address the Changing Reality of
Public policy has not kept up with the changing reality of the
American family. Our laws and discourse largely ignore the roughly
2 million children being raised by LGBT parents.
By Jennifer Chrisler, Ineke Mushovic, Jeff
Krehely | October 25, 2011
Read the full report (pdf)
Public discussion about American families often assumes the nation
is largely made up of married heterosexual couples raising their
biological children. Yet less than a quarter of all U.S. households
fall into this category. Today’s children may be raised by
grandparents, single parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, or
foster parents. Their parents may be married or unmarried. They
also may be heterosexual or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or
Unfortunately, public policy has not kept up with the changing
reality of the American family. Indeed, our laws and discourse
largely ignore the roughly 2 million children being raised by LGBT
parents. They also ignore children in other family configurations,
such as those with unmarried heterosexual parents. As a result,
most Americans are probably unaware of the many ways in which
unequal treatment and social stigma harm the millions of children
whose families do not fit into a certain mold.
A new report, “All
Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT
Families,” from the Movement
Advancement Project, the Family Equality Council, and
theCenter for American
Progress offers one of the most comprehensive portraits to date
of the wide range of challenges facing LGBT families in
It highlights three major needs that every child must have met:
stable, loving homes; economic security; and health and well-being.
In each of these areas, the report outlines how current laws and
social stigma create challenges for LGBT families. The report
offers detailed recommendations for eliminating or reducing
inequities and improving the lives of children with LGBT parents.
Where possible, the report also highlights how current laws and
stigma harm children in other modern family configurations, such as
those with unmarried heterosexual parents.
A summary of the report and its recommendations follows. You can
read the full reporthere.
Key findings from the main report
LGBT families are numerous and diverse
- The number of children with LGBT parents is
significant. Roughly 2 million children are being raised
by LGBT parents.
- LGBT families are more likely to be poor.
Contrary to stereotypes, children living in same-sex-couple
households are twice as likely to live in poverty as children being
raised by married heterosexuals households. Same-sex couples of
color raising children are more likely to be poor than white
same-sex couples raising children.
- Same-sex couples raising children are more racially and
ethnically diverse than married different-sex couples raising
children. In all, 59 percent of same-sex couples with
children identify as white compared to 73 percent of married
different-sex couples with children. Same-sex couples of color are
more likely to raise children than white same-sex couples.
- LGBT families are geographically diverse. LGBT
families live in 96 percent of U.S. counties, and same-sex couples
in the South are more likely to be raising children than those in
other regions of the country.
- LGBT families are more likely to be
binational. Among same-sex couples, 6 percent are
binational compared to 4.6 percent of married heterosexual couples.
Nearly half (46 percent) of binational, same-sex couples are
rearing children compared to 31 percent of same-sex couples in
which both partners are U.S. citizens.
Laws and stigma hurt children with LGBT parents
State and federal laws and practices often deny children legal ties
to loving, responsible parents. In many states, LGBT adults face
restrictions in adoption or fostering—even though roughly 115,000
children are awaiting “forever” homes. And when a child is born
to a married heterosexual couple, that child generally enjoys the
essential security of being the legal child of both parents. By
contrast, a child born to (or raised by) two LGBT parents may have
one parent deemed a legal stranger by law, threatening to undercut
Today’s legal and social climate creates barriers to achieving
loving, stable homes for children in the following ways:
- Children denied permanent homes. Some states
and agencies still refuse to place children with same-sex couples
despite research consistently showing that children of LGBT parents
fare just as well as other children.
- Children denied legal ties to their parents. A
child living with two parents of the same sex can be assured that
their relationship to their parents will be recognized by law in
fewer than half of U.S. states. So if a child is born using donor
insemination, the partner of the birth mother may be a legal
stranger to the child, despite acting as a parent from birth.
- Children lack protection when their parents’
relationship dissolves or a parent dies. An LGBT parent
who is not recognized as a parent by the law can lose custody or
visitation rights even in instances when that parent is the most
suitable caregiver and has acted as a parent for the child’s
- Children live in fear that their families could be torn
apart by a parent’s deportation. Children with
binational same-sex parents are denied the same protections of
family unity as their heterosexual peers. Under federal immigration
law, LGBT Americans cannot sponsor a same-sex spouse or partner for
permanent residency or citizenship, a right that heterosexual
Laws and stigma create obstacles to economic security for
Government-based economic protections, ranging from safety net
programs to tax deductions to inheritance laws, help families meet
their children’s basic needs, including obtaining food, shelter,
Yet different treatment under the law creates barriers to economic
security for LGBT families in the following ways:
- Children fall through the safety net. Because
many safety net programs apply antiquated definitions of family, a
child with LGBT parents might be denied benefits provided to his or
her non-LGBT counterpart simply because the child’s parents are
LGBT. Most government safety net programs use a narrow definition
of family tied to marital status, which often excludes same-sex
partners and non-legally recognized parents and children. The
result is that financially struggling families with LGBT or
unmarried parents cannot accurately reflect their household size or
economic resources and may be denied adequate assistance.
- LGBT families face a higher tax burden. A
series of tax credits and deductions are designed to help all
families, regardless of economic circumstance, ease the financial
costs of raising children. Tax law, however, also uses a narrow
definition of family that excludes LGBT families. This exclusion
usually results in a significantly higher tax burden for LGBT
- LGBT families are denied financial protections when a
parent dies or is disabled. Social Security benefits and
inheritance laws aim to protect families when a parent dies or
becomes disabled. But because the federal government fails to
recognize LGBT families, such families may be denied critical
Social Security death and disability benefits provided to non-LGBT
families. And if a married heterosexual parent dies without a will,
all the couple’s assets transfer tax free to the surviving spouse
(and/or children). If a parent dies a wrongful death, minor
children and sometimes legal spouses also can sue. Yet LGBT
families have no such protections in states where their family ties
are not legally recognized.
Laws and stigma create obstacles to physical and mental health
Government policies aim to ensure that children are physically and
mentally healthy, and that they can access the basic resources they
need to thrive, including quality and welcoming child care,
education, and health care.
Yet children with LGBT parents face additional obstacles to
achieving optimal health and well-being:
- LGBT families face health coverage disparities and
unequal access to health insurance. The Defense of
Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing the
marriages of same-sex couples. This lack of recognition means that
employers do not need to extend health insurance benefits to the
same-sex partners of LGBT employees or to the children of these
partners (assuming the employee is a legal stranger to the
children). Even when employers choose to offer extended health
insurance benefits, an LGBT family will be taxed on the value of
the benefit while other families will not.
- LGBT families face unwelcoming health care
environments. Many professional caregivers—from
physicians to counselors to the receptionists at medical
facilities—are not accepting of, or trained to work with, LGBT
families. Some medical providers have even refused to treat LGBT
people, citing religious or personal reasons.
- LGBT family members are restricted in providing care to
each other. When an LGBT parent lacks legal recognition,
he or she may be denied visitation rights as well as the ability to
make medical decisions for his or her child. In addition, the
federal Family and Medical Leave Act does not require employers to
grant leave to a worker caring for a same-sex partner or spouse,
even while heterosexual workers have this right.
- LGBT families face social stigma and
discrimination. Many of the challenges LGBT families face
stem from a society that assumes that everyone is heterosexual and
comes from a family with two married heterosexual parents. The
stresses resulting from these expectations are heightened for LGBT
families of color, who also have to contend with additional
disparities as racial and ethnic minorities. Transgender parents
and their children also face added strains.
report presents a detailed and comprehensive set of legal,
policy, and cultural solutions to address the disparities and
challenges outlined above. Below is a summary of key
recommendations which, taken together, could virtually eliminate
the legal inequities that harm the 2 million children with LGBT
parents. Many of the recommendations would also help an array of
other children, including those with unmarried parents and those
Legally recognize LGBT families
Pass comprehensive parental recognition laws at the state
level to fully protect children in LGBT families. State
parentage and adoption statutes should allow joint adoption by LGBT
parents, recognize LGBT parents using assisted reproduction in the
same manner as heterosexual parents, and provide avenues such as
second-parent adoption and de facto parenting to allow LGBT parents
to gain full legal recognition.
Legalize and federally recognize marriage for same-sex
couples. Marriage for same-sex couples would help
strengthen the legal ties of the entire family, including that
between a child’s parents and between the child and his or her
parents. Married LGBT parents would be recognized as legal parents
upon a child’s birth, and they would also have access to joint
and step-parent adoption. If recognized by the federal government,
marriage would also allow accurate representation of LGBT families
for the purposes of safety net programs, tax credits and
deductions, inheritance and Social Security protections,
immigration sponsorship, and other benefits. And it would make it
easier for them to obtain family health protections, including
insurance coverage and the right to decision-making, visitation,
and family leave.
Provide pathways to immigration and citizenship for
binational LGBT families.This should include legislation
such as the “Uniting American Families Act,” which would add
the category “permanent partner” to the list of family members
already entitled to sponsor a foreign national for U.S.
Provide equal access to government-based economic
Recognize LGBT families and children across government
safety net programs.A broad definition of family would
allow LGBT families to accurately reflect their household across
numerous government programs and protections. Forms and application
procedures should also accommodate the reality of LGBT and other
21st century families.
Revise the IRS tax code to provide equitable treatment for
LGBT families. The Internal Revenue Service should create
a designation of “permanent partner,” who would be treated as a
spouse for the purposes of the tax code. The IRS should allow not
just legal parents but also de facto parents to claim a
“qualifying child” on their tax filing.
Provide equitable economic protections when a parent dies
or is disabled. Three steps should be taken to achieve
this goal. First, broaden Social Security’s definition of family
to allow an LGBT worker’s permanent partner and children to
access survivor and disability benefits in the same manner as a
heterosexual worker’s spouse and children. Next, states should
change inheritance laws to treat LGBT permanent partners as
spouses, and ensure children can inherit from a de facto parent
when the parent dies without a will. Last, states should permit the
filing of a wrongful death suit by any individual who can show
economic dependence on a deceased person.
Provide equal access to health care
Advance equal access to health insurance and care.
Pass laws ensuring that an LGBT worker’s domestic partner and
dependent children have access to health insurance on equal terms
with heterosexual families, including eliminating unfair taxation
of these benefits. Encourage private employers to offer domestic
partner benefits, and work to ensure the Affordable Care Act
defines “family” broadly both federally and in the states.
Enable LGBT family members to care for one
another. Pass or revise state hospital visitation and
medical decision-making laws to be inclusive of LGBT families and
de facto parents. Work with hospitals and other medical facilities
and providers to enact LGBT-friendly policies related to
visitation, advanced health care directives, and related issues.
And revise the federal Family Medical Leave Act to allow same-sex
partners to care for one another.
Protect LGBT families with antidiscrimination laws,
antibullying laws and outreach
Pass state antibullying laws and laws barring
discrimination in employment, adoption, custody and visitation,
health services, housing, and credit. Legislation
prohibiting bullying and harassment in schools and universities
should explicitly protect students based on their sexual
orientation, gender identity and expression, or association with
LGBT people. Nondiscrimination laws should include similar
Expand education and cultural competency training on LGBT
families. Education and cultural competency training for a
wide array of professionals should include outreach to adoption
agencies and child welfare departments, judges and law students,
government agency workers, health service providers, schools, and
Provide education, services support, and research to help LGBT
Create stronger support services for LGBT families,
particularly families of color, low-income families, and
transgender parents. Advocates should target LGBT families
with focused outreach and services, including opportunities to
participate in social and support groups. Advocates should also
educate LGBT families about the need to establish parentage ties
and other legal protections, and provide assistance in doing
Expand research on LGBT families and parenting, with an
emphasis on filling gaps in data on families of color, low-income
families, and transgender parents.This should include
lobbying for expanded private and government research on LGBT
families and parenting, such as improved demographic, financial,
health, mental health, and other data.
Today’s American families are increasingly diverse. Yet current
laws ignore modern realities—with devastating consequences. These
laws deny children the protection of having a legal connection to a
parent who cares for them. They undermine families’ economic
strength by denying access to safety net programs, family tax
credits, and health insurance and care. Antiquated laws can leave
children destitute if a parent dies or becomes disabled. They can
wrest children away from the most qualified caregiver if a
child’s parents’ relationship dissolves.
Two million children are already being raised by LGBT parents, and
there is no sound reason to exclude them from our public policies.
The states and the federal government have a huge opportunity to
modernize laws and regulations to put the best interests of
children first, ensuring that all children receive equal protection
under government laws and programs. It is a big challenge, but one
that should be met.
Read the full report (pdf)