Lesbian and Gay Parenting Most Prevalent in the South; Couples and their Children Need Legal Protection

For the first time in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau released the numbers of same-sex marriages reported in the United States and data about their relationships. The decision to release this information reversed a Bush-era policy that prohibited the release of this information. The information released about same-sex relationships revealed that more same-sex couples are participating in child rearing.

In 1976, there were an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 biological gay and lesbian parents in the United States. In the 1990s, it was estimated that  6 to 14 million children were being raised by same-sex parents. The latest statistics reveal that an estimated 2 million members of the LGBT community are interested in adoption and currently an estimated 65,500 children are adopted by same-sex couples each year. More than 16,000 children are being raised in households run by same-sex couples, amounting to 4% of all adopted children being raised in the United States.

The New York Times recently published an article highlighting the prevalence and commonality of gay parenting as revealed from the Census statistics. However, the article also highlights the difficulties of being a same-sex parent.

An important difficulty to address is the process for a same-sex couple to become parents. Adoption laws vary from state to state. In some states, same-sex couples are allowed to adopt a child as joint parents, in which case they can go about an adoption the same way a heterosexual couple would. Unfortunately, in many states adoption is not an option for same-sex couples. In states that allow same-sex couples to marry, same-sex couples are automatically considered parents. A legal parent is defined as “the person who has the right to live with a child and make decisions about the child’s education, well-being and health.” Even if the couple divorces, both parents are still considered the legal parents of the child. These children are guaranteed the same protection of heterosexual parents.

In May of 2004 the Human Rights Campaign Foundation released a report illustrating the difficulties of same-sex parents. Health Insurance is far less likely to be provided to same-sex couples with children through their employer, and those who do receive coverage pay inflated prices for coverage compared to their married, heterosexual co-workers.  Social Security benefits are also denied to same-sex couples: if one parent in a same-sex relationship dies, the Social Security benefits that would be left to the surviving parent and child are inadequate compared to heterosexual couples in the same situation. Income tax is higher for same-sex couples that have one stay at home parent, compared to heterosexual couples with the same family dynamic. However, if both parents are working in a same-sex relationship, the income tax is less than what married heterosexual couples pay.

The ultimate solution to these issues facing LGBT families is legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.  We have seen this work in those states that allow same sex couples to marry  Formal marriage status provides the child with Social Security benefits, consent to provide emergency treatment and medicine from both parents, and support from both parents in the case that they divorce.  However, even though most states issue domestic partnerships and civil unions, these bonds are not portable over state lines and do not provide the 1,138 federal rights given by marriage.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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