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Public Opinion on the Family - Family Diversity

gay lesbian families marriage

Questions about family values have generally included issues concerning the current diversity of family structures. A 1998 survey by Lou Harris and Associates asked women, "Do you think that society should value only certain types of families, like those with two parents, or should society value all types of families?" More than nine out of ten respondents (93%) thought that society should value all types of families. Only 5% indicated that society should value only certain types of families, such as those with two parents.

In the same survey 52% of women and 42% of men thought family values meant "loving, taking care of, and supporting each other." The term family values was described as "knowing right from wrong and having good values" by 38% of women and 35% of men. Only 2% of women and 1% of men defined family values in terms of the traditional nuclear family.

By the year 2003, families had indeed become diverse. In addition to the shrinking number of nuclear families, there were blended families that combined children from past marriages with offspring of the current marriage, cohabiting couples with children, multigenerational families, families headed by gay or lesbian couples, single-parent families, and various combinations of related and unrelated individuals who considered themselves a family.

Differing Opinions on Gay and Lesbian Marriage

In a November 2003 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 59% of Americans opposed allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, and 51% opposed legal agreements that provided gay and lesbian couples many of the legal rights of marriage. (See Table 7.2.) People between ages twenty and thirty-five hovered just short of a 50% split in supporting or opposing gay and lesbian marriage. After age thirty-five, however, opposition to gay and lesbian marriage increased with age to a peak of nearly 90% among seventy-year-olds. (See Figure 7.6.)



Opposition to the gay and lesbian marriage issue was strongest in the South (67%) and in rural areas (69%). Support was strongest in the East (42%) and suburban areas (38%). (See Table 7.3.) The most cited reasons for opposition were moral and religious. Sixteen percent said the definition of marriage involved a man and a woman. (See Table 7.4.)

While 80% of Americans surveyed said society should put no restrictions on sex between consenting adults, more than half (56%) of those surveyed believed that allowing gay and lesbian marriages would undermine the traditional American family. Fifty-four percent agreed that gay and lesbian couples could be just as good parents as heterosexuals. (See Table 7.5.) A great difference of opinion about gays and lesbians as parents occurred by age groups. By a margin of 47% to 37%, people over age sixty-five believed that gay and lesbian couples could not be as good parents as other couples. Among the under-thirty age group, 69% believed gay and lesbian couples could parent just as well as heterosexual couples. Seniors were far less likely to know someone who was gay or lesbian. Fully half of seniors could not think of the name of a single gay or lesbian person, either in their own lives or a celebrity.

Actually knowing someone who was gay or lesbian had a strong influence on individual's attitudes toward gay and lesbian marriage. Thirty-nine percent of people who favored legalizing gay marriage knew someone who was gay or lesbian compared to 21% who did not. The impact was strongest in the eighteen to twenty-nine age group where


49% of those who favored gay and lesbian marriage knew an individual who was gay or lesbian. (See Figure 7.7.)

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