The American family is getting pretty complicated. Talking about family matters today means brushing over questions of same-sex marriage, single parenthood, grandparent caregivers, adoption, etc.—which all revolve around how society legitimizes the intimate relationships that define who we are. A new poll shows that more Americans are rethinking their definitions of family and perhaps pulling a few steps ahead of the law.
The Russell Sage Foundation has published its latest findings from a series of surveys tracking the public’s changing views of family relationships. As you might have guessed, “family” today is becoming more inclusive, reports ABC News:
Thirty-three percent said a gay male couple was a family. Sixty-four percent said they became a family when they added children. That number was 54 percent in 2003.
The survey also indicates that many today are acclimatized to families led by unmarried couples:
39.6 percent in 2010 said that an unmarried man and woman living together were a family — but give that couple some kids and 83 percent say that’s a family.
Researchers say the common denominator seems to be the presence of children: the responsibility of raising another member of society may accord a certain legitimacy that weaves the entire household more tightly into the social fabric.
Still, not everyone thinks the matter is that complicated:
Sixty percent of Americans in 2010 said that if you considered yourself to be a family, then you were one.
Unfortunately, that leaves about four in ten Americans stuck in the ethical quagmire of believing that family isn’t defined by the people in it, but rather, by what people outside the family say it is. Maybe it’s what a preacher dictates (many respondents got their talking points from the Almighty), or what voters mark down on a ballot on Election Day, or what a politician argues when trying to appeal to those preachers and voters.
LGBT couples and their children, of course, don’t need the letter of the law to validate their love toward each other. Still, as the marriage wars plod through the courts, evolving public opinion on the issue is a reminder that the family isn’t a static institution, but a living, diverse experience that redefines itself more richly with each generation.