Why Kids with Same-Sex Parents Need Legal Protections

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Oct. 26 2011 2:45 PM

Why Kids with Same-Sex Parents Need Legal Protections

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Children of same-sex couples want equal legal protections.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

A coalition of child-welfare groups released a report on Tuesday showing that children of gay and lesbian parents in the U.S. face serious disadvantages not experienced by their opposite-sex-parented peers. The document, All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families, was prepared by the Family Equality Council, the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project. Currently, the U.S. Census does not attempt to directly count the children of same-sex couples, but researchers estimate the number to be between 1.2 and 2 million. The report represents an effort to show how not being considered a “real family” poses difficult legal challenges to these kids, not to mention damaging social stigmatization.

While most straight allies are probably aware of the economic inequalities same-sex partners face in many states and on the federal level in terms of taxation, inheritance and employer benefits (among many others), the discrimination faced by those couples' children may come as a surprise. The report explains that many government “safety-net” programs rely on a limited definition of family that necessarily excludes the kids of same-sex parents. Furthermore, the law does not currently deal with custody issues in the case of separations, and medical visitation and decision-making rights are often not extended to both parents.

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In spite of these challenges, however, same-sex adoptions are on the rise. The New York Times reported over the summer that in 2009, 19% of same-sex couples raising children had adopted kids, up from just 8% in 2000. As more and more gay and lesbian couples decide to become parents, solving these legal questions will become a necessity. Obviously, one of the easiest ways to do this would be to legalize gay marriage on the federal level; however, smaller steps, such as allowing joint adoption on the state level, would also go a long way in ameliorating the disparities.

And, of course, it goes without saying that there are plenty of kids in the system who could use a loving home—the report puts the number at about 110,000 currently in foster care. While none of these changes would necessarily reduce the social stigma that kids of same-sex parents will unfortunately have to face, they would be a step in the right direction: If the government starts treating you as a real family, society shouldn't lag far behind. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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