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Counted Out

Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family

Brian Powell, Catherine Blozendahl, Claudia Geist, Lala Carr Steelman

Publication Year: 2010

When state voters passed the California Marriage Protection Act (Proposition 8) in 2008, it restricted the definition of marriage to a legal union between a man and a woman. The act’s passage further agitated an already roiling national debate about whether American notions of family could or should expand to include, for example, same-sex marriage, unmarried cohabitation, and gay adoption. But how do Americans really define family? The first study to explore this largely overlooked question, Counted Out examines currents in public opinion to assess their policy implications and predict how Americans’ definitions of family may change in the future. Counted Out broadens the scope of previous studies by moving beyond efforts to understand how Americans view their own families to examine the way Americans characterize the concept of family in general. The book reports on and analyzes the results of the authors’ Constructing the Family Surveys (2003 and 2006), which asked more than 1,500 people to explain their stances on a broad range of issues, including gay marriage and adoption, single parenthood, the influence of biological and social factors in child development, religious ideology, and the legal rights of unmarried partners. Not surprisingly, the authors find that the standard bearer for public conceptions of family continues to be a married, heterosexual couple with children. More than half of Americans also consider same-sex couples with children as family, and from 2003 to 2006 the percentages of those who believe so increased significantly—up 6 percent for lesbian couples and 5 percent for gay couples. The presence of children in any living arrangement meets with a notable degree of public approval. Less than 30 percent of Americans view heterosexual cohabitating couples without children as family, while similar couples with children count as family for nearly 80 percent. Counted Out shows that for most Americans, however, the boundaries around what they define as family are becoming more malleable with time. Counted Out demonstrates that American definitions of family are becoming more expansive. Who counts as family has far-reaching implications for policy, including health insurance coverage, end-of-life decisions, estate rights, and child custody. Public opinion matters. As lawmakers consider the future of family policy, they will want to consider the evolution in American opinion represented in this groundbreaking book.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: American Sociological Association Rose Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Series Information

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pp. xiii-xiv

About the Authors

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pp. xv-xvi


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pp. xvii-xx

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1. Family Counts

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pp. 1-15

Family counts. That is, a family counts for its members and for its inextricable ties to other institutions. It counts for society at large because it represents a major conduit through which cultural knowledge flows from one generation to the next and beyond, and because...

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2. Who Counts as Family?

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pp. 16-36

Who do Americans count as family? Do they see family through the lens of nostalgia or through conventions that favor traditional forms? Alternatively, does public opinion indicate movement toward greater acceptance of various nontraditional living...

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3. Family Accounts: How Americans Talk About Family

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pp. 37-70

In the previous chapter, we identified the living arrangements that Americans count or do not count as family. We found deep disagreement, especially regarding same-sex couples and childless heterosexual cohabiting couples. From their responses, we also discovered...

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4. Family Counts Divided: Social Location and Definitions of Family

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pp. 71-102

To this point we have outlined Americans’ definitions of family and whether same-sex couples are counted in or out of these definitions. Americans splinter into three distinguishable groups that set markedly dissimilar boundaries between family and nonfamily...

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5. Accounting for Sexuality: God, Genes, and Gays

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pp. 103-136

Up until this point we have identified ways in which Americans define family—and in particular, the extent to which same-sex couples are counted in or counted out of these definitions—and have articulated how such definitions are shaped by location in the social structure, among these factors being gender, age, and...

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6. Discounting Sex: Gender, Parenting, and Definitions of Family

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pp. 137-169

In the previous chapter, we saw that Americans’ views about the etiology of sexual preference are intertwined with their definitions of family. When respondents attributed sexual preference to external factors beyond individual control, including genetics and “God’s will,” they were more likely to express a wide-ranging view of family...

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7. Family Names Count: Martial Name Change and Definitions of Family

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pp. 170-200

In the last chapter, we explored how gendered views of the ideal parent in single-parent living arrangements are related to the boundaries that Americans draw in defining family.1 Respondents who had the most gendered approach to parenting had the most restrictive view of who counts as a family. From this perspective, a same-sex...

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8. Changing Counts, Counting Change: Toward a More Inclusive Definition of Family

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pp. 201-218

Family counts. Few would dispute this statement. Family is assigned a great many responsibilities and in turn is afforded a great number of benefits. It has a profound influence on our lives. But “family” counts too. How “family” is defined determines which...


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pp. 219-266


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pp. 267-290


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pp. 291-308


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pp. 309-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447201
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871546876
Print-ISBN-10: 0871546876

Page Count: 310
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: American Sociological Association Rose Series