What constitutes a family?

By Elizabeth Tenety A majority of Americans now “consider same-sex couples with children” to be a family, according to a … Continued

By Elizabeth Tenety

A majority of Americans now “consider same-sex couples with children” to be a family, according to a study released Wednesday.

The survey, “Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family,” polled 800 Americans in 2003 and 2006 on their definition of a family. When asked “Which living arrangements count as family?”, respondents then judged several categories, among them “husband and wife, with children,” “two men, with children” and “two women, with children.”

The study found that a majority define two women or two men with children to be a ‘family.’

Even though most Americans believe that a gay couple with children constitutes a family, those who say that the word family belongs to a married man and woman often are religious: “People commonly rely on religious themes in defending the boundaries they draw between families and nonfamilies,” the study’s authors wrote.

The researchers also found “a strong link between religious views and the exclusivity of family definitions,” a discovery that may reflect the ‘one man, one woman’ marriage advocacy undertaken by several major religious and cultural organizations in opposition to a political and cultural movement for gay rights, including gay marriage.

From the study:

“Respondents who relied on religious explanations were among the most steadfast opponents to enlarging the scope of family definitions and extending the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, frequently invoking ‘God’s will’ (‘It’s not in God’s will for it. God created man for woman and woman for man’).

“[A]n elderly woman answered the question thus: ‘Definitely a family consists of a man and a woman, not two people of the same sex. A family is consecrated in marriage. Usually consists of children, but not necessarily because a couple may not be able to have children.’ “

Religions teach their followers about the meaning of life and how to live it –from dictates on what to wear, what to eat, how to act charitably, yes, teachings on what makes a family.

And recently it’s been religious groups, including the Catholic and Mormon churches, and several Christian organizations, that have used their political advocacy to maintain that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, only. Do religious organizations also have a future in fighting over the definition of a family?


How do you define ‘family’? Does your religion inform your understanding? Does your definition include gay couples? Do you find such labels helpful or harmful?

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • PSolus

    “How do you define ‘family’?”It is not up to me to define family for other people.”Does your religion inform your understanding?”I have no religion.”Does your definition include gay couples?”It is not up to me to define anything for gay couples; or straight couples, for that matter.”Do you find such labels helpful or harmful?”If you are talking about labels for herbs and spices in a kitchen cabinet: helpful.If you are talking about labels for other people: harmful.

  • Secular

    Hi Psolus, I haven’t seen you active here in a while. Welcome back.

  • eezmamata

    It seems an inherent trait among the religious to define for other people the kinds of lives they must live, using definitions and reasons they use for themselves. And of course it is all based on something their gods have told them to do, as perceived and imposed by the professional purveyors of their religion.Are they trying to validate these unreasoned reasons? Why do they concern themselves with how other people live, and even more – why do they demand that other people live the same way?People whose business is worth minding, mind their own business. People whose lives are empty, filled only by the fatuous fantasies of religious beliefs mind other people’s business.

  • gladerunner

    “How do you define ‘family’?”

  • LEMKDDL

    First, let me state that I am a 41 yr old, Christian woman, who was not raised in “the church” although I was “saved” when I was 8 and have attended and been counted as part of the membership of a variety of churches and denominations. Second, as a result of a very “modern American” upbringing: Child of a teen mom, with multiple marriages, and under custody of other family members, I had a very non-”christian” (read: Republican, Right-wing) perspective.Now, Jesus didn’t define families. He did define neighbors. His instruction to his followers was to love God and to love people. His definition of neighbor was all-inclusive. I do not have the right to dictate to anyone else how they should think, feel or act. However, I am called to hold my “family” in Christ to accountability in loving ways to His instructions to love God and love people. The bible does define sin of all kinds. Behaviors, attitudes, and actions that create harm, cause separation, and drive a wedge between people and their relationship to God. Gossip, slander, lying, cheating, stealing, refusing to give aid and nurture to widows and orphans are defined as sin the same as the many different sexual and addictive sins are and God judges them all the same.I choose to define family by looking at the verb/noun Love. Therefore, where there is love, there is family.

  • lambcannon

    Why of course we all know family means one brutish white man with a crew cut, a subservient braindead white wife, and as many mollified children as possible, beaten into understanding the meaning of a good Christian godfearing plantation philosophy with full 2nd amendment rights.Blacks and brown people may also participate if they show enough empty piety and promise to deny civil rights to anyone who doesn’t fit into the category described in the first paragraph above.Amen, brethren and cistern. Yea verily, all sociological categorization and flimsy pseudo-religious cant must be decided by plebescite, lest the sodomites and zoophiles get in the back door.

  • macoafi

    “How do you define ‘family’?”"Does your religion inform your understanding?”"Does your definition include gay couples?”

  • DwightCollins

    a real family is a husband and wife and kids…

  • Alex511

    fr dwightcollins:>a real family is a husband and wife and kids…A REAL family is a cohesive group that pledges to support, care for, and love each other. My WIFE and I (we are gay Christians who married June 2008) are a FAMILY, whether the fundies and those from the afa, the frc and the fotf CULTS like it or not!

  • jjedif

    In Iran, a family is a man, a woman and a bunch of children.Supposedly the U.S. is a secular state where we are free to practice or not practice religion.However, so-called “Christian conservatives” would like the U.S. to be more like Iran.

  • ThomasBaum

    Elizabeth TenetyYou asked, “How do you define ‘family’?”Family is “humanity” all that have been, are or will be, this makes “all” of us, brothers and sisters.I would say that we are quite the “dysfunctional” family, wouldn’t you?You then asked, “Does your religion inform your understanding?”Since I consider myself a catholic Catholic and the fact that “catholic” means universal, how could anyone come up with a different “definition” of family?And as it says in the bible, “Let Us make man (humanity) in Our Image…”, this very clearly states that it means ALL.You then asked, “Does your definition include gay couples?”It includes all of those that have been, are or will be, in other words (ALL, past, present, future), very simple and very inclusive.You also asked, “Do you find such labels helpful or harmful?”It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other but I believe some are in for quite a surprise when they find out that God looks at the “person” not the “label”. Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Burkittsville

    I am a schoolteacher: I define families as the many relatives (related or not) that love and take care of the students I teach. I have students with 2 moms, students with 1 mom, students with a mom and dad that get along, and students that have parents that fight nightly. I also have students who live with their grandma, or someone they call Aunt who is actually no relation biologically. These are all families.Does your religion inform your understanding? Does your definition include gay couples? Do you find such labels helpful or harmful?

  • outragex

    In various Bible times a family could include: concubines, multiple wives, sisters in law who married the patriarch after becoming widows, orphaned relatives, some in-laws, and even slaves and servants. Today, I believe a family is any group who lives together intending to have long-term bonds of love and commitment. Foster families, adoptive families, blended families, step-families, same sex families, sisters and brothers living together, neices and aunts…God loves ‘em all equally. We Christians should stop worrying about how to define a family and just get on with supporting anyone, single or in a group, who is a child of God. That includes everyone, no exceptions.

  • areyousaying

    To repeat that familiar refrain – Glenn Beck Christians can go focus on their own family starting with Soap Opera Sarah whose own family needs it the most.When you’re part of a family you know it, they all know it and you don’t need some moose rifle totin’ creep with a bible opened to leviticus to define it for you.

  • pyellman

    You’ve all been watching too many animated kids movies where the cat, the dog, the mouse, the dinosaur from the past, the cowboy action doll come to life, and the teapot declare themselves a “family”.When a word can mean anything, it means nothing. If you want a word to mean whatever the heck you want, that’s your business, but when you demand that I recognize your definition as valid, that becomes my business.

  • notowillfulignorance

    PYELLMAN, clearly I confused you and DWIGHTCOLLINS. My bad.However, your being so “put out” by gay people just wanting the same joys and dignity in their lives, is, well, frustrating, infuriating, and, frankly, outrageously narcissistic.I stand by my statements regarding people like you who have such clear contempt for gay people simply existing, and chastise us for allegedly spewing “bile” when we stand up for ourselves without reservation.We’re not the bullies in this relationship.

  • saami

    We are all one family on this small insignificant vulnerable planet. We just have forgotten this and need to love one another again. I am atheist so there is no reward or punishment for what I think and I am responsible for my own thoughts and actions.

  • pyellman

    notowillfulignorance:

  • lepidopteryx

    A family is people who, whether related genetically or not, have chosen to be in a mutually loving, supportive relationship. This may or may not include marriage, may or may not include production or adoption of children. The number of dangly bits is irrelevant.

  • notowillfulignorance

    Pyellman:”When a word can mean anything, it means nothing. If you want a word to mean whatever the heck you want, that’s your business, but when you demand that I recognize your definition as valid, that becomes my business.”I’m a gay man. What never ceases to amaze me is that people like you don’t stop for one second to consider that WE tolerate YOU.We have endured your ridicule all our lives, abnegating years of authentic living and happiness to accommodate your personal comfort and to spare ourselves persecution.Those days are OVER.Now you have to JUST DEAL.It’s mutual tolerance.Our very existence is an outrageous inconvenience to you. Tough.I don’t demand you accept me or consider me valid AT ALL.I do, however, as your fellow American, expect you to let me live as I see fit without constantly imposing your personal condemnation on me and other good gay people.Mind your own business, which is YOUR personal relationship. And I’ll mind mine.It’s a two-way street.

  • gladerunner

    pyellman

  • notowillfulignorance

    DWIGHTCOLLINS:”a real family is a husband and wife and kids…I just don’t understand where people get the nerve to have the audacity to tell other people how they can and cannot live their lives. The cavalier judgment is mindboggling.And what’s so infuriating about the cavalier judgment of DWIGHTCOLLINS, is that DWIGHTCOLLINS, in his comfortable ignorance, truly believes gay people have a greater capacity to molest children than do straight people. I’m sure, in part, this is because of the Catholic sex scandal, but that scandal exposed the dangers of systematic sexual repression, not an indication that gay men have a higher likelihood of molesting children than straight people.I am a gay man and I have not once had an unsavory, sexual thought about a child. Period.And to all those who routinely chant the tired mantra “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”…According to your folklore, it was a straight couple, not a gay couple, that ticked off God so much that our species was kicked out of Eden and has been forever branded with the shame of original sin. So, straight couples who claim a monopoly on “family values” and “living right” should truly, I mean, really….give it a rest.

  • pyellman

    notowillfulignorance:Wow. OK. You might want to spit out some of that bile.

  • BearBudMN

    I am a gay man who lives with my partner in Minnesota. We are both Episcopalians who worship in a Parish Community where we are welcomed, respected and celebrated as a family. In our Parish we are recognized as a committed Christian Couple, because of the love we share, not because we are two men who live together.To me, my Christian Faith is not so much about making public policies that force what I believe on others. What I believe is how I live, because it is how God is real in my life and in the life my partner and I share. We pray every day together, share in our meals, successes, difficulties and we are there for each other through good times and bad. Isn’t that what love and marriage are really about? Isn’t that what really matters?Religious convictions don’t have to affect public policy, but if it does, I wish it would affect people for positive reasons rather than chase people away. The Christian Faith really is about loving our neighbor including those who are different from ourselves. It includes respecting people of other religions, races, sexual orientations, gender identities/expressions, genders, nationalities, cultures and abilities. Those who insist that the Christian Faith is suppose to be exclusive, are misrepresenting what the Gospel is really about. And that is why more and more people turn away from the Christian Faith and/or all religions. It does not have to be that way.The Christian Church has made many mistakes over the years, and now they are working to exclude LGBTQ people from marriage and other equal rights. It is a misuse of the Christian Gospel, and a terrible abuse of religious power. My God honors all loving and committed relationships. What gender they are, what sexual orientation they are, is all part of God’s plan for inclusive and diverse ways of loving each other as we are. It is an honorable thing to do.

  • BearBudMN

    I am a gay Episcopalian who lives with my partner in Minnesota. We worship together with a Parish Community where we are welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated for who we are. We are considered a family. We are a family, with or with out children. Only the Federal and State Governments, and conservative Christians do not recognize us that way. However, we do not live our lives the way we do for them, we live it for and with each other.Religion does not have to affect public policy negatively. Those who use it to affect it negatively are misrepresenting what the Christian Gospel is really about.I believe that all loving relationships are honored by God. It is too bad that conservative Christians cannot see God and a family within that kind of thing.

  • notowillfulignorance

    PYELLMAN:”You first attributed to me things that I did not say, sentiments that I did not express, then confused me with another poster for a simple reason: you are consumed by hatred. Your reasons may or may not be valid, but that it is true has been amply demonstrated. As such, you cannot be a partner in any reasonable discussion, as you know nothing except to resort to name calling, and yes, bullying.”I find this frustrating and, oddly enough, somewhat amusing. Sir, you came to this sight, mocked others for their personal views of love and family, comparing those views to children’s movie fantasy.And you demonstrated clear contempt for gay people for just EXISTING, for being visible, in your claim that you are somehow being forced to validate them and their families, which is stunningly narcissistic.Your post, sir, was condescending and insulting.That might make some people angry.It was easy for me to confuse you with another person posting, not because I am blinded by hatred as you claim, which I find ironic, but because you and the other person both made comments that are cavalierly disrespectful towards gay people and their families.That cavalier disrespect angered me.Anger is not necessarily hate.Please consider that.Thank you.Having said that, who is to say who can tell someone else what their family should and shouldn’t look like? Why are families that aren’t exactly like yours such a personal affront? I know many, many people who are just happy there is more happiness in the world. Life is such a bitter, tragically beautiful struggle. Why would you want to sour someone else’s happiness? Why is someone else having the same happiness and dignity so offensive to you? You don’t have to approve of them. No one is asking you to. You don’t have to support or condone anything. No one is forcing you to do ANYTHING. I simply will never understand.It’s quite sad. With all the problems of our world, the one thing that makes some people furious is other people loving each other and building a life together with dignity and security.Again, I will never understand.When we’re all on our death beds, do you really think this debate is even going to cross our minds?Consider that. Please. Really, think about that.

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