Family Portraits | May 2007
With the birth of Mary Cheney and Heather Poe's son, Samuel David Cheney, GLAAD is providing resources to news media outlets to ensure that their coverage avoids the kind of distortions and misrepresentations – particularly in the area of social science research – that marred initial coverage of the couple's pregnancy.
LANGUAGE & TERMINOLOGY
When reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families, it is important to treat those families, parents and children with dignity and respect – both during the newsgathering process and in the language used to tell their stories.
Never put quotation marks around descriptions such as family, parents, mothers or fathers when describing gay and lesbian families. Such tactics are often used by anti-gay groups to denigrate, delegitimize and dehumanize loving families.
It is also important to describe Mary Cheney and Heather Poe as the parents and/or mothers of Samuel David Cheney. Some previous coverage identified Poe simply as Cheney's partner, which, while accurate in referring to Poe's relationship to Cheney, is not an accurate description of her relationship to their son.
Also, the Associated Press, The New York Times and the Washington Post have extensive guidelines and standards for reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. For example, all three publications restrict or prohibit use of the term "homosexual," a word whose clinical history and pejorative connotations are often exploited by anti-gay activists seeking to depict gay people and their families as diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered.
For additional information, visit the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.
RESEARCH ON PARENTING & ADOPTION
Discussions about research examining children in gay and lesbian households are often marked by the kind of overheated, divisive political rhetoric that typifies much of the opposition to LGBT civil rights. It is important to separate fact from fiction with regard to this field of research.
Anti-gay advocates often make two claims to attack parenting by gay and lesbian people and couples: one, that "all" the social science research shows that children do best when raised by a married mother and father, and, two, that all the studies that show otherwise are, conveniently, flawed.
In truth, there is a large and growing body of literature that focuses on family structure and outcomes for children raised by their gay or lesbian parents. These studies have consistently shown that parenting by gay or lesbian parents has no adverse effects on children.
Additionally, nearly every credible authority on child welfare (including the Child Welfare League of America and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute) has determined that a parent's sexual orientation has nothing to do with the ability to be a good, effective parent.
(For additional information and research on same-sex parenting, see the organizations under MEDIA CONTACTS below.)
Most of the studies that anti-gay activists cite in defense of their claims have a significant flaw: they do not study gay families. Instead, they generally compare children with single parents to those living with their married parents. As such, it is inappropriate to use this research to argue that the sexual orientation or the gender-composition of parents affects the well-being of their children.
By the same token, it is important to note that research does not show that children with gay or lesbian parents are "exactly the same" as kids with heterosexual parents. There may indeed be differences (for example, one study found that female children of lesbian parents are more willing to consider career paths that could be thought of as atypical for women). The relevant question is whether such differences are harmful; and again, the considerable body of research demonstrates that they are not.
Media often unintentionally but inaccurately frame discussions about gay and lesbian parenting as a false dichotomy pitting parenting by opposite-sex couples against parenting by same-sex couples. Research shows that men and women with good parenting skills come in all types -- gay and straight. These good parents raise healthy and happy children. Academics and practitioners agree that sexual orientation should not and is not a factor in good parenting. GLAAD encourages media to share the stories of gay and lesbian families as they are, on their own terms, without requiring them to defend themselves against the attacks of those who believe they shouldn't be allowed to exist.
For additional information on research related to lesbian and gay parenting, please contact the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the Child Welfare League of America, or the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law (see MEDIA CONTACTS – PARENTING RESEARCH below).
FAMILY PROTECTION & RECOGNITION LAWS
Massachusetts is currently the only U.S. state to extend marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. However, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars gay and lesbian couples from access to any of the 1,138 federal protections, rights and responsibilities of marriage.
Domestic partnership laws in a handful of states (including California) and civil unions in Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont offer varying degrees of state-only protections for same-sex couples. Oregon and New Hampshire are expected to extend similar relationship recognition in 2008.
As of April 2007, 45 states (including Virginia, the home of Mary Cheney, Heather Poe and their son) have some form of law – ranging from a simple statute to a state constitutional amendment – banning same-sex couples from marriage. In some cases, these laws also ban any state recognition of (or protections for) same-sex couples. For the most up-to-date list of state anti-gay marriage laws (including enactment dates and types of laws), visit the Human Rights Campaign’s Web site at www.hrc.org/marriage.
Gay and lesbian families often face significant hardships in states whose discriminatory laws bar legal protection and recognition for those families. In addition to such basic issues as inheritance, hospital visitation, medical decision-making authority, spousal/child support laws and more, gay and lesbian families and their children are often denied Social Security benefits, coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act, family health insurance coverage and continuation of health coverage (COBRA) and other essential protections under federal law.
For additional information how discriminatory laws and policies harm gay and lesbian families, contact Family Pride and the Human Rights Campaign (see MEDIA CONTACTS – FAMILY ADVOCACY below).
ADOPTION LAWS & FAMILY COURTS
Across most of the U.S., LGBT people and couples can petition family courts to provide their children with legal ties to their parents. Family courts are responsible for making case-by-case decisions based on the best interests of a child, and their expertise and authority in determining the fitness of adoptive parents -- gay or straight – is traditionally acknowledged and respected.
Most states do not have blanket policies on adoption by gay and lesbian couples. In a few states, however, anti-gay activists have sought to circumvent family courts through sweeping laws banning adoption by gay and lesbian people and families.
Single-parent adoption by lesbian, gay and bisexual people is permitted in most states and the District of Columbia. Only Florida has a blanket policy that prohibits all gay people from adopting. Utah prohibits adoption by any unmarried person who is co-habiting.
Joint adoption and/or second-parent adoption – where a parent co-adopts his or her partner's child, this providing the security that comes with having two legally connected parents – is permitted by statute or appellate court decisions in several states, including: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, with Colorado, New Hampshire and Oregon expected to follow soon. In several other states, trial courts have granted joint or second-parent adoption on a case-by-case basis. A handful of states (among them: Nebraska, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin) do not permit second-parent adoptions. In addition, Mississippi bars adoptions by same-sex couples.
For additional information on adoption law and the role of family courts, please contact Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or the ACLU's LGBT Project (see MEDIA CONTACTS – LEGAL below).