Report Highlights Disparities Facing LGBT Families

Today, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Family Equality Council, and the Center for American Progress, in partnership with the National Association of Social Workers, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and COLAGE, released a comprehensive report on the hardships faced by children of LGBT parents in the United States. The report, entitled All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families, was coauthored by the Family Equality Council and the Center for American Progress, and explores how realities like marriage inequality and discrimination affect LGBT families over time. “LGBT Families” as defined by the report include those that include an LGBT adult raising children or those in which a same-sex couple is raising children.  The opening of the report notes that, “[p]ublic discussion about American families often assumes the nation is largely made up of married [straight] couples raising their biological children. Yet less than a quarter of all U.S. households fall into this category.” With roughly two million children being raised in LGBT families, the implications of this report are felt by a significant number of Americans.

All Children Matter shows the specific legal protections withheld from LGBT families and how those families are affected. While these protections may vary from state to state, and between counties or cities, many are overridden by federal laws such as the so-called “Defense of Marriage” Act (DOMA). Of great concern is the way that children’s lives are altered by these laws. For example, children may be denied permanent homes because of anti-LGBT adoption policies. Children of same-sex couples will have no legal connection to one of their parents in more than half of U.S. states, leaving issues of custody and visitation uncertain should their parents’ relationship dissolve. In the case of binational same-sex couples, their children may live in constant fear that one of their parents will be deported.

LGBT families are further burdened by a lack of financial security. They are twice as likely to live in poverty, and they are often barred from the benefits of government safety net programs based on legal definitions that exclude LGBT-identified parents. With DOMA in place, even same-sex couples who are married under state law and subject to state taxes still suffer a financial disadvantage under federal tax laws. All federal tax credits and deductions designed to ease costs for families with children are withheld from them.  If an LGBT parent dies or is disabled, their children may be denied the Social Security benefits typically given to non-LGBT families in these cases.  LGBT families encounter numerous circumstances for which many states have protective laws in place only for children of legally married parents.

In addition to the law, social stigma has a major influence on LGBT families, particularly with regard to physical and mental health. Under DOMA, same-sex couples are denied specific health care benefits granted to straight married couples. LGBT families may be denied care by certain providers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. When care is given, restricted access or the ability to make decisions about one’s spouse or child frequently remains an issue. Perhaps most pervasive is the general social stigma that LGBT people and their families deal with on a daily basis, which makes a significant impression on their mental health. This problem is heightened for LGBT people of color and transgender individuals.

The All Children Matter report ends with a number of recommendations that include changes to legal definitions of family, provision of equal access to government-based economic protections and health care, implementation of anti-discrimination laws and educational programs, and further research on LGBT families. This report is especially useful to fellow advocates and the mainstream media as a resource when reporting on the lives of LGBT families. These families are living in 96% of U.S. counties and the struggles they face are diverse. Elevating their stories can help raise awareness of the need for change and the equal treatment of all families.