|Recent news stories, public
opinion polls, and government reports all point in the same
direction. Most Americans accept the reality of how we live.
It's called "family diversity."
Results of a new public opinion survey by PBS television are
noteworthy. Americans have a flexible definition of the family.
Most people believe that "family" is about love, togetherness,
and caring for those held dear. Only one-third of Americans
define a family in the most traditional sense as a “mother,
father, and children,” or “a husband, wife and children.”
That same PBS poll reveals that Americans view "family" as
something quite personal. When it comes to government
initiatives, most parents would prefer the government stay away
from matters of the home and family.
In other words, let the family define itself. Let's not have the
government pass laws and regulations to exclude certain
relationships from being considered a "family."
That same acceptance of family diversity surfaced in a recent
poll done in Arizona. While a slight majority of residents there
want "marriage" to be defined restrictively -- one man and one
woman -- the vast majority rejects the idea of the government
excluding "domestic partners" from the definition of "family"
and from corresponding eligibility for job benefits and other
protections afforded to family relationships.
The poll, commissioned by Arizona State University, found strong
opposition among registered Arizona voters toward an initiative
which would ban state and local government employers from
offering domestic partner benefits. A majority said they would
oppose an amendment that would ban both same-sex marriages and
domestic-partner benefits for unmarried government employees. A
large number also said they would oppose a ban on just
Such public support for domestic partner benefits has translated
into growing corporate support for an expanded definition of
"family" in terms of job benefits in the private sector. These
benefits are even catching on in some "red states" known for
"traditional family values."
The Salt Lake Tribune just released a story reporting that a
growing number of employers in Utah are now including domestic
partners in benefits packages formerly reserved to spouses.
Among them are Sky West Airlines and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of
Nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic
partner benefits, as do more than 8,000 employers throughout the
Family diversity is not limited to adult relationships. As a new
report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows,
children are a part of this mosaic of diversity as well.
The report documents that childbearing by unmarried women
reached a record high of almost 1.5 million births in 2004, up 4
percent from 2003. Nearly 36 percent of children born in 2004
were the offspring of single parents.
Although 80 percent of respondents in the PBS poll felt that "it
is better for children if their parents are married," most of
them also seemed to accept other realities.
For example, 52 percent said that "divorce is usually the best
solution if a couple can't seem to work out their marital
problems." Only 22 percent felt that divorce is a sin.
Nearly half of respondents in the PBS poll felt that it is okay
for a couple to live together without intending to get married.
Some 55 percent agreed with the statement that "love is what
makes a family, and it doesn't matter if parents are gay or
straight, single or married."
Americans seem to be very practical when it comes to sex
education in the schools. Despite all of the promotion of
"abstinence only" curricula, only 18 percent of respondents in
the PBS poll favored that approach, the vast majority wanting
"abstinence plus" programs where the use of condoms and birth
control are also explained.
The PBS poll also shows that just as most Americans have not
embraced the conservative political agenda for sex education,
they also do not accept a narrow view of "moral values."
Although 22 percent of voters in the last presidential election
cited "moral values" as the biggest concern in deciding their
vote, the PBS poll reveals that most Americans define "moral
values" quite broadly.
When asked to define “moral values,” the responses were as
diversified as the population: personal values such as honesty
and responsibility (36%); family values such as trying to
protect children from sex and violence on television and the
Internet (26%); social justice, such as preventing human rights
abuses and discrimination (10%); social issues, such as abortion
and gay marriage (10%); compassion or concern for the sick and
needy (9%); all of the above (9%).
The PBS poll suggests that President Bush is not winning over
the public on his "marriage promotion" programs. Only 18 percent
of respondents said that the government should promote marriage
while 82 percent felt that government should stay out of the
marriage-promotion business. A surprising 72 percent of people
living in "traditional" family relationships of
husband-wife-children also expressed opposition to
Perhaps the politicians and political parties will get the
message as they prepare for campaigns during next year's state
and federal elections: government should stop catering to
fringe elements of the population, narrow religious
constituencies who want to use wedge social issues to divide
Americans for their own political advantage.
The majority of Americans: want a broad definition of family,
including benefits for domestic partners; feel that abortion and
gay marriage are not top priorities in terms of a "moral values"
agenda; think that sex education should be inclusive and not
limited to an "abstinence only" approach; and believe that
government should get out of the "marriage promotion" business.
Should we be surprised that Americans are so accepting of family
diversity? Not really.
The traditional family of two spouses living together for a
lifetime, with mom-at-home raising the kids and dad-at-work
earning the wages, is now mostly a relic of the past. The new
reality includes people staying single longer, dual-earner
couples, single parents, domestic partners, divorce, and
remarriage. Also noteworthy is the fact that solo singles
now outnumber husband-wife-child households.
Corporate executives seem to be embracing family diversity
almost as fast as the American public itself is diversifying its
living arrangements. If only the politicians would pull their
heads out of the sand and take a look, perhaps they would
lighten up a bit on the "traditional family values" propaganda
and focus instead on the major issues Americans really care
about -- health care, jobs, education, and world peace.
Unmarried America 2005
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and