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Amy C. Lodge and Brandon Andrew Robinson
As demonstrated by the recent amicus brief filed by the American Sociological Association, research on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) families is a time-sensitive issue with important implications for gay and lesbian couples and their children’s civil and legal rights. Sociologists must pioneer ways to study LGBT families ethically and scientifically in order to effectively engage in these political and policy debates.
In April, sociologists Jennifer Glass, Gloria Gonzalez Lopez, and Debra Umberson organized a group of leading interdisciplinary scholars at the University of Texas-Austin for the inaugural “Austin Summit on LGBT Families.” Panelists included: Lee Badgett, keynote speaker Gary Gates, Mark Hatzenbuehler, Kathleen Hull, Ellen Lewin, Wendy Manning, Ilan Meyer, Mignon Moore, Charlotte Patterson, Esther Rothblum, and Stephen Russell.
Summit panelists discussed cutting-edge research on same-sex intimate relationships and parenting; raised ethical, methodological, and policy concerns involved in studying LGBT families; and identified key topics for future research. We report here on some of the themes that emerged from the Austin Summit.
Given the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, many questions remain concerning same-sex marriage. How will legal recognition affect same-sex couples and the well-being of children raised by LGBT individuals? Additionally, will same-sex couples change the institution of marriage (e.g., could marriage equality change the division of labor within different-sex unions)? Comparative research in countries with legal same-sex marriage could uncover how marriage equality might affect LGBT families in the United States.
Cutting-edge research is currently examining meanings of marriage and marriage expectations within LGBT communities in the United States. However, scholars studying LGBT families and marriage need to pay attention to how age and life-course position, socioeconomic status, geographic region, racial-ethnic status and cultural diversity, migration experiences and citizenship status, religion, and gender variations contribute to the complexities of family in people’s lives. Researchers must accurately represent the experiences of and diversities within LGBT families while remaining keenly aware that their research may be used in ways that re-stigmatize these marginalized populations.
Little is known about how differing pathways to parenthood (e.g., conception via artificial insemination) affect child well-being in LGBT families. Previous research has often overlooked fostering and adoption through the child welfare system as a parenting pathway, causing sociologists to overlook how economic privilege and racial-ethnic status may also contribute to who has access to different forms of conception and family formation. Research in this area has also largely focused on lesbian mothers, while sociologists know much less about gay fathers or bisexual and transgender parents.
Funding agencies often remain reluctant to support research on LGBT populations and, as a result, most research in this field has relied on small “convenience” samples. However, new technologies and partnerships with community-based organizations can open doors to different LGBT family populations. The use of heterosexual sibling comparison data is also a novel methodological approach that allows researchers to control a host of characteristics and alleviate selection issues in convenience sampling. Additionally, varying marriage and civil union policies at the state level provide researchers the opportunity to conduct natural experiments. Lastly, sociologists who study LGBT families need to find creative ways to link their scholarship to larger public discussions concerning LGBT lives within the context of their well-being and human rights.
Visit www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/sociology/the-austin-summit-on-lgbt-families/overview.php to learn more about the Austin Summit and participating scholars.