Alex Blaze

America Loves Mitch and Cam More than Murphy Brown

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 16, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: adoption rights, LGBT, Modern Family, murphy brown, parenting, surrogacy

Pew found that Americans are more supportive of gay parents than single parents (as if they're mutually exclusive categories...):

queer-family.jpgThe survey found that when it comes to opinions overall on non-traditional families, such as those with gay and lesbian parents, single mothers, and unmarried parents, the country is split three ways: a third of Americans (dubbed Acceptors by Pew) are comfortable with a wide variety of family situations, a third (Rejectors) consider non-traditional arrangements to be damaging to the country's social fabric, while the final third (Skeptics) are mixed in their views -- approving of some arrangements, but not others.

When it comes to families like Pougnet's, the news is all good. The vast majority of Acceptors and Skeptics believe gay and lesbian families are at least OK -- and might even bring something positive to society.

But single mothers are less accepted, the poll found. That's where Acceptors and Skeptics differ the most, says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.

"If you took out the question about single mothers, there would be only two groups: Acceptors and Rejectors," Taylor says.

While 98 percent of Acceptors think there's nothing wrong with women raising their children alone, 99 percent of Skeptics and 98 percent of Rejectors believe that's bad for society. (The survey only asked about single mothers, not single fathers.)

It's hard to cipher what this really means, especially since I can't find it on the Pew website and MSNBC didn't include full questions and results. But I wonder if it has something to do with the stereotype of gay parents that MSNBC fully buys in to:

When Steve Pougnet was sworn in as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., in 2007, his husband, Christopher Green, was at his side. In Pougnet's arms was his then 2-year-old son, Beckham, while Green held the other twin, Julia.

It was a moment neither man could have imagined possible when they met 19 years ago. Even then, they knew they someday wanted to have children, but they didn't know if it would be possible and couldn't be sure how their family would be viewed if they did.

"At that time, we didn't have any idea how to make this happen," remembers Pougnet, who is now 47. "We didn't see any gay couples with kids on the streets."

When the couple eventually found an organization that would link them up with a surrogate, they jumped at the opportunity -- and the twins, now age 5, were born soon after.

Surrogacy is fairly rare in general. While I can't find a neat chart comparing it to other methods of starting families that same-sex couples use, I'd guess that adoption, artificial insemination, and just having kids from a previous relationship are more common. If my experiences are at all representative, most are formed with children from previous, heterosexual relationships.

So it's odd that MSNBC would open an article on same-sex parenting with a story about a gay male couple that went the surrogacy route, but not at all uncommon. People gave Bil a lot of flack at the time for pointing it out, but there is a weird obsession in the media with gay surrogacy. Perhaps it's because straight journalists want to talk about gay men raising children, but are mired with ideas about them raising "their own" children, leaving adoption, children from a previous relationship, and artificial insemination less visible.

With that in mind, Pew was asking people about "gay and lesbian parents," which brings to mind, for better or worse, images of middle- to upper-class couples raising children, while "single mother" makes people think about a poor teenager who got knocked up. And what with us becoming an un-generous people, thinking that all the resources for child-rearing must come from the child's legal guardians because I-don't-want-my-tax-dollars-to-pay-for-your-child, we make it less morally acceptable for poor people to reproduce. People question a single mother's ability to finance her child's up-bringing more than they would a gay couple's, which leads to moral disapproval because we're stupid.

Maybe someone else has another explanation? I find "America loves gays more than straights" to be laughable on face, but perhaps there's something being ignored here. I would like to see how the question was framed though and see the full results.

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Pew was asking people about "gay and lesbian parents," which brings to mind, for better or worse, images of middle- to upper-class couples raising children, while "single mother" makes people think about a poor teenager who got knocked up.

A very important point, Alex. Polls are only as good as the intent behind them - whether obvious or not.

Om Kalthoum | March 16, 2011 1:37 PM

Well, all things being equal (whatever that really means) does anyone doubt that two people can more easily, and probably more successfully (whatever that means) raise up a child?

In the way we Americans structure our society, two parents are going to be more likely to have two incomes from two or more jobs, so they'll likely have more resources. That's about all I can say on that topic.

Adding to Alex's point: the U.S is especially pernicious in ensuring that single mothers, especially those who are not particularly well-off, *don't* get the social and cultural support they need, in the shape of free/affordable and decent childcare, for instance. Additionally, until recently (and I'm not entirely sure this has been lifted), a single mother on welfare was compelled to undergo "marital counselling" with the father of her child- regardless of the nature of the relationship between them.

Even relatively well-off single women and fathers find it difficult to juggle both careers and parenthood (and it's useful to remember that a number of single gay men also choose to become fathers); that's just how most workplaces, including supposedly progressive universities, are set up. It's entirely possible to be raised well as a child with one parent, and such children do as well if not better than those raised by two parents.

The question is: does the surrounding culture and political and economic framework support that parent? The answer, in the US, is an emphatic no. What happens, eventually, is that single parents are set up to "fail" or at least struggle desperately, and their perceived "failure" then becomes a rationale to say, "Aha, this is why single parents cannot successfully raise children."

There's also the fact that a great many single parents, or at least what the public thinks is the typical single parent, mothers in particular, are either women of colour or those who are dismissed as "white trash" - it's difficult to ignore the sexist, racist, and classist narratives in place when it comes to discussing single parenthood.