Despite increased emphasis at all levels of government on the importance of family to the fabric of society, there is limited acknowledgement that same-sex couples are capable of constituting a family, and that same-sex couples (and gay people who are not in a relationship) have children, or have caring responsibilities to others within their immediate family, or indeed are members of their immediate family.
Two key legislative developments have made a difference; first, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in England and Wales enables same-sex couples to be considered for adoption, and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 makes explicit reference to the responsibilities of a civil partner to their family. The Civil Partnership Act also grants next of kin rights to same sex couples. These legislative developments, however, do not necessarily reflect general progress. For example, there is still a degree of invisibility at school, within the workplace, and within government policy, and this has a significantly detrimental effect on lesbian and gay people and their families.
When lesbian and gay families are acknowledged, it is often in a negative context. It is erroneously assumed that gay parenting has a negative impact on the upbringing of children, and does not constitute a “real” family. This makes it difficult for same sex couples to feel able to be open about their relationship and family status to health care practitioners, or to social care providers.
In 2010, The Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge conducted interviews for Stonewall with 82 children and young people who have lesbian, gay or bisexual parents to learn more about their experiences both at home and at school. The study, Different Families, found that very young children with gay parents tend not to see their families as being any different to those of their peers. Many of the older children said they saw their families as special and different, but only because all families are special and different - though some felt that their families were a lot closer than other people’s families. The report found that children with gay parents like having gay parents and would not want things to change, but that sometimes they wish that other people were more accepting.