Gregory Pittman, Associated Press
According to her dads, life is good for Carrigan Starling-Littlefield, a spunky 5-year-old being raised by two gay men in South Carolina, which doesn't recognize their out-of-state marriage.
"We've found that being a family has created a lot of common ground with other families. We've not had many issues at all," said Tommy Starling, a partner in a food brokerage.
Yet he and his husband, Jeff Littlefield, who became parents through a California-based surrogacy program, remain wary as they contemplate Carrigan growing older and confronting challenges beyond their supportive community in Pawley's Island, S.C.
"We're cautious about where we go, because we don't want our daughter to see any negativity," said Starling, 39. "We have some longer-term apprehensions that she'll face issues as she gets older, and we're trying to prepare her for that ... I feel she's the type of person who will stand up for her family."
Carrigan is among a growing multitude of American children — possibly more than 1.2 million of them — being raised by gay and lesbian parents, often without all the legal protections afforded to mom-and-dad households.
Increasingly, the welfare of these children will be a core part of gay-rights strategies, as evidenced by a comprehensive report being released Tuesday. Compiled by an alliance of advocacy and child-welfare groups, it summarizes how laws and social stigma create distinctive challenges for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families.
"There are myriad ways that our families are discounted by government at all levels, and children are hurt the most," said Jennifer Chrisler of the Family Equality Council, one of the three groups authoring the report.
The other groups are the liberal Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project, a gay-rights think tank. Among other participants in the project were the National Association of Social Workers and the Child Welfare League of America.
The U.S. census does not attempt to count the number of children being raised by gays and lesbians. Demographer Gary Gates of the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, who has been a consultant to the Census Bureau, estimates the number at 1.2 million, while the new report uses the figure of 2 million, including children with bisexual and transgender parents.
Whatever their numbers, the families are striking for their diversity — encompassing many low-income and minority households, and spread across about 96 percent of America's counties, according to data compiled by Gates and others.
Among the barriers and inequities they face, as detailed in the report:
—Many government safety net programs use definitions of family tied to marital status which may exclude same-sex partners.
—Because of lack of legal recognition for their unions, gay and lesbian parents can face heavier tax burdens, higher costs for health insurance, and diminished financial protections in the event of death or disability.
—When same-sex parents separate, one parent may lose custody or visitation rights, even in cases where he or she had been a child's primary caregiver.
Overshadowing all these problems is pervasive social stigma, according to the report.
"Many of the challenges LGBT families face stem from a society that assumes that everyone is heterosexual and comes from a family with two married heterosexual parents," it says.
For opponents of same-sex marriage, the issue of children can prompt nuanced responses.
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