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Legislating the Family: Heterosexist Bias in Social Welfare Policy Frameworks
Amy Lind
University of Virginia Studies in Women and Gender Program

This article addresses the effects of heterosexist bias in social welfare policy frameworks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families in the United States. It discusses the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal definitions of family and household, and stereotypes about LGBT individuals. It argues that poor LGBT individuals and families lack full citizen rights and access to needed social services as a result of these explicit and implicit biases. Key words: Welfare reform; family policy; civil rights; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT); heterosexism Welfare reform is fundamentally about family policy—about promoting and privileging particular kinds of families, and about penalizing and stigmatizing others. (Cahill and Jones 2002: 1).

Two pieces of legislation were passed in 1996 that set an important tone for family policy in the United States: The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), an act that expanded welfare-to-work programs throughout the country, restricted people’s access to public assistance, and crystallized the broader restructuring of public-private boundaries; and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. At first glance, the two initiatives appear unrelated and inconsequential, although the reality is quite different. Combined, they constitute a national policy context within which legal and cultural
Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, December, 2004, Volume XXXI, Number 4



Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

definitions of “the family” have been restricted…...

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