Family Therapy’s Response to Family Diversity: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Leigh A Leslie & Goldie Morton. Handbook of Contemporary Families. Editor: Marilyn Coleman & Lawrence H Ganong. Sage Publication. 2004.

The profession of marriage and family therapy has faced a rapidly changing environment in the last several decades. The changes have been far-flung and include medical advances, legislative and regulatory modifications to established ways of practicing, and a virtual revolution in technology. Yet the most significant change has been the nature of families themselves. In this chapter, we examine how marriage and family therapy has responded to the increasing diversity of families. In addition, we consider recent developments in marriage and family therapy and how these developments may affect the profession’s future responses to diverse families.

Although marriage and family therapy is an international profession, we focus here on the United States. We do this because (a) the rate and nature of change in families has varied throughout the world, (b) the profession’s response to these changes has been somewhat culturally bound, and (c) both the demographic data and the scholarly journals most accessible to us are from the United States.

Changing Family Patterns

Two primary sources of change in families have influenced marriage and family therapy in the past 30 years. The first has been the dramatic shift in patterns of family formation and organization (Cherlin, 1992). What were once thought of as alternative family forms have now become commonplace. The second change has been in the area of shifting power balances both in families and in the society at large.

Family Formation and Organization

The U.S. Bureau of the Census identifies two basic types of households, family and nonfamily. A family household is composed of at least two persons related by birth, marriage, or adoption. A nonfamily household is either a person living alone or people living together who are not related by blood or marriage (Rawlings, 1995).

Nonfamily Households

Families have traditionally accounted for a large majority of all households, but according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, their proportion of the total is significantly lower now than in the past. In 1998, there were 31.6 million nonfamily households as compared to 11.9 million in 1970 (Casper & Bryson, 1998). During this 28-year period, the proportion of all households that were nonfamily households climbed from 19% to 31%. Although the majority (83%) of non-family households consist of one person, part of this increase is due to growth in cohabiting heterosexual adults and gay and lesbian partnerships.

The rapid increases in cohabitation and the bearing of children by cohabiting couples at the end of the 20th century have dramatically altered family life in the United States (Bumpass & Hsien-Hen, 2000). Although cohabitation was once rare, a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship, and about 40% of all children will spend some time in a cohabiting family before age 16 (Bumpass & Hsien-Hen, 2000). Whether such consensual unions are temporary arrangements that will lead to marriage or are alternatives to marriage, cohabitation results in households that differ from the once traditional two-parent, first-marriage family.

Absent or difficult to ascertain from past census statistics is information on households composed of gay and lesbian partners, a group that would appear as a nonfamily household. However, in both the 1990 and 2000 censuses, individuals for the first time had the option of identifying themselves as unmarried partners (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Reporting increases in this 10-year period for the state data released so far range from 200% to 700% (Cohn, 2001). Black, Gates, Sanders, and Taylor (1999) published one of the first reports on the demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the United States and based their information on the General Social Survey, the National Health and Social Life Survey, and the 1990 census. Although the authors were unable to determine the number of gay or lesbian couple households, they gleaned a sample of 6,800 such households; about 60% of these were composed of gay male couples, and 40% were lesbian couples. Children were present in about 22% of partnered lesbian households and 5% of partnered gay male households, compared to 59% of married-partner households.

Family Households

Not only nonfamily households but also family households have changed in the past 30 years. Although married-couple families continue to represent the majority of family households, postponement of marriage, increases in the divorce rate, and increases in nonmarital births have created a rise in single-parent households, most often headed by women. The divorce rate in the United States increased by almost half from 1970 to 1980, growing from a rate of 3.5 of every 1,000 people in the total population in 1970 to a peak of 5.2 in 1980 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Although the rate has decreased slightly since the high of the early 1980s, it is still estimated that about half of all marriages will end in divorce, the highest rate of all developed countries (Cherlin, 1999).

By 1994, about 35% of all first births occurred outside marriage, up from 17% in 1969. Similarly, one in every three births during the 12-month period preceding the June 1998 Current Population Survey occurred to unmarried mothers (Bacchu & O’Connell, 2000; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999).

Given the increase in divorce and non-marital childbearing, it is not surprising that in 1997, single-parent families accounted for 28% of all families, an increase of 138% since 1970. Single women headed 23% of all families, and single men headed 5% (Casper & Bryson, 1998). No data are available to suggest what percentage of these single-parent homes were headed by unpart-nered gay men or lesbians. About 19.8 million, or 27.7%, of all children younger than 18 lived with one parent in 1998. For almost 56% of children living in single-parent families, no other adults were present in the household (Casper & Bryson, 1998).

Shifting Power Balances

The second transformation affecting family therapy has been the result of social movements. The past several decades have seen an increase in specific populations asking for recognition and appreciation. Most notably, women, racial-ethnic minorities, and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have demanded that their life experiences no longer be hidden from view by a public discourse that uses the perspective of white heterosexual males as the standard. The growth of feminist thought and societal critiques coupled with the movement of increasing numbers of women into the labor force as sole or joint breadwinners have led women to seek parity with men in a vast array of social institutions, not the least of which is the family. Emboldened by their burgeoning numbers and, in some areas, growing financial and political strength, racial and ethnic families have challenged assumptions of normative family behavior as the behavior shown primarily by white middle-class families. Racial-ethnic families have increasingly demanded that the variations in structure, interaction, and values in their families be appreciated instead of pathologized. Gays and lesbians have demanded an end to discriminatory practices and laws that limit their life options in education, work, and family life.

Certainly, marriage and family therapy has not been alone in being affected by the increasing prominence and power of these groups in social and political arenas. These movements have truly been calls to realign the way we think and act as a nation. But their relevance for marriage and family therapy is great because so many of the calls for recognition have been about interpersonal relationships, the core focus of marriage and family therapy.

Family Therapy’s Response to Changing Family Patterns

Although the proof of family therapy’s responsiveness to changes in families is what happens in the privacy of thousands of therapy sessions across the country, such evidence is difficult to access and calculate. Much easier to access is the research and clinical writing that family therapists generate. Therefore, we examine trends in the professional and scholarly publications of marriage and family therapy in recent decades to examine the field’s acknowledgment of and attempts to address the growing diversity of families. We examine the clinical literature in two ways: (a) a count of articles in family therapy journals addressing these issues and (b) an overview of the substantive issues considered in the literature.

Prevalence of Articles on Diverse and Changing Families

First, we examine the number of clinical and empirical articles addressing diverse families that have been published in the last 30 years in the two leading family therapy journals, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy and Family Process. Although these are not the only journals that publish clinical articles on marriage and family therapy, they are the major journals that make the publication of such work their primary focus. The Journal of Feminist Family Therapy (JFFT) is also devoted to publishing articles on family therapy, but it has a more limited audience. Its mission is to apply a feminist perspective to the field of family therapy and treatment issues, particularly for women and other devalued groups. Therefore, the majority, if not all, of JFFT’s articles focus on changing family patterns and diverse families. Thus, including this journal in our count could distort the perception of how widely diverse families are being addressed in the mainstream family therapy journals. We acknowledge that journal articles do not totally reflect how the field is addressing an issue. Recent decades have witnessed a growth in both chapters and books about diverse families. The late 1980s marked a peak in the publication of books addressing issues of gender, race, and ethnicity in family therapy. The deluge of books in this decade included the groundbreaking Ethnicity and Family Therapy (McGoldrick, Pearce, & Giordano, 1982), Black Families in Therapy (Boyd-Franklin, 1989), The Invisible Web: Gender Patterns in Family Relationships (Walters, Carter, Papp, & Silverstein, 1988), The Family Interpreted: Feminist Theory in Clinical Practice (Luepnitz, 1988), and Women in Families: A Framework for Family Therapy (McGoldrick, Anderson, & Walsh, 1989). Although these books have significantly influenced the dialogue in family therapy, we believe that journal articles best reflect how widely a topic is integrated into the discourse and thinking of a field.

It is clear that the two dominant family therapy journals have increasingly addressed gender, race, ethnicity, and diverse family forms. Of the 1,850 articles published in these journals between 1970 and 2000, 208 articles, or 11.2%, were devoted to family diversity. Of those 208 articles, 15.4% were published in the 1970s, 29.8% were published in the 1980s, and 54.8% were published in the 1990s and early 2000s (for this analysis, articles published in 2000 were included in the 1990s count).

The topic receiving the most attention was gender: 86 (41.3%) of the articles focused on gender issues in treatment or training. Only 7 gender articles were published in the 1970s; 19 (22.1%) were published in the 1980s; and the majority, 40 (69.8%), appeared in the 1990s.

Race, ethnicity, and culture, as a group, was the second most frequently considered in the literature, with a total of 62, or 29.8% of the articles. Seven (11.2%) of these articles were published in the 1970s, 17 (27.4%) in the 1980s, and 38 (61.3%) in the 1990s.

The third most frequently addressed topic was divorce, with 23 (11.1%) articles. But for divorce, unlike gender and race, the trend in the literature showed equally low rates in the 1970s and 1990s, with a larger representation in the 1980s. In both the 1970s and 1990s, 6 articles pertaining to divorce were published, whereas 11 articles were published in the 1980s.

Despite the number of articles pertaining to divorce, few (n = 7) mentioned remarriage and/or stepfamilies. The majority of the remarriage/stepfamily articles (n = 4) were published in the 1980s, with 2 articles appearing in the 1970s and only 1 published in the 1990s. Even more striking, in the 30-year period under consideration, only 3 articles in these two major clinical journals specifically addressed clinical issues with single-parent families. This omission is noteworthy given the increase in the number of these families during the same time period. One would expect a concomitant increase in the number of single-parent families seen in clinical practices during this period. Although it might be assumed that articles on divorce articles also addressed single-parent family issues, our review indicated that this would not be a safe assumption. Only 12 of the 23 divorce articles addressed issues in single-parent families. However, much of the increase in single-parent families was the result of nonmarital births, not divorce. Single-parent families headed by an unmarried parent basically were ignored in these clinical journals.

The final area addressed in these clinical journals was sexual orientation. Fifteen (7.2%) of the articles pertained to gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues. Of these, 12 were published in the 1990s, with 5 articles appearing in one special issue focusing on sexual orientation.

Cohabitation was conspicuously absent from the clinical and empirical literature in the these family therapy journals. None of the 1,850 articles reviewed addressed this growing family form.

In conclusion, although the field has increased its attention to some issues of family diversity and changing family patterns, the treatment has not been uniform across family types. Changes emanating from shifting gender and race power balances in families and in society at large have received the most attention. Changes in family organization or structure have received much less attention.

Substantive Overview of Literature on Diverse and Changing Families

In addition to examining the volume of the clinical literature on working with diverse families, it is worthwhile to consider the focus of this literature. Although a comprehensive review of family therapy literature is beyond the scope of this chapter, major trends and themes can be identified. As a review by Leslie (1995) pointed out, the field of marital and family therapy as traditionally practiced has been oppressive to certain family members or types of families by (a) not taking into consideration the effect of the broader social context on family dynamics, (b) ignoring power differences both in and outside the family, and (c) working from an assumption of one superior family form. Rather than reexamine these criticisms, we explore how the family therapy literature has responded to or incorporated them.


Efforts to incorporate knowledge on diverse families into treatment have varied on the basis of the type of diversity in question. Gender has received the most comprehensive treatment. The body of work generated in the last few decades has focused on the role of gender in specific clinical problems, examined gender as a process variable in therapy, advanced feminist adaptations of family therapy models and specific techniques for addressing gender issues in therapy, and offered training guidelines for developing gender-sensitive therapists.

Much of the literature on gender has focused on gender-sensitive ways to address specific problems, such as substance abuse (Nelson, McCollum, Wetcher, Trepper, & Lewis, 1996) or eating disorders (Olson, 1995; Romney, 1995). However, the clinical problem that has received the most attention is wife abuse. Bograd (1984) was one of the first to challenge family therapy’s conceptualization of interdependence in relationships in which women were abused. She has since become one of many voices challenging the implicit values in family therapy that can dismiss or endanger women who are being abused by continuing a commitment to working with the couple (Bograd, 1992; Dell, 1989; Goldner, Penn, Sheinberg, & Walker, 1990; Serra, 1993). Responding to these challenges, the past decade has seen increasing attention to specific therapeutic approaches to working with abused women and their abusive partners. These approaches recognize the vulnerability of the abused partner in therapy, hold the abuser accountable, and work to alter the problematic beliefs and values sustaining abuse (Almeida & Bograd, 1991; Avis, 1992; Jory, Anderson, & Greer, 1997; O’Leary, Curely, Rosenbaum, & Clarke, 1985; O’Leary, Vivian, & Malone, 1992).

Another major focus has been on gender as a process variable in family therapy. For example, Newberry, Alexander, and Turner (1991)examined how the gender combination of therapist and clients affects the course and style of therapy and of therapist-client interaction. Similarly, Shields and McDaniel (1992)delineated differences in the experience of male and female therapists in initial sessions. Focusing on the couple, researchers examined the dislocation of women’s experience in family therapy (Almeida, 1998) and gender dilemmas and myths in the construction of marital bargains (Knudson-Martin & Mahoney, 1996).

Also offered in the last decade were feminist revisions of extant family therapy models, including Bowen family systems theory (Knudson-Martin, 1994) and narrative therapy (Gosling & Zangari, 1996; Prouty & Bermundez, 1999). Likewise, there was a significant increase in articles on clinical tools, techniques, and strategies for addressing gender issues in therapy. For example, gender questions and gender mantras were presented as techniques for breaking impasses in therapy related to gendered beliefs (Sheinberg & Penn, 1991), and “gendergrams” were used to illuminate inter-generational patterns of gender dynamics in families (White & Tyson-Rawson, 1995). A feminist family therapy scale was developed to assess the degree to which family therapists conceptualize the process of family therapy from a feminist perspective (Black & Piercy, 1991), and a “power equity guide” was offered as a training, research, and therapeutic tool that provides guidance for addressing gender and power differentials in the practice of family therapy (Haddock, Zimmerman, & MacPhee, 2000).

In addition, gender as an important variable in the training process for clinicians was addressed. This work began in the mid-1980s, when Wheeler, Avis, Miller, and Chaney (1985) first called into question the methods and models used to trained family therapists. Avis (1989) then laid out a framework for integrating gender into training curricula. Subsequent work built on this foundation, focusing on the implications of a gender perspective for the professional development of therapists (Roberts, 1991) and the basic tenets of feminist-based family therapy training (Leslie & Clossick, 1992).

Finally, beginning in the late 1980s with the special issue of JMFT, the effect of gender on men in families and in therapy has increasingly been explored. For example, the ties between men’s early experiences in families and the roles and behaviors they assume as adults were explicated (Napier, 1989; Pittman, 1989). Subsequent work discussed the origin of the role of fathers (Kraemer, 1991), men in couples therapy (Neal & Slobodnik, 1991), the influence of absent fathers, and the role of family therapists in working with families with an absent father (Schnitzer, 1993). Deinhart and Avis (1994) provided a beginning formulation of a gender-sensitive approach to working with men in family therapy that promotes mutual responsibility, develops perceptual and conceptual skills regarding gender, and challenges stereotypical behaviors and attitudes. Real (1995) offered a map for fathers in parenting their sons in ways that challenge the problematic legacies of masculinity.


The majority of journal-based literature incorporating race, culture, and ethnicity throughout the latter decades of the 20th century focused on culturally sensitive therapy with specific groups. For example, Stein (1978) explored the systemic relationships among culture, family dynamics, personality development, and child-rearing patterns among multigeneration Slovak Americans. Other scholars wrote about the unique dynamics and cultural values of specific groups of families, offering treatment recommendations for practitioners. Among the racial and ethnic families examined were African American (Bagarozzi, 1980; Watts-Jones, 1997), Chinese (Jung, 1984), Asian American (Berg & Jaya, 1993), first-generation Filipino American (Cimmarusti, 1996), and Muslim (Daneshpour, 1998).

In addition, empirical and clinical articles from the 1990s offered general guidelines and techniques for understanding families and working with them in a culturally competent manner. Hardy and Laszloffy (1995) offered a cultural genogram as an effective training tool to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity for family therapists in training. Similarly, Preli and Bernard (1993) emphasized the importance of making multiculturalism relevant for majority-culture graduate students, especially with respect to students’ own identity. Kogan (1996) suggested that presenting problems are best understood by examining the intersection of clients’ culture and societal power. As a clear applications of this principle, Baker (1999) noted the importance of cultural sensitivity and therapist self-awareness when working with mandatory clients. Parke (2000) discussed cultural variations in families and the implication of those variations for assessments, clinical processes, and policies. Specifically, Parke called for using a strengths perspective to understand cultural variations in families rather than the previously used deficit model.

Divorce, Remarriage, and Single Parenthood

The major focus of the divorce literature was on facilitating postdivorce adjustment with family members (Dreyfus, 1979; Goldman & Coane, 1977). For example, Barnes (1999) discussed the short-term effects of divorce on children, described the transitions that accompany divorce and family reordering, and suggested clinical interventions to promote long-term connections between parents and children. Buehler, Betz, Ryan, Legg, and Trotter (1992) offered practitioners program suggestions for separated and divorced parents, with special attention to support networks, parenting skills, and conflict management skills.

A second major focus of this work has been on postdivorce custody arrangements. For example, Everett and Volgy (1983) discussed the role of family assessment in child custody disputes, Isaacs (1988) looked at the visitation schedule as it pertained to child adjustment, and Rothberg (1983) explored joint custody as a means for promoting parents’ involvement in their children’s lives as well as freedom for themselves. Whiteside (1998) discussed the parental alliance following divorce, suggesting the need for parental cooperation and co-parenting behavior and the implications of this behavior for children. A third focus of this work was on divorce prevention (Bray & Jouriles, 1995) and helping couples make decisions throughout the separation and divorce process (Oz, 1994).

The limited literature on remarriages was directed toward practitioner awareness of the unique issues in remarried families. For example, Walker and Messinger (1979) analyzed remarriage from the perspective of family boundaries and roles, suggesting some solutions to problems confronting family members. Whiteside (1982) explored remarriage from a family development process, and Sager, Walker, Brown, Crohn, and

Rodstein (1981) looked at ways to improve the functioning of the family system after remarriage. Pasley and colleagues provided clinical applications for working with spouses in the stepparent role in remarriage (Pasley, Dollahite, & Ihinger-Tallman, 1993) and emphasized the need for specialized training in working with remarried families (Pasley, Rhoden, Visher, & Visher, 1996).

Sexual Orientation

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues are largely ignored by family therapy clinicians, and highly relevant information is often marginalized in specialized publications (Clark & Serovich, 1997). The work that does exist spans a range of topics, from working with gay, lesbian, or bisexual couples, to working with families of gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals, to issues of training, practice, and supervision. For example, Roth (1985) discussed the significance of individual issues, female socialization, and the social context as it affects women in lesbian relationships. A recurrent theme in work published in JFFT was the challenge of mothering for lesbians (Muzio, 1995; Shore, 1996). Beeler and DiProva (1999) focused on the disclosure of homosexuality through the utilization of family members’ narrative themes. Bepko and Johnson (2000) offered perspectives for the contemporary family therapist and specifically suggested that working with gay and lesbian couples requires a sensitivity to the internal stresses and to the external, sociocultural, and familial sources of stress on the couple.

In summary, the clinical literature generated on diverse families called for acceptance and recognition. The increasing attention given to theoretical discussions, treatment models, and training guidelines has been premised on the assumption that marriage and family therapists need to become more cognizant of the variations in how families both choose and are constrained to live their lives. Furthermore, it is assumed that clinicians need to work with these families in nonjudgmental ways that validate their clients’ experiences. Family therapy has struggled with this challenge, and many would argue that the field has achieved more success in responding to some groups than to others. Nevertheless, the call to accept family variation has become a major voice in the discourse in family therapy.

Recent Developments

As the field of marriage and family therapy has moved toward greater acceptance and responsiveness to the diversity of families in the United States, new voices have risen recently to question the influence of some of these changes. Concerns about the effects of increased tolerance have come both from professional marriage and family therapists (Doherty, 1999; Ooms, 1998), and from nonclinical social scientists (McLanahan & Booth, 1991) and the public (Blankenhorn, 1995). Just as family therapy’s shift toward acceptance and responsiveness to diverse family forms was motivated by many political factors outside the profession itself, so too the questions and criticism countering this shift are in part an outgrowth of larger political factors. Any consideration of marriage and family therapy’s future responsiveness to diverse families must examine the concerns now being voiced.

The criticism seem to fall into two categories. First, some family scholars and practitioners have raised concerns that mental health professionals, including family therapists, are insensitive to the moral obligations of family and community life and are putting the needs and desires of adult family members above the needs of children (Doherty, 1995). These concerns began to surface with the accumulation of data suggesting more negative financial academic, and interpersonal outcomes for children whose parents divorced than for children raised in two-parent families (Amato & Booth, 1997). Data on children with never-married mothers, cohabiting parents, and remarried parents also have fueled these complaints (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). However, these data and their interpretation are controversial: Most children in single-parent and stepparent households do not show negative outcomes (Amato & Booth, 1997), and there are empirically based arguments that family structures do not have uniform effects on children (Booth & Amato, 2001). The purpose here is not to summarize or weigh in on that debate but to examine its impact on marriage and family therapy: A movement within the family field supports the view that children often suffer when raised in homes other than with their two biological parents.

A second criticism is that in accepting different family forms, the field has traveled down a slippery slope to promoting no family form over others, to becoming anti-marriage, to suggesting that all forms of adult relationships offer equal life satisfaction (Doherty, 1999; Glenn, 1997). Critics contend that research indicates that marriage enhances psychological and financial well-being for children and for adults compared to other living arrangements (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).

Spokespersons for these two perspectives have most recently coalesced in what is called the Marriage Movement (2000). This is a “grass-roots movement to strengthen marriage” (p. 1) made up of professionals who have “come together to enlarge and energize this emerging effort to renew the marriage vow and the marriage vision … [and to] turn the tide on marriage and reduce divorce and unmarried childbearing” (p. 3). This group is actively advocating changes in many social institutions, and its members have specific recommendations for marriage and family therapy. At a general level, they want the field of marriage and family therapy to not be “marriage neutral.” Specifically, they encourage therapists to focus on the interests of the family as a unit versus the interests of the individual family members. Therapists are asked to seriously consider the needs of children, who are often the absent voices in marital therapy, as well as those of the adults. Part of this task is recognizing the commitments and moral responsibility inherent in the roles of spouse and parent (Doherty, 1995; Marriage Movement, 2000). Outgrowths of this movement in marriage and family therapy include the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, which has offered the annual Smart Marriages Conference since 1997; a growing marriage education movement; and the development of systematic treatment models to reduce divorce and strengthen marriage (Markham, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1996; Weiner-Davis, 1993).

Future Directions in Marriage and Family Therapy’s Approach to Diversity

The challenge posed by the Marriage Movement to the field of marriage and family therapy is significant. The tension between calls for continued and increased acceptance of diverse family forms and calls to promote marriage as the superior family form is obvious. As a field, marriage and family therapy has always valued relationships and been involved in helping people improve and enhance those relationships. Furthermore, recognizing that most people desire and enter into heterosexual marriage, the profession has mainly focused on improving these marriages. Yet the field has moved to a position of greater acceptance of alternative lifestyles. The potential conflict for marriage and family therapy led the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to devote a plenary session at the 2000 conference to a panel discussion entitled “Till Death Do Us Part? Family Therapy and the Marriage Movement.”

The challenge for marriage and family therapy as a profession is to wrestle with the question of whether the two perspectives can coexist in the field. Can the field respect and support the life choices people while also maintaining that one choice is better than others? Is there a way to help those who choose heterosexual marriage have the most satisfying relationships possible while working equally hard to make alternative relationships satisfying, even if one does not see these alternative arrangements as desirable? Is there a place for morality and responsibility to one’s family and community obligations that is not premised on heterosexual marriage? The Statement of Principles generated by members of the Marriage Movement (2000) gives recognition to this challenge and acknowledges that the movement may be subject to charges of being regressive and biased with regard to race and gender. In response, the document clearly states that the movement does not want to undermine progress that has been made toward gender equity in marriage, stigmatize single parents, or discredit ethnic minority families who may more frequently have nonmarital households.

Nevertheless, what is not said in the Statement of Principles (Marriage Movement, 2000) concerns many advocates of family diversity. The only example given of gender issues in marriage is domestic violence, accompanied by a recognition that not all marriages should be saved. There seems to be no acknowledgment of the gender implications of putting the family’s needs before the needs of the individual adults. Feminists have long contended that if this is the prevailing thought, it will be women who are most likely to sacrifice their needs for the good of the family (Boss & Thorne, 1989; Walters et al., 1988). Furthermore, although the statement expresses an intention to not stigmatize single parents, there is no acknowledgment that emphasizing the superiority of marriage implicitly suggests a negative evaluation of parents and partners who are not married. As recent research has shown (Schultz, 1999), emphasizing the superiority of marriage can negatively affect the way marriage and family therapists evaluate divorced clients. Finally, the document is silent on gay and lesbian partnerships or unions. The marriages being promoted are clearly heterosexual marriages.

Ultimately, marriage and family therapy’s struggle is society’s struggle. Recent legislative and political battles in Vermont over same-sex unions and the Defense of Marriage Act are only two of the many examples attesting that our country is embroiled in a debate over whether to value all relationships or give preference to some. Marriage and family therapy will certainly continue to be one front on which that debate is carried out. At this point, however, it is too early to predict the short- and long-term effects of contrasting approaches to this issue on the therapeutic treatment offered to all types of families in this country.