Despite the increased visibility of gay men and lesbian women, there remains no definition of family in the public consciousness that refers to same-sex couples with children. In fact, in the not too distant past, the notions of lesbian mothers/homosexual fathers or lesbian/homosexual families would have been nonexistent. This culture of heteronormativity (Gamson, 2000) dictates that a viable family consist of a heterosexual mother and a father raising children together. Heterosexuality and heterosexual forms of relating are the norm.1 All other forms of relational experience are thus viewed in contrast. For example, the descriptive term "couples" means heterosexual couples, then, there are gay and lesbian couples. Families are nuclear and headed by two heterosexual parents, then, there are gay and lesbian families. Similarly, "woman" means a heterosexual woman, then, there is the lesbian. Heteronormativity supports the dominant norm of heterosexuality by marginalizing any relational structure that defies it.2
A review of the family therapy literature bears this out; until recently the concept of the gay/lesbian family has been virtually unheard of in the family therapy field. This fact was confirmed by two research studies. Allen and Demo3 and Clark and Serovich found that the marriage and family therapy fields generally ignored gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues. For example, Clark and Serovich surveyed 17 journals published from 1975 to 1995. Of the 13,217 articles published, only 77, or 0.006% focused on gay/lesbian issues, used a gay/lesbian sample, or included sexual orientation as a variable.4 Goodrich (2003) cited the availability of only two early texts on working with lesbian couples in family therapy as an indication of the intense homophobia in the field from the 1960s to the 1990s.5
Proceeding from the above stated, heteronormativity has determined that unless the word gay is attached, marriage implies heterosexual marriage. Heterosexuality is the norm. Indeed, as Warner (1993) pointed out, "humanity and heterosexuality are synonymous."6 This notion of heterosexuality goes far beyond the institutions that marginalize and punish any relationship viewed as other. In this vein, heterosexuality is, of itself, a social and political organizing principle.7
Intrinsically linked to the structures of male dominance, heterosexuality can be viewed as a dictatorial patriarchal institution.8 Rich described this culture of compulsory heterosexuality as a powerful cluster of forces within which women have been convinced of the inevitability of both marriage and sexual orientation toward men. Thus, there have been very few attempts to explain how an individual develops a heterosexual orientation.9 Research into the development of heterosexuality is limited by the belief that it is natural and when it focuses upon homosexuality, persistently views it as deviant. Thus, implicit in discussions about sexual orientation is the notion that heterosexuality is both normal and mentally healthy, and that non-heterosexuals are abnormal and psychologically disabled.10
In direct relation to the homosexual/heterosexual categories, Rothblum (2000) pointed out that in a categorical definition of sexual orientation behavior, desire, and identity are assumed to be congruent.11 This is disputed by research.