The legal situation of Belgian gay men and lesbians may be perceived as one of the best in Europe. Indeed, the Belgian Parliament has legalized marriage and parenting for same-sex couples, has enacted anti-discrimination laws, and has designed and funded several action plans to combat homophobia. Since the opening up of marriage to same-sex couples in 2003, around a thousand gay and a thousand lesbian marriages are celebrated each year in Belgium (Direction Générale Statistique et Information Économique, 2015). Moreover, since the legalization of parenthood for gay men and lesbians, more and more same-sex couples adopt children or resort to artificial insemination, and the total number of children growing up with same-sex parents is growing steadily. Thus, a new reality is emerging: the reality of same-sex headed families.
However, in spite of the civil rights granted to gay men and lesbians, the issue of social acceptance of same-sex couples and their children still remains, and Belgium continues to record increasing levels of violence against homosexual people. Therefore, the main objective of the present thesis was to explore Belgian heterosexuals’ attitudes towards same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. The first goal was to investigate the social and personal factors that may be associated with positive and negative attitudes towards same-sex marriage and those towards same-sex parenting (Study 1). The results of self-report questionnaires (N = 1168) revealed that the general attitude towards gay men and lesbians, gender-role traditionalism, beliefs in the origin of homosexuality, representations about child well-being and contact are major predictors of attitudes towards gay and lesbian civil rights. Moreover, results revealed that attitudes differed according to participant’s gender (heterosexual men are less supportive of both same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting than heterosexual women). The respective role of several variables was also discussed (gender-role traditionalism, beliefs in the origin of homosexuality, general attitudes towards gay men and lesbians, representations of child well-being and contact). We demonstrated that increasing intergroup contact can help diminish the impact of some personal beliefs on attitudes towards same-sex parenting. Moreover, results revealed that the degree of support differed in regard to the different types of parenthood.
Also, several authors in the field of social psychology highlighted the role of beliefs and social representations upon attitudes (Dardenne, 2006). Specifically, attitudes towards gay men and lesbians as parents seem to be somehow beliefs-based (Costa, 2013). Our next objectives were to explore the arguments in favour and against same-sex parenting, both in the general population through the comments posted on social networks (Study 2) and with health-care professionals working in family counselling centres (Study 3). Both studies highlighted positive and negative arguments, each linked to one of the following category: societal and legal context, religiosity, contact, representations of homosexuality, gender-role traditionalism, general attitudes towards gay men and lesbians and representations about child well-being. Moreover, a comparative analysis of the two samples allowed us to state that the arguments held by the social workers are quite similar to those held by the citizens in the general population. Thus, we concluded that health-care professionals’ attitudes are based on naïve knowledge rather than on scientific knowledge, and this lack of scientific knowledge on same-sex parenting has an impact not only on social workers’ attitudes but also on their interventions.
To conclude, our work demonstrated that, in Belgium, the barriers to accepting rainbow couples and families are no longer legal, but social. Nearly ten years after the law on adoption for same-sex couples, the country remains relatively conservative and traditional in some regards. Finally, we recommend that future research focuses upon same-sex parent families, in order to enrich the scientific data available on these families and their experiences.