The State Department has decided to make U.S. passport application forms "gender neutral".
By removing references to mother and father, officials said, in favor of language that describes one's parentage somewhat less tenderly.
The change is "in recognition of different types of families," according to a statement issued just before Christmas that drew widespread attention Friday after a Fox News report.
The announcement of the change was buried at the end of a Dec. 22 news release, titled "Consular Report of Birth Abroad Certificate Improvements," that highlighted unrelated security changes.
The new policy is a win for gay rights groups, a vocal and financially generous Democratic voting bloc that has pushed for the change since Barack Obama began his presidential transition in late 2008. The decision follows last month's vote to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which gay leaders consider one of their biggest victories in years.
Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, called the news "a positive step forward for all American families. It was time that the federal government acknowledged the reality that hundreds of thousands of kids in this country are being raised by same-sex parents."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, blasted it as reflecting the "topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness."
"This is clearly designed," he said in a statement, "to advance the causes of same-sex 'marriage' and homosexual parenting without statutory authority, and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act," the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
He called on Congress to take action.
It was not immediately clear whether a similar change would be made to all federal documents. But after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced in 2009 that partners of gay American diplomats would be eligible for benefits accorded to spouses, the rest of the U.S. government followed suit.
In 2000, Clinton was the first wife of a president to march in a gay-pride parade, and as secretary of state she has advocated on behalf of gay rights. In a speech in June she said the United States "was elevating our rights dialogues with other governments and conducting public diplomacy to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons."
Rosemary Macray of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs shrugged off complaints of political correctness and described the switch as an unremarkable bureaucratic tweak.
"Really, there have been so many changes in the last 10 or 15 years with reproductive technology and the like, and so this is why it is important for us to accurately reflect families in these applications," she said.
The DS-11 form is required of first-time passport applicants and children younger than 16. The change will go into effect Feb. 1 and will be part of an already-scheduled revision of passport forms, Macray said.
"It's not going to really involve any expense to taxpayers," she said.