What is a family?


This weekend, I attended a conference down in beautiful, sunny Palm Springs, California. My drive from Sacramento to Palm Springs took me through most of the Central Valley, a geographic area of California well-known for its cultural conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. And, from Modesto to Lost Hills, California, all I could find to listen to on the radio were conservative talk radio call-in shows. Fun times. So I listened. The topics covered were predictable – less government, no new taxes, get green policies and sustainability off the political agenda, annihilate Obama-care, get Obama out of office by any means necessary. Nothing terribly surprising.

But one call-in show focused on this issue: Strengthening families.

What does that mean exactly, “strengthening families”? The LGBTQ community has worked very hard in their activist efforts to strengthen families. How, exactly, might you ask?

  • Same-sex marriage would strengthen families. Research studies have repeatedly shown that marriage bestows health, economic, and self-esteem benefits to couples. Being single, according to studies investigating LGBTQ aging, puts an individual at risk for depression, anxiety, physical health problems, financial challenges, and higher levels of internalized homophobia.
  • Comprehensive parental recognition policies would strengthen families. Allowing for joint adoptions by LGBTQ couples and second-parent adoptions by non-biological LGBTQ parents would give children two legal parents. That offers a sense of economic, legal, and psychological stability to children and families that predicts better outcomes.
  • Broadening the legal definition of “family” would strengthen families. Many LGBTQ people have “chosen” families either in place of or in addition to their biological families. These “chosen” families offer kinship networks that look similar to extended family and kinship ties seen in many communities of color. If an LGBTQ individual could give legal rights to someone other than a blood relative or a partner or spouse, that extends the medical and legal support available to that person.

Somehow, I don’t think this is what the talk show host and callers meant by “strengthening families.”

Instead, we’ve got people like Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman, who recently introduced a bill that labels as “child abuse” homes that are headed by single or unmarried parents. Although Grothman is specifically targeting single mothers in this bill, denouncing the “single motherhood lifestyle,” the reality is that this bill wouldn’t just affect single parents – it would impact unmarried (read: ALL, since same-sex marriage is illegal in Wisconsin) lesbian and gay couples. And their children, who could be forcibly removed from their homes if this bill gets passed, would suffer the most. How a bill like this one strengthens families is baffling to me – removing children from loving homes and placing them in foster care doesn’t sound to me like strengthening families.

Nor does it sound like “less government,” for that matter.

Unless, of course, we examine what they really mean by “strengthening families.” They’re not talking about strengthening all types of families – same-sex parent families, single parent families, extended family networks. They’re talking about strengthening the traditional, nuclear, heterosexual family, Ozzie and Harriet-style – preferably with traditional gender roles embedded within it. There’s nothing wrong with supporting heterosexual couples, of course. But there is something wrong with tearing apart other types of families, rather than establishing policies that shore them up. Clearly, privileging one type of family over another – and creating policies that marginalize alternative family structures – is a serious form of oppression that impacts children in a brutal way.

Once I got to the Grapevine in Los Angeles county, I found an NPR station. The featured guest on this NPR show was Angela Davis, which is about as far away from conservative talk radio as you can get. I love the ironies of life.

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1 Comment

Filed under children, human rights, LGBT families, LGBTQ, psychological research, Uncategorized

One response to “What is a family?

  1. Lorri Doig

    I drive down I5 several times a year — usually in a rented car. I really stock up on CDs for the drive and sing along (badly) at the top of my voice. Now I know why.

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