Re-thinking Family

20 09 2008

I just finished Nancy Polikoff’s recent book on her “valuing all families” approach to family law.  It’s an interesting thesis, but rather than talking about the book at the minute I’d like to share an observation.  One of the thing the book does is briefly traced the history of the marriage institution and how family structures have changed in the past thirty or forty years.  I started thinking about the people I know who are in some sort of serious relationship and how a legal system that didn’t make heterosexual marriage so legally significant might benefit many of them.  Here’s a sample of relationships among my friends and family as food for thought.  Try thinking about the people you know, and I bet you’ll come up with similar family diversity: 

  • A heterosexual couple in their late twenties who plan to spend their lives together but don’t want to marry and own a home together
  • A married heterosexual couple in their late fifties who have never wanted to have children
  • A married heterosexual couple in their late forties with two young children 
  • A divorced man and woman who are best friends, have a child together, and list each other as health care proxies and sole inheritors
  • A lesbian couple in their fifties who were recently able to marry in California and have no children
  • A lesbian couple in their thirties/forties who plan to have children, one of whom is here on a student visa and is afraid of deportation after ten or so years with her partner
  • A heterosexual married couple in their their mid-twenties with a two year old child
  • A heterosexual couple in their late fifties who don’t want to marry but may have to for health insurance reasons, in which case one member of the couple would lose subsidized housing despite not living together

When I think of all these people I love, and of my own lack of a desire to marry, it’s easy to understand the “valuing all families” approach.  I think doing away with marriage as a legal entity is unlikely, but she has a point.


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3 responses

29 09 2008
Jul

As one response, I don’t think doing away with marriage as a legal entity is a good idea – the state has an inherent interest in stability, family, and protection of stable units for promulgation and economics.

However, I do think that marriage as a legal entity should be separated from the religious notion a bit more dramatically, allowing same-sex couples, etc..the freedom to choose their spouse with that support and benefit that the government offers.

Heterosexual individuals you name have at least a choice of whether or not to participate in this system. I think extending this to same-sex couples might be a more fair way to go that supports the economy (keeps attracting those who compete on a global level also see “the flight of the creative class,” by economist Richard Florida) and further supports families (by having benefits that both increase governmental support and personal responsibilities within the relationship).

As an aside, why do most of my comments never appear on the blog after I write them?

2 10 2008
Trixie

The straightest man in the world says it’s okay to be gay:

10 10 2008
alesbianandascholar

Jul,

I’m so sorry about that! I’ve been having a very busy time lately and I realised that a bunch of comments had piled up in the moderation queue. I do really appreciate your comments, and I’m going to try to get better about responding to comments in general.

You make good points on the marriage issue. I do think that there are other ways to promote stable family units, but I can see that separating the legal from the religious could achieve that. I also see that there are benefits to allowing gay marriage, and that it would make it more equal/equitable. However, I wish that there were more levels of choice for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Marriage is this all-in-one package, and I think it would be nice to have something else that has fewer rights, as well as fewer benefits, and fewer responsibilities.

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