Monday, July 31, 2006
Last week a group of activists and scholars (e.g. Cornel West, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, Chai Feldblum, Martha Fineman, Kenji Yoshino) released a statement, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families and Relationships." The opening paragraph:
We, the undersigned – lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers – seek to offer friends and colleagues everywhere a new vision for securing governmental and private institutional recognition of diverse kinds of partnerships, households, kinship relationships and families. In so doing, we hope to move beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics as they exist in the United States today.
The statement calls the government to support households as they are constituted today, which is an admirable thing to do. But the statement avoids the heavy lifting that would be required to make this a meaningful contribution to the conversation on family law. In particular, it does not address whether certain categories of relationship are more or less valuable for the long-term health of society. One or more of the following premises seems to be operative: 1) individuals' structuring of their househould relationships is unaffected by the law's content; 2) all categories of household relationships are of equal value to the long-term health of communities; or 3) regardless of the comparative social value of relationships, the government overreaches if it tries to reflect that comparative value in public policy. Whichever premise is doing the work here, the statement would benefit considerably from bringing it to the surface where it can be unpacked and engaged.