What makes a ‘family’?
This seems to be one of the hot topics of debate when it comes to the issues of gay marriage. How is a family truly defined?
It’s topics like these that always seem so simple from the outset but with closer examination, are as complex to construct and define as a spider’s web. Everyone knows what a family is. Any woman, man, or child can point out a family on the street or draw one on paper. But to ask what makes a family is a far harder question.
Asking what a family is would be like asking someone to define a color. “Excuse me, sir, but what is yellow?” That man can point to as many sunflowers as he wants but that would not be a sufficient answer. That flower may be an example or way to see yellow, but it does not define that grander, larger concept of yellow. The same complexity applies for family.
I was recently sent this video by a friend of my mothers’ who knew about my blog and thought that this would be of interest to me. Of course, she was right.
This video shows a student speaking to the Iowa House of Representatives about his family as the House prepares to vote on amending the constitution in regards to gay marriage.
He makes several good points in his speech, but the one that I would like to focus on is the way in which he compares his family to others. He was raised by two women. At one point in his speech, he makes his point that his family is not so different from the families of those sitting around him and of the chairmen to which he is speaking.
“My family really isn’t so different from yours. After all, your family doesn’t derive it’s sense of worth from being told by the state, ‘You’re married, congratulations!’ No. The sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones, it comes from the love that binds us, that’s what makes a family.”
This is one of the stronger arguments that I have ever heard for gay marriage and an excellent defense for the family of today. This is because his argument is structured around our conception of family. The ‘traditional’ family is not defined by the legal marriage of the parents. If this were how all families were defined, a broad spectrum of relationships would be lost to our society.
Consider single mothers or fathers in this situation. With their children in their arms, dinner on the table, and the endless love between them, what kind of person could say that they are not a family because their family doesn’t include a marriage?
Or on the other side, consider children of parents whose relationship is based on violence and hatred. Are these parents, bound by a ceremony that came before the love went out of them and before children that hid in their rooms from angry words and fists, support for the ‘traditional’ family?
I agree with Zach Wahls, the student in the video above. Family is no longer defined by a legal document, nor do I believe that it ever was. Even outside of the sexual orientation debate, families are formed out of necessity, out of circumstance, and for endless other reasons. The students huddled together in a classroom at Virginia Tech during the massacre of April, 2007 quickly became a family, there to support each other and bound together by their emotions.
It’s obvious that there is a new family recipe, having less to do with your grandmother’s famous apple pie and more to do with her secret preference for women, but the larger issue is the complexity of the family that has always existed and yet has rarely been acknowledged or discussed in the political realm.
Politicians today are fighting about what a family should and should not be, but are they really the ones that decide?