March 28, 2013

LURIE-SPICER: Nuclear Family 2.0: A Look Beyond Marriage Equality

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My mothers chatted cheerfully during our ride back home. It was the last day of winter break of my sophomore year in high school,  and we were returning from a winter vacation at our house in Maine. Rather than dreading our return home, however, we shared an excited alacrity for the stop we would make on the way — my mothers were about to be legally married. 20 years before that day, my mothers had made their life commitment to each other on a beach in Mexico. At the time, they could only dream of the celebration we were about to have. They had already made plans with the Justice of the Peace, and the five of us were about to meet at a small harbor in Connecticut. As we walked out over the Long Island Sound, the wind was cold, but the sun was bright and my mothers were ecstatic. The ceremony was simple. I snapped the wedding photos as they made their vows, my brother handed them back their worn rings and they shared a grinning kiss.

My mothers had achieved the goal of a nuclear family. They had two homes, two children, two stable jobs and an enduring relationship. As symbolic as the act of marriage was for our family that day, my mothers also got married because of the benefits our federal government provides wedded couples. Yet there are many types of families, different from my own, that also do not have the same equal rights. As we fight this week for the rights of other gay couples to receive these same benefits, we must realize that there is much more to be done for the full liberation of queers and our allies.

The institution of marriage has historically been used as a weapon in the right-wing assault on alternative family structures. Right wingers such as Robert Rector believe that marriage is the solution for families in poverty, and that it is the state’s duty to enforce this norm. The glorification of the nuclear family is continually wielded against equal access to programs such as welfare, housing, social security, pensions and healthcare. Further­more, this ideology promotes tighter divorce laws, abstinence-only sex education and attacks on reproductive freedom as part of a larger “family values” agenda.

While proponents of gay marriage claim to be fighting for full equality, we must look beyond marriage to see whose rights are being further marginalized by the movement, even if it will include my mothers. The first alternative family structure that comes to my mind is the single-parent household. I have a genetic half brother who has the same sperm donor that I do. His mother was single at his conception but still wanted to have a child on her own.  Yet, my brother’s biological family does not receive the same rights as mine. Furthermore, children raised by extended family members, family friends or even unmarried parents in multiple households are denied equal rights. Senior citizens or people with illnesses such as HIV/AIDS who live together for mutual care are ignored.

While these family structures stretch across all groups of people, we must remember that the issue of family equality beyond gay marriage is as much a race, immigrant, gender, class and age issue as it is an LGBTQ issue. Those who utilize alternative methods of caring for loved ones are often those who have been marginalized in other ways. Prioritizing the nuclear family further perpetuates the harms these people face in other aspects of their lives. While we fight for the marriage equality of parents like mine, we must not forget that these rights must be granted to all people.

Of course, I strongly support marriage equality, as it has personally benefited my life. But I do not believe that the fight should have been fought in the way it has been. The campaign for marriage equality has elevated the mainstream gay movement outside its larger context and isolated the gay community from its potential allies. Ignoring the unity of this struggle and marginalizing the LGBTQ communities of color, the mainstream gay community blamed the passing of Proposition 8 on the Black and Latino voters who came out to the polls. As theorists such as Dean Spade and Crag Willse point out, however, rather than seeing people of color as homophobic, we should instead question why mainstream gays have failed to ally with these communities when our struggles are so intimately entwined. The issue of gay marriage does not exist in a binary debate between people for or against equality. Families like mine are not the only ones at stake. Instead, there is a multitude of families demanding that they too deserve full and equal rights.

Tyler-Lurie Spicer is a ­sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at til4@cornell.edu. Personal Politics appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Tyler Lurie-Spicer

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