[TW for homophobia, religious propaganda]
The Religious Right’s problems with civil rights aren’t news. Gay marriage, if and when legalized, will tumble their structures; marriage equality, they say, is an attack on the family. Queer activists and allies respond that one couple’s marriage cannot cause the delegitimization of someone else’s, that gay people are part of families themselves, that maligning gay people hurts families–by tearing them apart, by teaching them to turn on one another–and of course all of this is true. Yet defenders of “traditional marriage” continue to insist that recognizing the validity of gay relationships will alter the fabric of society by destroying the institution of the family.
The family is a very exclusive club, and only the favored–the similar–are allowed in. To join, you have to be a core member of a small group of blood relatives (with one or two exceptions); there must be a mother and a father present, and they must be legally married. The rest of the family is composed of these parents’ (usually biological) children. The tried-and-true nuclear family unit.
Under this model, which has come to be seen as “traditional” (and therefore inherently worth saving, somehow), one size fits all. The family is comprised of individuals, but instead of those individuals’ unique needs informing the needs of the family, each person is expected to sublimate themself for the benefit of their family unit. And the “family unit” is indeed a unit, operating as one, sharing one goal and one set of beliefs. The family is not only inherently exclusive, but also restrictive, as it limits the ways people can interact and connect with each other and whittles down their list of options to include only things that benefit their family group as a whole.
To clarify, I am not referring to families who happen to consist of married heterosexual couples and their children (although these families certainly enjoy their share of socioeconomic and legal privilege), but to the mythical Family that’s placed on a pedestal. To the expectation that a group of people will always magically get along with each other simply because they happen to share some genes. To the persistent idea that there is one correct way to have a family, to be a family, and that the many “family” groups who fail (for various reasons) to measure up are merely imposters, clusters of deviants with a universal, sinister plan to undermine the one true Family.
Under the model of the family, it’s not just gay couples and their loved ones who go unrecognized. It’s young people abandoned by their parents. It’s orphaned children. It’s single parents. Anyone who doesn’t meet the stringent requirements has no hope of belonging, of finding their place in a family that our culture will acknowledge. The blow is made especially bitter when society insists, over and over, that nothing in life could be more important or fulfilling than family.
Fortunately, the family is a myth. There are many ways to form families, and people have embodied the diversity of family groups throughout history. A daddy and a mommy and their children can be a family, but so can two daddies and their children, and so can two mommies and their children. Grandparents or aunts or uncles or other relatives raising children can be a family. A collective of caring adults raising one child can be a family. Parents who choose to live unmarried, single parents, divorced parents, remarried parents, polyamorous parents, trans parents. Children can have more than one set of parents. Parents can have children not naturally born to them. Extended families. Blended families. Broken families. Chosen families. Child-headed households. Households with no children at all. People with pets. Platonic partners. All of these are real families, and I’m sure there are more.
Fundamentalist Christian culture sees gay relationships–really, most (if not all) less-conventional partnerships and families–as a serious threat, if not directly to their own marriages, then to the future marriages of their children. For if two men can marry each other, what happens to the tired gender roles they impart as immovable doctrine? If two women can function in a loving relationship just as well as a man and a woman, what does that say about their carefully constructed formulas for a happy marriage, about the things each partner is “supposed” to want and need, about human nature large-scale? It becomes no longer necessary to see humanity as yin and yang, two separate but complementary halves. Each person is equal–not the same, no, people are not the same; but we are equal. And children might come to believe that, if people of every gender are equal, gay relationships might not be so sinful and harmful as their parents would have them believe. If women and men are equal, the “natural” right of a man to lead his family (including his wife) as head of the household dissipates, and he is left as simply another member of a family group who must work hard to understand and be understood, who must earn respect and appreciation instead of demanding it. Christian men are terrified of losing their “god-given” authority, and they are right in assuming that broadening the definition of family will eventually challenge their position as little gods in their tiny universes.
So yes, we aim to crumble the family. I can think of no better result of legalization of gay marriage than the widespread broadening of the definition of family to include everyone, everyone who wants in. Everyone is equal, and everyone deserves to be valued as such.