June 30, 2011


A few different things have me thinking about family and the nature of it.

First, a press release that I was very please to put on the HRC website yesterday, about the re-introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which would allow a domestic partner, same-sex spouse, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected medical leave to care for a sick relative or for themselves. (Granted, it should be paid, but that's a whole separate battle.)

But when I think about who I would want to be able to take off their job to care for me, or who I would want to be able to take off my job to care for, beyond my parents and siblings the first people who come to mind aren't on that list. My neighborhood is really tight-knit, and we help each other out in a lot of different ways - I feel like they should count as "family," in that we would want to help take care of each other if there were a need. The fencing club at school often, jokingly or seriously, call ourselves a family, and do go out of our ways to look out for each other. I remember last year when my roommate unexpectedly had to go to the hospital, and I wished I could leave work to go with her, but I couldn't think of any way it would be allowed. My "Uncle" Don just passed away - not really an uncle, but my grandparents' close friend - and has me wondering precisely how I describe that relationship and how it works in my family. ("Great-uncle-more-or-less" is the best I've come up with.)

So my excitement about the Family and Medical Leave Act quickly turned to being confused about what a family is. The act, I guess sensibly, is based entirely on legal and medical definitions, but my experiences have me much in the habit of thinking of "family" as a group of people who make a point to take care of each other.

Which brought me around to this much-circulated op-ed from the New York Times a few weeks ago, Same-Sex Marriage Is a Mixed Blessing. The article was mostly about people losing domestic partnership benefits once marriage equality happened, based on the idea that "marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security."

On the whole, I would rather have marriage equality than a domestic partnership any day. I'm the sort of girl that swoons over wedding dresses and occasionally imagines what sort of centerpieces she might someday make for the reception. But when I think about it, that sort of daydream really doesn't come near encompassing my idea of what a family is. I agree that there ought to be ways for people who care about each other but don't fall into a nuclear family arrangement to have some kind of recognition, especially in case of emergencies. But I'm really uncertain about what that would look like.

1 comment:

Brinn said...

Frankly, I think you ought to be able to make a list, regardless of legal relationships. If I were in trouble, there are a whole list of people I'd call who aren't technically related to me before I'd call the ones who are.