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  • Sunday, July 31, 2005


    Lies of the Family and Marriage

    While watching Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) promote his new book It Takes a Family on The Daily Show, I was amused, stunned, and incredulous as he claimed that the nuclear family was the center of US society. He also claimed this kind of family was over four thousand years old. This is the triumph of television reality over factual reality. The family he is championing is almost purely a fiction of 1950s television shows.

    Let me be clear exactly what I'm referring to when I say nuclear family. This is the idealized family as defined by the far right, an autonomous unit consisting of a husband and a wife and their children. Elder generations and side generations (siblings of the husband and wife) are discounted in influence and consideration in this version.

    While much of the legal force of American society is set to emphasize and reinforce this particular configuration, this is a definition is designed to fragment society, not provide a foundation. Industrial society tries very hard to separate groups of people and keep them from joining in common cause.

    It makes perfect sense to me that gays and lesbians desire the legality and security of marriage. This one act extends all sorts of rights and privileges to the participants. To achieve even vaguely similar legal results without marriage requires complex legal documents related to power of attorney, wills, etc. Yet what I also notice is that this drive for marriage rights has also sapped energy from other collective endeavored. And this is the beauty of stressing the focus on this type of family: extended family and group bonds become discounted, less important.

    By forcing adults to rely primarily on only one other adult for emotional support and advice, I see an effort to keep groups of people from empowering themselves as a group. This keeps people helpless in the face of corporate or governmental injustice. Labor unions used to be (and still are in some instances) a central form of empowerment.

    So we've developed a structure that devolves responsibility for raising children to two parents. That's the idealized version. In actual day-to-day reality and detail, it more often means one adult, the mother. And if they need or have two incomes, perhaps paying someone else to take care of the children.

    Separate people from each other and stress will naturally create disfunctional or misdirected action. This is the beauty of the assertion of the primacy of the nuclear family: such a small and insular group is almost destined to implode, fragmenting the small unit into isolated individuals, helpless against the corporate culture.

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