The Future of the “Family”

By: Katie Burch, J.D. Candidate ’14 | July 14, 2013

Depending on where you call home, your definition of the word “family” may range from as those immediate blood relatives that you are morally obligated to share a Thanksgiving table to the social network that you connect with on a daily basis.

But the process of how we humans become kindred spirits has never really been the decision of any one individual. Since the dawning of time, religious and political factions alike have altered the landscape of whom we may choose to call family – and not without some controversy.

Political challenges to what defines the family structure also became apparent in 2010 when Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Among other things, the major healthcare reform initiative requires that employers with fifty or more workers provide contraceptive as part of their health insurance plans – at no charge to employees. As of today, over 200 plaintiffs – including hospitals, universities, businesses, schools and individuals – have filed approximately 62 cases against the law, arguing that it unjustly burdens religious freedoms on whether to bear and beget children.

And don’t think that strictly religious groups have kept their mouth shut on the matter.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has rejected the Obama Administrations proposal for insurance companies – rather than religious hospitals, universities or charities – to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage. The rejection follows two previous rejections of the Administration’s proposals. Speaking for the conference, president Cardinal Timothy Dolan cited multiple conflicts with the plan and the Judeo-Christian heritage.

Most recently, the United States Supreme Court has weighed in on the familial debate when it issued two highly anticipated rulings on gay marriage. In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as union between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. In a separate ruling, the Court declined to tackle the broader issue of the legality of gay marriage when it decided that supporters of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in California, lacked the standing necessary to bring the case to the court .

But in a world where everyone has an opinion on who and how we should order the individuals of our home, the future of the “family” can only be understood by looking at the historical aspects of family law in four primary developments: divorce, marriage, adoption, and parentage.

In an article entitled “Family Law’s Challenge to Religious Liberty,” author Raymond C. O’Brien sets out an intelligent framework of the challenges made to the family structure through private-ordering, including reactions to the challenges by worldview adherents. By doing so, O’Brien shines a light on the potential future of the family framework in his analysis of the historical, religious reactions to challenges made to family law structures.