Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Human Rights - Family Rights

In  case you missed it, December 10 was UN Human Rights Day.  It is something we as LGBT Americans should take to heart. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a wonderful document.  It is intended to assure freedom and justice and a voice for all people.   The United States along with 48 other countries signed the declaration in 1948 and it has become the standard by which human rights are judged.

One of the key provisions in this historic document is the provision that the family is a “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Interestingly enough, the UN declined to give a definition of the term “family”.  They did this because they saw as early as 1948 that families were defined in different ways by different cultures.  They went on to specify that, ““in giving full effect to the recognition of family in the context of (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) article 23, it is important to accept the concept of the various forms of family…”

In other words, our families are ours to define.  For LGBT Americans that is really important.  Now that the Supreme Court is taking up DOMA and the California Proposition 8 case, it means more than ever. 

The reality of same-sex marriage is this, until there is a federal law that assures recognition of marriages from all states, same-sex or not, a marriage license is pretty much just a nice piece of paper.  The union and its rights will be good only in the state where it was signed.  In other words your family may be OK is Washington State, but in Texas you are just a couple of friends. 

For family arrangements beyond the hetero-normative model, it gets even more difficult.  In the leather community for example, there are lots of families consisting of 2-3 or more individuals who are in a relationship with each other that they consider a family.   It is not unusual for a leather “Daddy” to have a couple of “boys” in his or her household.  (For the uninitiated  the title of “Daddy” has nothing to do with parenting.  It is a role as well as an honorific and it can apply to a man or woman.  Likewise, the idea of “boys” or “bois” or “girls” has nothing to do with minors, these are roles assumed by leatherfolk and are terms of affection and position within the leather family structure.)  These leather families are often as tight knit and valid as any blood-related family and in many cases more so. 

If the UN Declaration is to be believed, even these very non-traditional families have a right to exist and be recognized, because the reality of families in the US is this, only 20% of households consist of married husbands and wives with children.  The Norman Rockwall family unit is a myth, and it is time we began understanding just how varied families in our country are.  
Same-sex marriage will be a step toward this recognition, but it will still leave millions of American’s out. 

It will take a lot of work and a lot of education to fulfill the goals of the UN Declaration in the 21st Century.  It will take families of all types making their case for recognition.  It will be uncomfortable for some people but if we are to take human rights seriously we have to understand that all families, deserve respect and rights. 

So next time you hear of the problems of human rights, don’t automatically assume it is a third-world issue.  As LGBT Americans we still live as second class citizens who are denied the right to form legally recognized families of our own. 

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