Redefining what constitutes a “family”

According to homophobes, some families are better than others. In fact, they would even say that some people who consider themselves families are not really “true” families. For a “real family” there has to be a married heterosexual man and a woman with their biological (or at least adopted) children.

Some bigoted politicians have worked very hard to enshrine homophobia into laws. Section 110 of the Latvian Constitution states that:

The State shall protect and support marriage – a union between a man and a woman, the family, the rights of parents and rights of the child. The State shall provide special support to disabled children, children left without parental care or who have suffered from violence.

At first, the words “a union between a man and a woman” were not there, this explanation of what exactly constitutes a marriage was added in 2006 thanks to the efforts of some homophobic politicians.

In Latvia, gay marriage isn’t legal in any way or form. Regardless of how desperately conservative people want everybody to get married to a partner of the other sex, here marriage isn’t that popular even among heterosexual people. Many heterosexual couples live together for years without getting married, a significant portion of them also raise children without bothering to sign marriage papers.

In 2019 in Latvia there were 18 786 live births. From those 7 209 children were born to non-married AFAB people. This means that 38% of kids born in 2019 were born out of wedlock. And their female parents weren’t all single mothers. Many couples just don’t want to marry for various reasons and are content to simply live together and raise children.

Since a state cannot force people to marry against their will, and a noticeable number of children grow up without married parents, politicians had no other choice but to pass laws protecting the interests of such de facto families. For example, after a child is born, fathers can apply for parental leave from work even when they aren’t married.

Then one day a lesbian couple with a child decided that they want parental leave for mother’s female partner, and the constitutional court confirmed that parents in a family can also be same-sex, and imposed on the state the “obligation to protect and support” them as well.

At this point, defining what is a marriage was not enough for bigots. Now homophobes want to define also what constitutes a family. Recently conservative politicians proposed the following wording of Section 110 of the Constitution:

The State protects and supports marriage – a union between a man and a woman, a family based on marriage, blood relation or adoption, the rights of parents and a child, including the right to grow up in a family based on a mother (woman) and father (man).
The State particularly helps disabled children, children left without parental care or suffering from violence.

The proposed law thus highlights three possible ways in which the family is formed: (1) marriage, (2) blood relations, (3) adoption.

At this point you are probably laughing about this definition and thinking about how it fails to encompass countless families and not just those gay and lesbian families abhorred by the authors of this law. What about a straight couple living together for years who still haven’t gotten married, because a fancy ceremony would cost too much but merely signing papers without a wedding feels unsatisfactory? What about a woman with fertility issues who uses donor eggs and gives birth to a child that doesn’t have any of her DNA?

Moreover, this law implies that in order to be a family with one’s children, a person has to be either a man or a woman (ignoring the fact that agender, genderfluid, and non-binary people also can have children).

Personally, I define “family” as “several people who consider themselves a family.” It’s possible to have a family without living together, without marriage papers, without blood relations, without adoption. It’s even possible for a person to consider somebody their family member without loving or caring for said person. Granted, personally I do think that whether some person qualifies as my family depends upon the existence of mutual love and care. For me papers and DNA do not determine who is or isn’t my family. But I am fine with other people selecting different criteria for determining who their family members are. It is not up to me to tell other people whether they are or aren’t a family.

For humanity there has never been an era with all (or even majority of) children growing up in “the perfect family” aka a married straight couple with their biological children. There were always single parents. There were children raised by their grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings. Long before conservatives realized that it is horrible for children to be raised by two women who are lesbians, many children were raised by two women who were their mother and grandmother (or mother and aunt or whatever else). And yes, lesbians, gays, and bisexual people have always existed and they have always raised children. And they have families. Moreover, it is wrong to classify families as either “good” or “bad” bases on superficial criteria like paperwork or parents’ sexual orientation.

Since I have a degree in philology, I cannot help but think about prescriptive vs. descriptive mindsets among linguists, a topic I have discussed earlier in my webpage. A century ago linguistics was mostly prescriptive. Bigoted linguists came up with “the correct way” how some language should be spoken, and bemoaned the fact that majority of people didn’t speak the way they wanted. Entire languages, dialects, and sociolects were classified as “inferior.” Passionate crusades against words and grammatical constructions of foreign origin were waged. Linguists wanted to freeze languages in time, halt any changes in them, prevent the influence of several languages mixing and lending new words to each other in the process.

Even though only a small minority of human population spoke “correctly,” linguistic discrimination was promoted and all those rubes who spoke “incorrectly” had to be reeducated. It took linguists a while to shift towards a descriptive approach instead and accept that whatever people spoke was just fine. Instead of asking, for example, “What should English be like?” linguists now ask a different question, namely, “What is English?” Modern grammarians aim to describe rather than prescribe linguistic forms and their uses. Dictionary makers strive for descriptive accuracy in reporting which words are in use and what meanings they have.

With families we have basically the same issue. Instead of telling people what kind of family they ought to have, politicians should accept that gay and lesbian families already exist and aren’t going to disappear. Trans people also exist, and we will always be there. Attempting to outlaw us won’t work. Once you look at what is actually happening, you have to ask how laws can help improve people’s lives. For example, parental leave is beneficial for both newborn babies and also for people who raise these babies. Thus state should make sure that people tasked with changing dirty diapers can get parental leave regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, etc. insignificant criteria.

Social practices are fascinating in their flexibility. Sometimes changes are possible. For example, you can observe that “domestic abuse is happening, and it is harmful for the victim,” and you can enact laws and policies that reduce its prevalence and mitigate its harmful effects (education, crisis shelters, outlawing of marital rape).

It’s possible to promote various social changes. You can promote gender equality or oppose racism. For example, laws can make it either easier or harder for women and people of color to get good jobs. You can promote a laissez-faire capitalism or socialism. A lot of social changes are possible.

But you cannot change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. You cannot promote heterosexuality or increase the number of cis people in some society. You cannot outlaw gays and lesbians or their families. LGBTQ+ people exist. We are here and we will remain a part of every society.

All that’s possible for politicians is to create laws that make our daily lives either easier or harder. And torturing us for no good reason is ultimately pointless, because discrimination won’t reduce our numbers.


  1. anat says

    I’m not sure I am getting this right, but it seems the Latvian law makes it easier to form a legally-recognized family with your different-sex sibling that with your same-sex partner? Of course, such families do exist in some cultures – usually where women have a lot of sexual freedom and paternity very uncertain.

  2. says

    anat @#1

    I’m not sure I am getting this right, but it seems the Latvian law makes it easier to form a legally-recognized family with your different-sex sibling that with your same-sex partner?

    Same-sex partners have no legal protections whatsoever (yes, this country is fucking homophobic).

    Siblings are legally considered as family. At least when it comes to inheritance, if the deceased person has no closer relatives (spouse, children), then a sibling can get the inheritance.

    Basically, when it comes to inheritance, kids and grandchildren are considered first-degree relatives.
    Parents, siblings and your siblings’ children are considered second-degree relatives.
    Third-degree are half-brother, half-sister as well as their kids.
    Fourth-degree are grandparents, cousins, etc. relatives.

    If the dead person has no living kids, then grandkids get the inheritance. If there are no kids and no grandkids, then parents or siblings can get the inheritance. If there are no second-degree relatives, then the inheritance goes to the third-degree relatives. If there are no third-degree relatives, then fourth-degree relatives inherit.

    Wife or husband always gets half of all the inheritance in cases where the deceased has any first, second, or third degree relatives. If there are no first/second/third degree relatives, spouse gets everything.

    People only occasionally write testaments here, partially because they are semi-pointless. The problem is that even if the dying person wants to leave absolutely nothing to a specific relative, said relative will still get half of what they would have otherwise inherited anyway.

    In practice, this means that severely ill or merely ageing people usually gift their properties to the desired family member while they are still alive. For example, my uncle (my mother’s brother) had no children, no wife, and two sisters, both sisters had one kid. He wanted to leave his apartment to me (and not my aunt or my cousin), which is why he gifted his real estate to my mother (back then I was underage, so he couldn’t gift his apartment to me). We legally arranged it so that my uncle’s apartment belongs to my mother, but he has a right to live there until his death (in the paper that confirms my mother’s ownership of said apartment there is a text stating that my uncle has a right to live there and that this apartment cannot be sold without his approval).

    By the way, when it comes to shared property, depending on the situation, marriage can cause more harm than good. For example, I know a family with a kid who were merely living together. When the kid got a bit older, he started pestering his parents to marry for real. They got married. Then they had to take a loan and there was some problem with said loan. They filed for a divorce because of problems with the bank. Of course, they still kept on living together and remained a family also after their divorce.

  3. Trickster Goddess says

    I wonder how they would enforce the “right” of a child to grow up in a family based on a mother and father? If a child doesn’t have a father (or mother), will the courts assign them one? Will that court-assigned parent then have to live with the child and their other parent(s)? Or would they just remove the child from their existing family and give them to a married straight couple?

  4. maat says

    If these bigots were to be subjected to the onus probandi, what possible arguments could they put forward?
    I am sure they would merely appeal to some ancient laws set up by particularly cruel characters in a very bad work of fiction purporting to be the word of a god. Well, let “him” come and explain it to us then.
    For it is abundantly evident there cannot possibly be any rational arguments.
    Any ‘natural’ ones?
    There are no supporting facts for this either:
    It is not a fact in nature, where there are diverse ways of rearing offspring and the ‘one female+one male’ is by no means the most common.
    It is not a fact in human societies either. All you have to do is look around to see that this is not so.
    But numbers mean little either away. Why is the traditional (or for that matter any non-traditional) model better?
    If we were to ask, would we be surprised to find that no family model (where the measure is merely the number or gender of the parents/carers) is a predictor of a happy or unhappy family?
    Surely what matters is that the carers are responsible people who actually do care?

  5. says


    It is not a fact in nature, where there are diverse ways of rearing offspring and the ‘one female+one male’ is by no means the most common.

    Appeals to nature are funny when it comes to homophobia. My family dogs have a lot of lesbian sex. Meanwhile, my homophobic mother (who doesn’t seem to have a problem with lesbian sex among her dogs) insists that homosexual sex among humans is unnatural. She also wanted me to marry and have kids after getting married. Never mind that she herself never got married even once in her entire life.

  6. says

    German constituion is the same as yours was, protecting marriage and married families without defining who could be married, not because the writers were enlightened egalitarians, but because they were so fucking homophobic they couldn’t even imagine a same seed family.
    Of course when we were finally discussing marriage equality, the conservatives did not dare to say that loud, because such overt homophobia wasn’t fashionable any more.
    We still don’t have total equality. There is currently a court case where a married lesbian couple is suing, because a same sex partner still has to adopt the biological child of their spouse born inside the marriage, while the husband in a different sex marriage is automatically the second parent, even when both of them know that he is not biologically related to the child.
    What drives me up the wall is that homophobic and transphobic people will look at my family and think we are the picture perfect hetero family (probably apart from me working full time) and that we would agree with their yesteryear’s views. For one thing, not all of us are heterosexual, and for another we would still be a family of a kid is gay or trans.
    As for family being people you care about : when my dad’s brother and his wife announced that they were splitting up, the family voted to keep her over him. They stayed married for financial reasons and reasonably good friends until my uncle died unexpectedly and too young so it wasn’t a problem. My aunt is still part of the family (I have no clue if we are still legally related, who cares) and next week my husband will meet her for a walk and hand her the Christmas present the postal service failed to deliver.

  7. maat says

    “Appeals to nature are funny when it comes to homophobia.”
    I believe that bisexuality is actually most common in nature. And that makes a lot of sense.
    I have always thought not being bisexual a limitation, but I am not and that’s okay. It is not a matter of choice, is it?
    Many still want to believe that it is. If religious, they will call it a vice, a sin; if not religious they might call it, as a member of my family does, a ‘habit’ you pick up… Not immoral exactly, but unnatural all the same.
    I am sorry you have a homophobic mother.

  8. says

    In fact, they would even say that some people who consider themselves families are not really “true” families.

    The ideal “nuclear” family is a side-effect of victorian British imperial values. For much of human history, it was common for children to be raised by whoever survived whatever plagues and wars were going on. It was not at all uncommon for a child to lose one or both parents and be raised by a tradesperson or a farmer.

    Not to mention that their alleged jesus was supposedly raised by a single mom.

  9. says

    “I wonder how they would enforce the “right” of a child to grow up in a family based on a mother and father? If a child doesn’t have a father…. Or would they just remove the child from their existing family and give them to a married straight couple?”

    It’s the last one. I’ve heard RWNJs openly say that
    1)Any parents who don’t fit their idea of what parents are supposed to be should have custody revoked, and
    2)The only process for legal adoptions should involve going through church-run adoption agencies.

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