Recent cases redefine meaning of family

NEW YORK, (U-WIRE) — Recent court cases redefining what constitutes “family” mark a new trend toward changing the current values of Americans. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case regarding whether or not grandparents have an absolute right to see their grandchildren. And in an additional case, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples cannot be denied the rights of marriage extended to heterosexual couples — rights including tax benefits and inheritance rules.
What this amounts to is a legal redefinition of family far different from the currently accepted standard. This redefinition is far overdue; it is time to revamp the traditional family structure to reflect current values. The institution is traditional and hidebound, refusing to admit any change. And if that change must occur by judicial fiat, so be it.
There is a grave concern that not only is this redefinition foolhardy, but wrong and immoral as well. By the standards of religion, it might, indeed, be immoral. Religions of the world are in agreement in defining homosexuality, and by extension homosexual couples, as sinners against God and nature, people who must wholeheartedly be condemned.
Religious people should make decisions regarding their own beliefs about condemnation and accept any consequences accompanying them. But the law should not be based on religious ideology, because it is a secular construct.
Our American political system holds many beliefs, and to hold it hostage to a single religious concept of morality is foolish.
My personal beliefs are not an issue, nor are anyone else’s. There is nothing wrong with any religion’s view of marriage. But society cannot adhere to a given religion’s view. It must formulate its own secular view. With the Vermont decision, society has taken a significant step toward that view.
The decision states that Vermont cannot deny the benefits of marriage or similar arrangements of same-sex couples, which essentially forces Vermont either to grant those rights or to create some alternative system with which to replace them. Whatever action is taken, it will finally allow two people — whatever gender — to express their love equally. The decision will not be left alone, however, and it is likely that the Supreme Court will finally take up an issue that has been left alone for too long and in too much need of resolution.
There are complaints that this is not within the purview of the Supreme Court — that decisions on marriage should be left to what people wish, not what the courts (or legislators) wish.
The same complaints have been made every time the Supreme Court has wrestled with some current social issue and ruled against the prevailing mores. The Supreme Court has sometimes acted as our national conscience, and it has often propelled us into a new society that the majority has angrily rallied against, though the new society was right. The situation is the same here as well. The majority might rally against same-sex marriages and might protest the rights of two people to express their love, but that does not change the rights of those two people to marry. Even if 10 million people say something, it can still be wrong.
Same-sex marriages are not the only issue at hand at the moment. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether or not parents are the sole persons in control of their families, or whether or not other people — grandparents in this specific case — can gain access to that family without the parent’s wishes. The basic issue is what constitutes a family, what defines immediate relations. While it is certainly desirable that grandparents and other relatives be able to see their grandchildren, by the same token, it is more desirable that parents be in control of their children.
Despite the American idea of rights, children do not and should not have the freedom to do as they please. Not only are they ill-informed as to the consequences of their actions, but they are also not ready to fend for themselves. The responsibility of raising these children lies with their parents, and in order for that rearing to work, the parents must have sole control.
If a parent feels that his or her child is best served by not being in contact with other family members, then we should respect that decision.
Obviously, if children are in a harmful situation as a result of their parents’ control, then that control should be revoked. In the absence of that harmful situation, however, parents should retain full control of raising their children.
A legal revolution of the family is afoot, and it will be interesting to see how it develops.
Hopefully, in time this revolution will create a more modern, more appropriate definition that reflects our values and beliefs.
Joel Rosner’s column originally appeared in Tuesday’s Columbia Daily Spectator.