Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lebron: "Why to Abolish Civil Marriage?: Family-Normativity & the Reified Legal Regulation of Family"

Anibal Rosario Lebron (Hofstra Univ. School of Law) has posted "Why to Abolish Civil Marriage?: Family-Normativity & the Reified Legal Regulation of Family Arrangements" on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The family has been defined socially, legally, politically and philosophically in a very diffuse manner, usually by making reference to marriage. This constant reference to marriage has created the dyad family/marriage. Failing to take this dyad as an analytical starting point has been a major setback in the transformation of the family and has hindered our comprehension of why such concept has not undergone any significant change. To overcome this, we need to posit the problem as one of shifting hegemonic discourses within the dyad. Some of the hegemonic discourses conflated in the dyad such as patriarchy and heteronormativity are well known. However, others, like family-normativity, have remained absent from political and scholarly discussion.

Family-normativity procures to dictate how family relationships should be lived and arranged as well as to signal which affectionate relations are of social importance and which are not. It encompasses the bureaucratization of family relations, the promotion of a sexuated and monogamous relations, and the establishment of child rearing as essential to the human families. Through this discourse, the State has secured the alienation and domination of certain minorities and has ultimately subverted political and social equality. Surprisingly, family-normativity has eluded the radar of critical analysts; mainly because, it has not been subjected to the process of hegemonic contestation.

Precluding this process is the unacknowledged phenomenon of the reification of the legal regulation of family arrangements. The latter has shielded family-normativity from the dialectal thinking required for hegemonic contestation to be initiated. Paradoxically, this shield is the by-product of the hegemonic contestation processes carried out against the other hegemonic discourses conflated in the family/marriage dyad. As the known hegemonic discourses conflated in the dyad began to be contested, the institution needed to be re-conceptualized to protect them against those attacks. The way in which it has been done has been to conceptualize the family as a non-political entity. By transforming the dyad into a non-political entity, the dominant groups were able by legal means to delimit more what constitutes a family, give more incentives and more protection from State intervention to the family arrangement that they deemed normative, and leave in the process other family arrangements in a more vulnerable socio-political position. This increase in legal regulation – by its privatization, constitutionalization and juridification – led to the unforeseen reification of the idea that family arrangements ought to be always regulated. This reification has become a barrier for the transformation of the hegemonic discourse of family-normativity.

Hence, if a transformation of the definition of the family is sought, the only way to achieve it is by unmasking the reified legal regulation of family arrangements as the social construct that it is. In order to do so, it is essential that we embark in dialectal thinking and refuse to reconcile our analysis with our culture, especially with our legal culture. This paper sustains that the best way to produce that dialectal thinking is to abolish civil marriage and avoid any legal regulation of family arrangements.


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Transforming the definition of family is something we have been doing for centuries. It's good to discuss as long as the implications can be understood in a wider context than our Western secular culture.

Posted by: Sydney Lawyer | Feb 27, 2011 6:17:07 PM

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