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November 20, 2009

At hearing for EEOC post, Chai Feldblum disavows statement on alternative families

In 2006, Chai Feldblum, a professor at Georgetown Law Center and current Obama nominee to the EEOC, signed a statement titled "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships."  The statement was signed by prominent academics and activists sympathetic to the idea of de-emphasizing marriage as a goal for gays and lesbians and "mov[ing] beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics as they exist in the United States today. We seek access to a flexible set of economic benefits and options regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender/gender identity, class, or citizenship status."  The statement asserts, in part:

To have our government define as “legitimate families” only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families, kinship networks, households, and relationships. For example, who among us seriously will argue that the following kinds of households are less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy?

  • Senior citizens living together, serving as each other’s caregivers, partners, and/or constructed families
  • Adult children living with and caring for their parents
  • Grandparents and other family members raising their children’s (and/or a relative’s) children
  • Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner
  • Blended families
  • Single parent households
  • Extended families (especially in particular immigrant populations) living under one roof, whose members care for one another
  • Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households
  • Close friends and siblings who live together in long-term, committed, non-conjugal relationships, serving as each other’s primary support and caregivers
  • Care-giving and partnership relationships that have been developed to provide support systems to those living with HIV/AIDS

Feldblum's views on family #4 -- "[c]ommitted, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner" -- were a subject of interest at her Senate hearing Thursday for confirmation to the EEOC.  As Lawdork blogger Chris Geidner reports, Feldblum sought to reassure the Senate committee, “I do not support polygamy.”

Indeed, on the eve of the hearing, Feldblum, who is lesbian and the partner of Professor Nan Hunter, asked that her name be removed from the statement, reports Politico.com. Feldblum wrote earlier this month to the statement organizers:

I am writing to ask that you remove my name as a signatory to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement. I signed this document because it supports societal recognition of relationships between LGBT couples. But the statement was overly broad and there are parts of it with which I do not agree. Because the text of the statement does not reflect my views, I must ask you to remove my name.

As of this writing, her name is still there.

If the statement did not reflect her views, why did Professor Feldblum sign it in the first place?  According to blogger Geidner,

Feldblum stated that she had been asked to sign on to the petition by “another academic from Columbia.”  She said, “I agreed with the general thrust of the statement,” and that her work at the time was very focused on efforts to “support the range of caregiving relationships.”  It was for that reason, she said, that she signed on in support of the petition.

She concluded, though, “However, the statement goes beyond what I would have said.  That’s why it was a mistake to sign it and why I asked for my name to be removed.”

So, setting aside the question of whether signing was an expression of personal principle, a decision meant to advance a professional scholarly agenda, a casual favor to a colleague, or something else, why did she wait three years -- specifically, until the eve of her confirmation to a government post -- to ask that her name be removed? 

The answer seems obvious.  Professor Feldblum correctly anticipated that, whatever her activist friends and academic colleagues may wish for, the United Senate Senate is one place that is decidedly not ready to "move beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics as they exist in the United States today," and that the views of the Family Research Council carry more weight on Capitol Hill than those of queer studies professors.  Such are the compromises that even prominent, well-established academics are forced to make when they seek a more direct role in politics and policy.

-SS

November 20, 2009 | Permalink

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