San Francisco Human Rights Commission Beyond Marriage: Unrecognized Family Relationships
The Human Rights Commission would like thank those who made the Beyond Marriage publicforum and this report possible, including the honored guest presenters at the forum CaliforniaAssemblymember Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, and Human RightsCommissioner Cecila Chung; the panelists from the forum whose ideas are presented hereincluding Cathy Sakimura and Melanie Rowen, Staff Attorneys from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Judy Appel, Executive Director of Our Family Coalition, and Samer Danfoura, San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commissioner and LGBT Advisory Committeemember; Human Rights Commission (HRC) Executive Director Theresa Sparks and HRC staff Larry Brinkin, Nadia Babella, Hadas Rivera-Weiss, and Domenic Viterbo; Alice Kessler fromEquality California (EQCA), Nathan Purkiss, Rahul, Kari Stevens, and Jerry Berbiar; the LGBTAdvisory Committee members for both 2009 and 2010 with special thanks to Poonam, BartBroome, Martin Rawlings-Fein, Brad Vanderbilt, Mark Dunlop, and Mark Snyder; the SanFrancisco LGBT Community Center and Center Women Present; and finally the members of thepublic who attended the forum and contributed their experiences with chosen familyrelationships.
A Note on Language
Sometimes the English language fails us. Sometimes concepts that exist in our thoughts, or even in other languages, have no generally understood name in English. Such is the case withthe term
.As initially envisioned, the public forum that was the genesis of this report was intended to focuson kinship structures among people who are not related by blood or legal adoption.Emancipated youth, seniors, those estranged from their legally recognized families, and otherswere invited to discuss how their
were created from bonds of friendship,mentoring, and caregiving. However, the working group organizing the forum struggled to find aterm that would be generally understood and come closest to those families unrecognized bycurrent language and legal structures.Ultimately, the word alternative was used because it was more widely understood than non-conjugal and sounded better than non-kinship. However, the term alternative family presents itsown problems. Alternative denotes a second-class status to these families, reminiscent of thedays when LGBT individuals were derogatively labeled as people practicing an alternativelifestyle. These families are not alternatives, they are real families, and are as present andloving as other families that are labeled traditional.Another challenge with the term alternative family is that it is too broad, as it is commonlyunderstood to include LGBT couples in intimate relationships who were not the focus of thepublic forum and are not the focus of this report. Despite the recognition that the wordalternative has been used by some to marginalize the LGBT community, and despite its overlybroad meaning, the families which were the focus of the public forum were labeled alternativesimply because it was the closest, generally understood term that could be found. Clearly, thelove shared between people is never alternative or secondary to those who are loving or beingloved. It is the hope of the authors of this report that someday soon there will be better language, as well as better legal mechanisms, to label and support chosen relationships of mutual commitment in all their sizes and shapes.