From the outset I do not shy away from the simple fact that this article takes a strong liberal viewpoint. Conservative values, as explained herein, are deliberately pushed aside and deemed as unrealistic in defining "family" in today’s multifaceted society.
Gone are the days of mum, dad, 2.3 kids plus a dog, cat and budgie, living on a quarter acre block, with a Holden parked in the garage and a Hills Hoist out the back. That type of family was lost in the enlightenment of the 60’s and 70’s amid the realisation that Australia is but a small fragment of a global family.
The last three decades have brought us refugees and immigrants with their values and extended families. It has also heralded a time of smaller families - single parents, couples with few or no children, and an acceptance of a new life with the adoption of inner city living, compact, fuel efficient cars and more overseas holidays.
It is not possible nor is it advisable to return to the “good old days” where you had to live in a loveless marriage for the sake of the children: when women stayed home barefoot and pregnant. The times have most certainly changed ... for the better.
But there are those who have not changed with the times. They refuse to accept that two consenting adults in love can share the greatest joy there is, that of being a family, with or without children, regardless of sex, and not answerable to religion.
A declining birth rate not only means fewer kids but also an ageing population. While China maintains its one child policy Australia is opting to lure parents to procreate with a $3000 baby bonus. Add to this the growing recognition of same-sex couples, and the debate over access to artificial conception or adoption, and we have quite a Pandora’s box of hypocrisy.
The debate, more often than not, centres on the definition of family. The religious and conservatives claim it is “a mother, a father and their children”. But this cry comes from an era when white Australia unjustly tore apart Indigenous families while at the same time ignoring the domestic violence and child abuse in its own homes and churches. Such a narrow perspective holds little credibility in our modern society.
The definition of family from the 50’s and early 60’s also does not resonate with the way it has been defined over the centuries and millennia gone by. Family, from beyond the memory of civilisation, has been a broad and welcoming entity. It is our most basic social unit comprised of generations, bloodlines and many kin adopted by marriage, birth or friendship.
It is only in the last half of the 20th century that western civilisation has turned its back on the true meaning of family ... unconditional love. A lone person is an individual. But when two individuals join in a loving relationship the feeling of family evolves. Families can blossom with the arrival of children and are strengthened by the inclusion of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more.
To deny a childless couple the right to be seen as a family is wrong. It does not matter if that family is childless by choice, infertility or other factors. Does a family that loses their child to an illness or accident suddenly lose the right to exist or be named? Clearly not.
If we accept that a heterosexual couple can be a family while choosing not to procreate, then any two or more individuals brought together by love can be a family. A father and his daughter; a same-sex couple; a single woman and her foster son; a frail aged man and his niece, who is also his full-time carer; two spinsters caring for each other in their autumn years. All these people represent family in one form or another.
Family is not, and should not be, defined by the limitations of our own narrow expectations. Family is a celebration of life regardless of sex, gender, sexuality or a multitude of other constraints. It cannot be defined by religious doctrine, legislation or genetic coding.
Family must always be defined from within, by those who feel its warmth, security and unconditional love.