Queer Family Values: Debunking the Myth of the Nuclear Family

By Hequembourg, Amy | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Queer Family Values: Debunking the Myth of the Nuclear Family


Hequembourg, Amy, Journal of Marriage and Family


Queer Family Values: Debunking the Myth of the Nuclear Family. Valerie Lehr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1999. 212 pp. ISBN 1-56639-684-0. $59.50 cloth, $19.95 paper.

Precisely when some states (e.g., Vermont) are considering the extension of marriage benefits to same-sex partners, Valerie Lehr interjects to warn readers of the dangers inherent in the unqualified embrace of liberalism and rights-based politics. Providing a convincing argument for a radical democratic approach, Lehr encourages readers to question the values and assumptions underlying conventional gay politics. In doing so, she challenges us to widen our vision of "family" in ways that address the complex concerns of not only gay and lesbian families, but all forms of intimate relationships.

In chapter 1, Lehr critiques liberal, rights-based reform attempts to assimilate gay and lesbian families into the existing judicial system. Focusing on the debate over same-sex marriage, she argues that current attempts at reform are an inadequate means for reconstituting the power structures that silence and subordinate gay and lesbian individuals and the intimate relationships they forge. In chapter 2, she broadens her discussion to explore how the emphasis on rights-based reform has emerged historically within a social and political context that privileges certain hegemonic family constructions over others. In chapter 3, she considers various theoretical conceptualizations of gay and lesbian identity. Contrasting her approach to popular identity politics, Lehr suggests that "subjects" are better thought of as "mobile agents" situated within historically shifting contexts. Her focus on agency provides the rationale for a radical democratic approach to political activism. Through chapter 4, Lehr illustrates the complex ways that various familial ideologies continue to perpetuate a vision of family that is exclusive of gay and lesbian intimate relationships. She argues that a radical democratic politics would ultimately transform these ideologies so as to provide for both personal security and greater freedom in private life. Nonetheless, she recognizes that this can only be accomplished if we understand identity as a constantly shifting fiction that is shaped by historical, social, economic, and political forces. In chapters 5 and 6, Lehr acknowledges the vital role that all youth play in any politics concerned with the family. She stresses the importance of expanding our focus to include the difficulties faced by today's youth-especially gay and lesbian youth-as they encounter their own emerging sexual identities. …

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