Blogging LGBT Families Day

by Guest Blogger:blog post andy Andy Izenson

Andy Izenson is an Associate Attorney and mediator with Diana Adams Law & Mediation, PLLC, and is a passionate advocate for queer and nontraditional families and for trans and gender non-conforming youth and adults. As a collaborative attorney trained by the NY Association of Collaborative Professionals and mediator trained by the NY Center for Interpersonal Development, Andy aids clients in creating intentional structures and support for their families. Longstanding affiliations with the National LGBT Bar Association, and with the National Lawyers Guild as a member of the NYC Chapter Executive Committee and a legal observer, frame Andy’s commitment to support for queer community and families as well as to a radical, anti-assimilationist politic. 

As an attorney-mediator working in the field of non-traditional family law, the medium of my work is human connection. There are dozens of types of ways that humans can be interconnected in the legal realm: romantically, sexually, financially, and many others. We can live together, raise children together, own property together. We can give each other power over our healthcare decisions or our estates, and we can even share our citizenship with each other. These connections are the practical manifestations of the intimacies and commitments that we build through our relationships throughout our lives; they’re the way we demonstrate that we intend to be there for one another.

Marriage is made of these connections. Specifically, it is made of a gigantic lump of these connections, attached inseparably together, and all connected to one person simultaneously. It is over one thousand rights, benefits, and connections, and the assumption that you want to have every single one of those with the same person. This assumption is based on the narrative of a heterosexual, monogamous, dyadic pair who meet all of one another’s needs, who co-parent children who are biologically related to both of them, who are economically stable and operate as a nuclear unit.

People doing direct services and advocacy work in the field of nontraditional family law work with and support families that don’t look like that. We help provide benefits and protections for relationships that are illegible to the law and, often, to society. In this direct services and advocacy work, we value those thousands of connections highly, but we value them as discrete choices to be made individually and with intention. We value and validate the diverse and creative family structures that our clients and communities have which allow them to desire these connections with various people, instead of just one.

This is what families actually look like; less than half of adults in the United States today live in a nuclear family with a spouse, and yet all the legal tools that exist are set up to support that configuration alone. We work with existing and creative tools to provide legal stability and intentionality to people who live in other configurations – configurations that tend to correlate with deviation from whiteness, from heterosexuality, and from cisness, and often tend to correlate as well with lower economic stability.

The last few years have seen an upswing in publicity around non-dyadic relationships and family diversity. This can be attributed to a lot of things, including increased communication and community through technology, advances in assisted reproductive technology, and economic events making it more difficult for people to access the “American Dream” of economically stable nuclear families that would otherwise have been able to access that model. It’s crucial to remember that while the publicity and dialogue is new, family diversity is not. The dyadic model is not the historical, traditional norm from which people are recently starting to deviate; rather, the model that has been taught to us as the “traditional” and “ideal” family, that is embedded in both our culture and our law – is in actuality neither traditional nor ideal. This model is a product of white supremacy, capitalism, and misogyny, and it has been imposed on families throughout history by violence and imperialism. In seeking the rights associated with marriage by fighting to assimilate into that structure, our movement is in danger of strengthening those ideas of what an acceptable family looks like, and who gets to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable families.

There’s a case from 1989 which has a definition of family that I absolutely love and try to infuse through my work. In Braschi vs. Stahl, the plaintiff was a gay man, Miguel Braschi. Mr. Braschi had been living with his partner in his partner’s rent-controlled apartment for a decade, and when his partner passed away, Mr. Braschi argued that the rent-controlled lease should pass to him, as a member of his partner’s family, despite the fact that it was years before same-sex marriage was a twinkle in anybody’s eye.

On appeal, the court agreed that the relationship between Mr. Braschi and his partner counted as family despite its lack of government validation. It defined family as characterized by long-lasting relationships with emotional and financial commitment and interdependence, focused around providing caretaking for those who need it, including infants or the elderly, sharing resources, and building a life of mutual love and support. The ruling prioritized indicia of permanence, continuity, and reliance upon one another for daily family services over pre-existing government recognition, stating that “family should not be restricted to those who have formalized their relationship by obtaining, for example, a marriage certificate or an adoption order. The intended protections…should not rest on fictitious legal distinctions or genetic history, but instead should find its foundation in the reality of a family life.”

Can you imagine if, instead of throwing that legal reasoning out and fighting ferociously for same-sex marriage rights, we had instead grabbed onto it with both hands and fought for that kind of legal recognition of family diversity based on the idea that your family is who is there for you, not whom the state approves of? What would our movement look like today after twenty-seven years of working with that? I imagine a parallel universe that forked off from our own in 1989 and built a queer family movement around Braschi, a universe where instead of fighting for inclusion in the privileged class that deserves access to rights and benefits, we focused on making those benefits widely available to any member of any type of family – even on fighting for the liberation of the more vulnerable members of our movement rather than the advancement of the least.

In our work at Diana Adams Law & Mediation, PLLC, and through the work of the Family Matters Project, I hold onto that parallel universe as my lodestar and work every day to nudge our own universe closer to it.