Liberty in a Divided and Experimental Culture: Respecting Choice and Enforcing Connection in the American Family

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This Essay examines the need to expand our societal vocabulary to better describe the varieties of family relationships present within society. After first describing the ability of language to form notions of liberty, the author focuses on the need to have our official language adequately describe the connections and choices made in familial lives. Focusing on the societal celebration of autonomy of choice and experimentation in family relationships, including the recognition of relationships between same-sex partners and other non-traditional forms of family connections, she argues that both the Right and the Left fail to recognize this autonomy of choice by the creation of legal vocabulary. Coming from a societal tradition of experimentation and a recognition of "eccentricity" in our Constitutional jurisprudence, those forming domestic units at the edge of family definitions are trying to bring a vocabulary representing both choice and connection into the public dialogue. The author describes the necessity for such a public vocabulary to change to provide adequate recognition to the new forms of family; indeed, the public dialogue has already started to recognize such terms as "non-custodial parent." Finally, she argues that such a public vocabulary is essential for the self-definition of children living within these new familial units.