Cathy Arnst

A couple of recent news items speak to the issue of what defines family. The first was the announcement that Mary Cheney, VP Dick Cheney's gay daughter, is going to have a baby with her longtime (female) partner--a decision that has come under attack from some conservatives who argue that children should only be raised by a married man and woman. The other was the news that, come May, China will no longer let unmarried people adopt . Policy makers there figure China's unwanted children would be best served by a two-parent home. And of course, they have an absolute prohibition against adoption by gays.

I cannot evaluate these news items objectively, of course--I'm a single mother, with a daughter adopted from China. But I do think many of us in the U.S. should start rethinking our notions of what makes an ideal family, just as we've had to rethink the idea that the ideal place for a mother is in the house, not the workplace. I know so many, many different kinds of families, and most of them manage to be upstanding citizens, with fine kids (if they have kids). Sure, it would be great if my daughter had a father, but everyone who has ever met her comments on how happy and bubbly she is, so it's hard for me to believe she'd be better off in an orphanage in China than with her single mother.

I particularly think about the definition of family at this time of year, when people invariably ask me if I'm going to be spending Christmas with my family. I don't know why I don't just say yes. We always spend Christmas with very close friends in Massachusetts. Ann's been one of my closest friends since college. I was with her when she met her future husband, John. I've watched their fabulous kids grow into lovely teenagers, and the four of them couldn't love my daughter more if she was related by blood (as a matter of fact, I think they love some of their blood relatives less). They are my family by choice, and they are part of a large extended network of unrelated friends who are always there for me, in good times and bad. People I can absolutely count on, always. That's my definition of family, and I imagine it's Mary Cheney's definition too. What makes these kinds of bonds any less legitimate than those created by an accident of birth or marriage?

For an excellent take on Mary Cheney's pregnancy, read William Saletan in Slate.

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