Our Sacred Institution: the Ideal of the Family in American Law and Society

20 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012

Date Written: 1993


As lawmakers and others in the legal field create and interpret law they also articulate, define, and shape the perceived interest of the larger society. Often choices must be made from among competing assertions or interpretations, as amorphous social and cultural concerns and areas of real and potential conflict are reduced to law. These choices operate as potentially coercive or punitive forces in the lives of people whose circumstances or preferences do not conform to the norms.

In regard to regulating intimacy, the law defines and enforces norms by referencing a specific and historically based metanarrative about 'the family'. People that live in intimate relationships outside of the norm of family do so at risk, as only the nuclear family has been protected and promoted by legal and cultural institutions.

The mythical natural American two-parent nuclear family has functioned to exclude the problems and concerns of nontraditional families from political and public consideration while also forcing women to continually shoulder the burdens of dependency. Without substantial rethinking of what constitutes the natural family, the condition of women is unlikely to improve significantly.

Keywords: nuclear family, family law, feminism, feminist legal theory, intimate association, divorce, societal norms, privacy, dependency, care-taking

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Our Sacred Institution: the Ideal of the Family in American Law and Society (1993). Utah Law Review, Vol. 1993, No. 2, 1993, Emory Public Law Research Paper, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2132305

Martha Albertson Fineman (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2421 (Phone)

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