American culture is at war over "family values." And with the issue of gay and lesbian marriage often at the center of this discourse, notable thinkers like Andrew Sullivan, William Eskridge, Urvashi Vaid, and Torie Osborn have engaged in the battle. But why, Valerie Lehr asks, debate over the right of gays to take part in a socially defined institution designed to perpetuate inequalities among people?
The flaw in the fight for gay and lesbian marriage rights, argues Lehr in Queer Family Values, lies in its failure to call into question the forms of oppression -- gender, racial, and economic -- that lead society to privilege the nuclear family. Lehr calls for activists to counter conservative discourses that see the nuclear family -- what Lehr considers a socially defined institution that works to maintain, in various ways, inequalities among people -- as the only responsible and mature family alternative. She asks for an approach to family issues and individual liberty that challenges power rather than demands access to privilege. She advocates social policies that enhance the freedom of all people, not simply those gay and lesbian adults seeking to be part of the dominant vision of family in our society.
Analyzing recent works on family, gender, race, and class, Lehr shapes a theory of rights, freedom, and democracy that can liberate us from the strictures of conservative hegemony. She also provides practical examples of how activists can work for a more compassionate and caring society. She devotes a chapter, for example, to the responsibilities activists have to lesbian and gay youths, who -- unlike other children, who might find refuge from social injustice at home -- most often find in the traditional American home homophobia and isolation. Asserting that family care should be seen as a community function, Queer Family Values offers an alternative political strategy focused not on gaining rights, but on enhancing democracy and equality in private life.