Such a narrow(-minded) definition leaves out a slew of other families – from families without children to people living together without marriage.
A more inclusive definition was presented by the American Home Economics Association in 1973:
[A family consists of] two or more people who share resources, share responsibility for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over time. The family is that climate that one “comes home to” and it is this network of sharing and commitments that most accurately describes the family unit, regardless of blood, legal ties, adoption or marriage.
(My emphasis added. As quoted in Nancy Polikoff’s Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, p. 33)
A family is essentially the group of people we like to be around, who we support and who support us. Interestingly, this definition not only includes more families but it also excludes families built on blood-ties that are abusive or otherwise not welcoming.
Why is it so important how we define family? As the Alternatives to Marriage Project points out, the way the government defines a family has a huge impact. It affects everything from whom we can see in case of an emergency to whom we can care for under family leave. For example, the Healthy Families Act of 2007, introduced by Senator Kennedy, includes the provision that sick leave can be used for “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” This covers anybody close to the employee, including friends or even neighbors we’re close to. Now, I can see how that can strengthen our communities!