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The Rise and Risk of the Chosen Family

By Joseph Backholm

If you haven’t heard about “chosen families” yet, you will soon, and you should be prepared. Netflix recently released a film called “Chosen Family” at the same time Dan Savage and Ezra Klein were discussing the merits of chosen family — along with the benefits of polyamory — on a podcast at The New York Times. There is a Chosen Family wine label and Canada has designated February 22 as “Chosen Family Day.” Legislation is likely to make it an official holiday in that country soon.

Why should you care?

The term “chosen family” is not obviously problematic. Life is complicated, and those whose biological families cannot provide the ideal support are often able to fill the void with deep, meaningful friendships that become like family. Thank God for that. Adoption is another example of how family can be chosen in a beautiful, redemptive way. But the way “chosen family” is being discussed today often has distinctly rainbow undertones.

For example, a study from the National Institute for Health earlier this summer titled “Family is the Beginning but Not the End” emphasizes that for LGBT people, chosen family — not biological family — is your real family. Echoing similar themes, a New York Times profile titled “The Joy in Finding Your Chosen Family,” features five chosen families, all with LGBT themes. The message is not subtle and implies that if your biological family is a bunch of bigots, swap them out for a new family. A chosen family.

While media glorifies the idea of replacing biological family with a chosen family, progressive politicians are simultaneously trying to change the law to make it easier for children to be legally separated from their parents. In 2017, The American Bar Association released the updated Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) which is supposed to be seen as the collective wisdom of America’s greatest legal minds when it comes to parental rights law. The recommendations, among other things, encourage the creation of “de facto” parental rights. As the name suggests, these are parental rights given to people who aren’t parents.

De facto parental rights are distinct from adoption rights, where adoptive rights replace the rights of biological parents. De facto parental rights are in addition to the rights of real parents.

Why would anyone want to do that? It originated in the gay community. Most children in same-sex households were conceived in prior heterosexual relationships. That means that people in same-sex couples often form relationships with the children of their partners. When those relationships end, the former same-sex partners claim to a parent-like relationship and want legal recognition of that relationship even though it’s not their child. The idea of de facto parenthood was their solution.

If you are the ex-lover, and you convince a judge that it is in the best interest of the child to continue a relationship with you then you get parental rights, including visitation, even if the biological parents both object. A chosen family. Kind of. Sixteen states have now adopted versions of the Uniform Parentage Act.

It isn’t simply that they want to make it easier for adults to get rights to other people’s children, they also want to make it easier for children to be free from the parents.

Last year, California passed legislation that would allow the state take temporary custody of children and give them puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries to children who live in other states without their parents knowledge or consent. It may not officially legalize kidnapping, but if you’re a parent and your child’s location is being withheld from you by the state of California while they inject hormones into your child, it will feel an awful lot like kidnapping.

In addition, California is currently considering legislation that would allow children as young as 12 to check themselves in to group homes if they feel their parents are not adequately affirming. What teenager always feels adequately affirmed by their parents? As children hear more and more messages about how wonderful it can be to trade in your parents for a “chosen family,” more children will be looking for a chance to get away and places like California intend to make it easier than ever. This is what they mean by “chosen family.”

This coordinated attack on parents prompted Scott Wilk, who has served in the California legislature for 11 years, to tell parents: “If you love your children you need to flee California.” He also said that when his current term expires, he will be leaving California and “moving to America.” If we aren’t careful, what happens in California won’t stay in California.

Of course, parents aren’t perfect, and no family is either. Deep friendships make life better, and we should celebrate them without reservation. But when it comes to healthy cultures, strong families are much more important than strong friend groups, especially if those friend groups are united by a shared rejection of their families. In a healthy society, chosen families are the contingency option not the plan. If we pretend otherwise, we do so to our own peril regardless of what Netflix and The New York Times tell you.

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