The traditional definition of family has always been unanimous among the various disciplines in life. Though the different disciplines may use different wording to derive the meaning of the concept of family, the underlying core similarities coalesced them all into similarity in definition and spirit. It basically boils down to a social unit that lives together, primarily a married heterosexual pair or couple and their children more often living together (Family Plus, 2009).
According to the anthropologists, the family was distinct from the household with the word family often used to refer to a group of individuals who have a common genetic connection. This genetic connection was manifest in the bearing and nurturing of children, ad the unit referred to as family had the right to property which was basically land at the moment.
It is evident with passing time and changing society that the definition of the family as previously stood no longer holds universally. There has been vast shift in the family paradigm in the current society accompanied by civilization and urbanization. In the UK the same trends have emerged where the family as known there before changes in composition and operation as well as beliefs. The basic family or prevalent family setups in the UK are no longer the same as previously known.
Cultural idealism vs. Social reality
The idea of an ideal society as known in the primordial times is a concept that has always baffled many in the current society. In as much as many would like or could have preferred the society to remain in the social composition it was in during the 19th and early 20th century, the reality is far from that. The composition and characteristics of the family has by far changed. The roles redefined, trends of operation changed and responsibilities overturned, legality of composition of families reconstituted widely in many societies.
It however worth noting that many still remain very loyal to the idea of what a family should be. The cultural idea of what a family should be is till held high even in the current society, despite the fact that this is not the case in many families (An Encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexuals, transgender and queer culture, 2004).
The rapid social cataclysm that started in the 1960s was a prerequisite to fundamental changes in the family as a unit. From this emanated the women liberation movements that sought to shift the roe of women in the society and drove women towards finding a more fulfilling lifestyle outside the boundaries of the family. It provided alternative view of relationships and drummed up for more openness in sexuality whose result was an increase in couples co-existing without necessarily constituting the institution of family. By the mid 90s, the divorce rate stood at a staggering 13 divorces for every 1,000 marriages in the UK (Factoidz, 2008). By the turn of 2000s, Factoidz (2008) observes that less and lesser people in the UK were getting married or committing to family life.
The above then had the effect of creating new kinds of families that the social scientists were keen to observe. Single-parent families were a commonplace then, extended families sprouted to cater for the children of the divorced couples. Significantly, as the baby boom generation came to maturity, the reality and dynamics of the family continued to change more. There was now the new mixed0-race and also characterized by interfaith living together with adopted children from many countries and nationalities.
There have come several other forms of families that equally work as a form of social cohesion and bind those involved in it. The social scientists have gone out of their way to conduct researches that have shown that these other types of families (as will be expounded upon) work out well if commitment and family values are attached to them. There is a category of families frequently referred to as queer families and this is seen as one of the biggest changes in the history of the development of family as a social unit. The emanation of queer families began taking root in last decades of the twentieth century. It is worth noting that the big shift was not due to mere existence of these families but by their insistence for recognition and acceptance in the society so as to receive some social benefits as the previous traditional families.
The clamor for recognition was fuelled by the civil rights movements and social movements of during the 1960s leading to 1970s. These included gay liberation movements and women's liberation movements which encouraged the queer families to shun living in secrecy. This is indicative of the fact that the non-traditional families indeed existed there before but were deprived of the visibility and support accorded to the current queer families by the mass media which enjoys publishing the absurd and the predominant social movements.
It is estimated by the social analyst that at the beginning of twenty first century, there were some 120 out of 3,200 children in the UK who are in the hands of queer families and this figure could increase. The queer families are urging the UK government to allow and encourage more and more of the 64,000 children stuck in the care homes in England to be inculcated into the queer families since most may end up homeless or even in hands of heterosexual families that have no nurturing concern and skills (Terence, 2011).
However, it was not an easy ride to popularity and recognition for the queer families. It is estimated that for over three decades the gay and lesbian families plus other queer families have fought endlessly to gain such recognition and rights such as recognition of their marriages, fertility services, adoption rights, survivor benefits and domestic partner benefits among other rights.
They have had to contend with conservative government forces especially in the mid 20th century when the federal courts ruled that the queer families and their culture undermined the basic family fundamentals and family life. The widely supported and attended rally against gay by the Westboro Baptist in 2009 and several others by anti-gay movements in the UK never makes it any easier for these families as well and did all within their capability to keep the traditional definition and composition of the family intact (The Telegram, 2009), and up-to-date the social conservatives portray homosexuality as absolutely incompatible with family values.
Gay fathers and the Lesbian mothers
Despite the fact that the queer families are from the same gender and only differing in the sexual orientation from the traditional families, the need for children still persisted among the couples. Children have become a part that is no dispensable in the family setting, whatever form it takes (The Independent, 2010). A number of lesbians had children from their previous relationships which were heterosexual and had to battle it out with their male counterparts for the custody of the children.
It is from these battles that new definitions of families sprouted. It is from such a battle that pitted Belmont v. Belmont in 1979 in Washington D.C. where the mother of the two children was given the custody over the children with her lesbian partner. The court defined her home and her female partner as a nurturing family that was fit and comfortable place to bring up the children. This set a precedence that has since been used.
Further to this, there are several groups like LAGLA that give such families more strength by providing legal support and advice for women who choose to claim custody of their children in case of broken heterosexual marriages and shift into lesbian marriages (Lesbian and Gay Lawyers-LAGLA, 2011).
Lesbians who had no history of engagement with men also wanted to have children of their own, among them were those who never wished to have sexual relationship with men. This need prompted use of artificial insemination. To get this fertility service, the lesbian family formed a network among themselves to source for anonymous sperm donors. Though this proves to be a challenge in light of the prevalence of HIV / AIDS, they nevertheless pursue it at its expense since it gives them a chance to create a truly fatherless family which is an appealing factor to those women who don't wish to have any association with men.
The families have not been spared the urge as well, the men involved in gay marriages have as well struggled to put up and keep a family consisting of children. They attempt to have children through surrogate motherhood arrangements, adoption, and in some cases managing to push for retention of custody over the children from the previous relationships. It has not been easy for the men who profess gay when it comes to social acceptance that they can be parents, this is as a result of being viewed widely as sexual predators and people who have no nurturing skills (Find law, 2011).