Melissa Harris-Perry | November 24, 2012
>>> this morning, my question, why is it easier for a turkey to get a pardon than a person?
>>> plus, the other second term. how the first lady will use her next four years and the castle brooklyn built. one checkmate at a time. first, it is thanksgiving weekend. we are talking about the american family in all its many shades of gray .
>>> good morning. i'm melissa harris perry. thanks for joining us on this saturday after thanksgiving. the holidays, lots of food, lots of shopping and a whole lot of family. family, how we love to welcome them when we visit and how we love to wave exhaustedly as they depart. family is a small but powerful word that defines an increasingly diverse array of relationships and situations. as a culture, our definition of family has gone through an evolution, albeit a sometimes slow and painful one. so be careful about romanty sizing that 1950s leave it to beaver family. yes, there are families that consist of one man and one woman who are happily married to each other, who have never been married to anyone else and who are rearing only their biological children born bout any reproductive technology and born after the two the adults were legally married . yes, that's a great kind of family. there are many other fantastically loving, wonderful, creative, fulfilling and healthy ways to make family. even jesus was born to an unwed mom and raised by a doting stepfather. listen. these days our film and television culture is finally keeping up with the variety that is family.
>> come give us a hug before we go.
>> hug her. that's what she is there for.
>> what does spectacular mean?
>> it means super awesome.
>> blueberry syrup?
>> he is half her age.
>> don't say it.
>> we are getting a baby today.
>> oh, my gosh!
>> what are you doing in there?
>> go away. this is all we have anymore. our house
>>> family is more than about individual choices or cultural practices. tell us about policy. during slavery, men and women have deep bonds of love attachment and mutual commitment. those bonds were not protected by law. they did not have the right to legally marry in any american colony or slate. men and women were only parents as long as it served the purposes and timetable of the slave holder. the practice of coveture meant that free white women could marry but they couldn't initiate divorce or have sole custody of their children, couldn't own property or enter into legal contracts. slavery is over and coveture has ended so it is all equal at the altar of family now. not exactly. as a matter of policy, the altar is still a defining framework of family. our laws continue to make it clear we value one kind of family over all others, married couples . married couples enjoy economic benefits in areas of taxes, estate planning, employment, medicine, dealt, housing, not to mention social es schemteem. what if your family is a same-sex union. they only have marriage rights in nine states in washington, d.c. that leaves family in 41 states without access to the economic benefits of marriage. why this narrow focus on marriage at all. since 1970 , marriage rates have dropped more than 15%. divorce rates have climbed. fewer people who can marry are choosing to do so. more people who do marry are choosing to exit. last year, the number of unmarried people in the united states was 44%, including single parents , people with partners, those who are widows and people happily choosing single life . being unmarried does not mean you are without family. law is often blind to these families. to those where kids being raised around the biological offspring of a married couple. what if your kids are really your neighbors or your nephews or your grandkids. narrow definitions of family c student loans to doctor visits that much harder. it can be adoption for loving lgbt families or single women tough if they are banned from marrying or if policy treetsz them as if their households are unstable. can we begin to talk about the quirky combinations of family that occur when a family goes across race, geography, language religion. how about those for whom it means a combination of relatives, friends, partners and work colleagues. life partner or next of kin is not just about a piece of paper. family is more varied and beautiful than it has ever been. now, we have to get our laws to recognize this. at the table, marcia garrison, professor at brooklyn law school and co-editor of marriage at the crossroads. law, policy and the brave new world of the 21st century family. msnbc anchor and newlywed, thomas roberts . lester spence, he and his wife have five kids and aishia moody-mills, director of the fire initiative of the center for american progress . her wife, danielle, was recently honored as part of the root 100 for her work on environmental justice . thank you all for being here. i greatly appreciate it.
>> marcia, what do you mean when you say the american family is at a crossroads?
>> many things. the american family is at a crossroads in many respects, one of which you identified. we have an increasing rainbow of families, no longer does the typical family look like ozzie and harriet 50s family that you described. what we also see today is an increasing class divide in family formation.
>> one that we can't celebrate, because it means that many of our families are increasingly stressed and unable to care for their children adequately.
>> the key data on this has been the fragile families data that suggestion there are many different kind of family forms but part what we need to be concerned are the economic circumstances in which families find themselves. lester, you and i have been friends and colleagues for years and i tease you about the idea that you all have five kids. who has five kids?
>> just me.
>> just you guys. in part because of the economic consideration. i'm the youngest of five but it is from a different sort of set of economic circumstances that families were facing.
>> yes. it is a significant stressor but it is not just -- to get you guys some sense, my oldest now is in college. so you think about the wide range of costs that we have to cover. i remember my parents paid for my college tuition through grants. now, it's a tremendous stress for us to take care of, for us to basically take care of all the bills we have to take care of and on top of that, pay college tuition .
>> so you have got sort of the full range of parenting. you guys are a two-parent household. yet the other piece of this for me is that policy impacts us, right, aishia? this isn't you make a lot of money or you don't. either there is a stressor or there is not. policy can influence and impact the quality of life our families experience.
>> absolutely. you said you have the luxury of having a two-parent household. for families that are headed by same-sex partners, is having two parents in the household doesn't always provide the economic benefits and support and stability that one would expect. in most states in our country, one of those parents may not be recognized as having a legal relationship to the children in that household. they may not be able to carry them on their insurance plans or pick them up from daycare or make medical decisions about them. our laws are so antiquated, they are not recognizing the two adults that are caring for that child legally.
>> it can happen in same-sex partnerships or if it is the grandmother that is doing the caring or the neighbor. there are ways in which we haven't fully expanded our economic or legal policies to fit the realities of our family. thomas, with he were having a great time in preparation for you coming in terms of looking at your wedding photos and just sort of the enjoyment.
>> it is good stuff.
>> look at how beautiful you guys are.
>> but the very fact that you all have the legal capacity to marry is because here in this one state there is the ability of the willingness to recognize your marriage as a family.
>> it is great. we have to say who those people are or they will kill me.
>> there is my family, the roberts family , my mom and dad are on the far right side. these are all our nieces and nephews and over under the banner of american family , that's our youngest, braxton. so the age ranges here. with he go up to 20, dillon, our nephew in the center and all the way down to braxton, who is about four, four ish. they are going to kill me if i don't get this right. so all of our siblings were there. this was a really big deal for us. our families were there. i had friends from first grade all the way up to our boss, phil, all in one time and space if you can imagine how great this is and gavin newsom , lieutenant governor of california flew in to marry us. it was epic, so special, the best night of our lives by far. i highly recommend it to everybody out there. go get married. whoever you want to marry. in certain states now, if you are part of the lesbian and gay community , you have that option to be able to do that. it was so fulfilling. i grew up pretending a lot to fit in, pretending to be straight. i find now and aishia, you could probably speak to this as well. when you find your voice, you do not want to shut up about it. i have found my choice. i feel very privileged to have found it. patrick and i were together 12 years up to the point where we got married. we deserved that opportunity.
>> i feel like there is something as you point out. the 4-year-old on up. the fact that they have also. it is not just you two making this choice. it is that your whole families are participating in a way that contributes to an expanding definition of family for the 4-year-old and all the way up. given that we are looking at communities where people are going to have these expanded social understandings, how does that translate for us into policy?
>> it translates several ways. there is no question but that weddings are joyous events.
>> it is good stuff.
>> it is good stuff for everyone. as you noted earlier, americans are increasingly not marrying. what we are seeing even more is a growing class divide. those who are college educated, marry and their divorce rates are actually no higher today than they were in the 1960s . these families are increasingly stable, increasingly able to offer this kind of joyous family opportunity and experience to their children. couples at the low end of the economic spectrum increasingly are foregoing marriage, not because they don't want to marry, not because they don't value it but because they feel they can't afford to. the leading problem that these couples site as to why they are not marrying, is because they just don't have the money. they want that wedding of the sort that you described.
>> it ain't cheap.
>> it ain't cheap. but these couples are still having children. that's why our nonmarital birth rate is so high. these couples at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum have much higher rates of relationship dissolution.
>> it is not exactly these questions. we saw the issue of single parenting emerge as a political issue in this year's campaign. stay right there. we are going to come back and talk more about family life . is it private or is it public? [