Last year, the movement to ensure that everyone has the ability to take paid sick leave scored a major victory when President Obama signed an executive order to provide employees of federal contractors with paid time for personal or family health needs. Now, the US Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing rules that will not only determine how many people are covered by family leave, but also how “family” is defined.
The definition the DOL is proposing will allow for the most inclusive application of the policy that better reflects the reality of today’s families. The federal government has been using the “blood or affinity” standard in its own personnel policies for nearly 50 years. Communities that have been excluded from policies in our country have found ways to take care of their families, despite the lack of institutional support. Although it demonstrates the resiliency of marginalized families, it perpetuates systems of inequality. By including this inclusive language the DOL is strengthening a growing movement to update the definition of family, beyond current cultural and policy constraints. It is especially important to LGBTQ Americans, who often rely on close friends, or “chosen family,” in an emergency. LGBTQ-identified older adults in the US are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ-identified seniors to live alone and more than four times as likely to be childless, relying less on biological family support later in life.