Friday, December 22, 2006

LGBT leaders need to look at filial responsibility issues

LGBT leaders should pay more attention to a rapidly growing problem for middle-aged gay, childless, and/or single adults: eldercare. Obviously, this will be an issue for gay seniors themselves, but many people are discovering “family responsibility” in the needs of their parents, something that they do not escape by not having children.

Of course, the idea of marriage, child custody, or military service – any of these things have to do with contributing to the “collective” responsibilities of a free society—all of these have become the focus of specific political debates in the past fifteen years. Many older gays have experienced living in urban “exile” away from these things, separated by a society with very circular reasoning when it comes to these “duties.” For me, it has been like living on another planet sometimes. As Clive Barker demonstrates in his novel “Imajica” these cultural value differences finally must be “reconciled.”

One specific issue that gay leaders have not paid much attention to is filial responsibility laws. About thirty states have them. Typically they come into play when a parent gives away assets to get Medicaid funding for nursing home stays. However, they could be enforced even when the parents have no assets if adult children do. There have been a few papers written already on this in the “conservative” community. For the past ten years or so, the insurance industry has been developing long term care insurance products to meet this kind of threat, but this is expensive and takes a long time to become an accepted practice. Childless adults would seem like “sitting ducks” for this kind of exposure. The debate would be complicated by the fact that some gay people were rejected by their families as teens or young adults.

The emotional paradigm matters, too. LGBT people have often lived in separate urban and technological cultures that offer their own emotional rewards outside of the more traditional ties offered by given family blood relationships. Childless people, and professional people often tend to look to areas outside of biological relationships for personal satisfaction. However, many people in religious cultures centered around extended families place enormous emotional importance on blood and kinship (and religious) relationships, and feel that adults who leave their culture are cheating them. This problem was well illustrated by some climactic scenes in the film Latter Days, about a young Mormon missionary who comes out as gay. People from older blood-centered cultures tend to pick up on the idea that modern urban individualism, by centering morality on individual performance rather than relationships within the family, tends to target everyone for “measurement” and tends to threaten the spontaneity of all families. The level of “moral thinking” goes into layers, and attracts the kind of edicts pronounced by the Vatican.

Picture: MCC Nova, Fairfax, VA.

See: Discussion of filial responsibility laws
Editorial on Vatican positions on homosexuality

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