In discussing the legal system's response to alternative families seeking an extension of traditional family benefits, this paper is divided into two main sections. The first section summarizes the Madison experience in trying to pass a comprehensive alternative family rights ordinance. It takes an in-depth look at the entire process from the grassroots pressures on the M.E.O.C. which resulted in formation of the task force to the Common Council's enactment of two minor sections of the proposed ordinance. It will analyze the political and legal process used in an effort to obtain significant reform in the definition of family within Madison. It will note that over six years of work was expended by numerous activists, extensive grass-roots organizing was done to generate broad community support for the proposed ordinance, and thus far the legislative process has only yielded two minor amendments to the local statutes.
The second section examines the limited progress that has been made from working within the system to obtain an extension of benefits and protection to all family members and raises the dilemma currently facing activists working in this area. Because of our social and educational training, activists turn to the legal system with the belief that, by going to it and challenging the inequities in society-in this case, the discrimination against alternative families-we will be able, through legislation or litigation, to obtain the recognition, benefits, and protection given to the traditional family. Because of our feminist perspective and the lessons we have learned from seeing how patriarchal society deals with problems of inequity, however, we turn away from the legal system with an understanding that it is a system of rules and regulations designed to perpetuate the power of the patriarchy over women's lives. As Audre Lorde so eloquently explained, "[T]he master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change."
Cox, Choosing One's Family: Can the Legal System Address the Breadth of Women's Choices of Intimate Relationships, 8 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev. 299-337 (1989).