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University of Chicago Legal Forum

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This essay examines the way in which legal academic commentators, particularly family law teachers and scholars, have urged that family be redefined, rejecting the conventional and traditional definitions to which courts and legislatures have generally adhered. Self-styled progressive scholars argue that currently prevailing doctrine arbitrarily excludes many deserving suitors from the recognition and protection afforded to families under state and constitutional law. The arguments in this essay reject such assertions, pointing out that new and expansive definitions of family either ignore or refuse to accept long standing precedents, including decisions of the United States Supreme Court, that for some three-quarters of a century and up to the present time have protected parental authority and the autonomy and privacy of traditional families. The article concludes that it is unlikely that most courts and legislators will adopt radical proposals to include all manner of legal strangers within the definition and legal protection afforded to the family.