SOPhiA 2021

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Legal recognition of unconventional families in a liberal state
(Political Philosophy, )

This work's purpose is twofold. First of all, it aims to enumerate some reasons why a liberal state should recognize families at all. Secondly, it investigates whether a liberal state should recognize unconventional families such as same-sex and polyamorous ones and even networks of friends, or whether it should recognize only the traditional nuclear heterosexual monogamic family.

Preliminarily, I assume a functional perspective of family (Cutas 2019) and I consider family as an intimate relationship where individuals are committed to reciprocal duties of care, support and cooperation. Given this premise, I claim that there are at least three justifications for the legal recognition of families by a liberal state. First of all, states has a duty to fulfil the individual interest in the recognition of families, if we assume that families are intimate relationships of care and that intimate relationships of care are primary goods (Brake 2010). Secondly, there exist at least two public interests in the recognition of families: relationships of care involve reciprocal vulnerability, and the vulnerable partners need legal protection (Metz, 2007). Family involves economic cooperation and material support, often representing a subsidiary form of welfare (Gheaus, 2012).

However, when the legal recognition is limited to the traditional heterosexual monogamous family then the equality and neutrality principles are violated (Calhoun 2005; Den Otter 2015; Wegwood 1999; Wellington 1995). Indeed I claim that, as long as the intimate relationship of care we chose is committed to care, support and cooperation, it deserves legal recognition regardless of its form. Given the fact that unconventional families such as same-sex and polyamorous families and network of friends are committed to care, support and cooperation, then we can conclude that they all deserve legal recognition by a liberal state.


Brake, E. (2010). Minimal Marriage: What Political Liberalism Implies for Marriage Law. Ethics, 120(2), 302-337.

Calhoun, C. (2005). Who_s Afraid of Polygamous Marriage? Lessons for Same-Sex Marriage Advocacy from the History of Polygamy. San Diego Law Review, 42(3), 1023-1042.

Cutas, D. (2019). The Composition of the Family. In A. Gheaus, G. Calder, & J. De Wispelaere (A cura di), The Routlege Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children (p. 191-201). London: Routledge.

Den Otter, R. C. (2015). In Defence of Plural Marriage. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gheaus, A. (2012). Is the Family Uniquely Valuable? Ethics and Social Welfare, 6(2), 120-131.

Metz, T. (2007). The Liberal Case for Disestablishing Marriage. Contemporary Political Theory, 6, 196-217.

Wegwood, R. (1999). The Fundamental Argument for Same-Sex Marriage. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 7(3), 225-242.

Wellington, A. A. (1995). Why Liberals Should Support Same-sex Marriage. Journal of Social Philosophy, 26(3), 5-32.

Chair: Marlene Maislinger
Time: 10:40-11:10, 10 September 2021 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007

Francesca Miccoli 
(University of Milan, Italy)

I am a PhD student in Political Philosophy at University of Milan, graduate school of NASP - Network for the advancement of Political and Social Studies. I graduate in Law at the University of Bologna with a master thesis on Bioethics and Philosophy of Law. My interdisciplinary research focuses on the issue of legal recognition of unconventional families, and especially of polyamorous familes and care networks, with a philosophical, sociological and legal perspective. I also have a broader academic (and political) interest in gender studies and feminism.

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