Throughout most of American history, people didn’t really give the president’s family much thought. The 2020 presidential field changed that.
The 2020 presidential field is unique. But starting in the ’50s, American society greatly emphasized the idea of the family as the antidote to the psychological pain of the Depression and war. The first family became America’s royals.
Yet many of those families who occupied the White House, at least in modern times, have largely looked the same: a heterosexual couple who have been long married, a couple of kids, and a dog.
That is beginning to change. Besides being the most diverse field of presidential contenders in the history of U.S. elections — men and women; black, brown, and white — the families of the 2020 presidential field represent a range of experiences, giving modern American families a new and different idea of what a first family can look like.
Kamala Harris, a senator from California, is a stepmother — her two stepchildren call her “Momala.” Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, is divorced and remarried but still uses her first husband’s surname. And like Sen. Lindsey Graham, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, Sen. Cory Booker is unmarried. So is single mother Marianne Williamson. If either took the White House, they’d be the first single president since Grover Cleveland, who got married in his first term. The only president who was single his entire term was James Buchanan.
Perhaps most notably in this field, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is married to a man. Less than five years after marriage equality became the law of the land, an openly gay candidate is a serious contender for president.
“It’s one of the most stunning turnarounds in public opinion that we’ve ever seen,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Texas. What that means for children with same-sex parents can’t be overstated, she said. “My gosh, to have a model and feel like ‘I don’t have to be ashamed of my parents. They could run for president.’ That’s got to be a powerful thing.”
It is for Alison Pottage, an immigrant from Scotland who recently became a citizen and who, in 2014, married Anita, the woman she’d loved for more than 15 years. Today, the couple lives in Oreland, Montgomery County, with their two kids, 13 and 11.
“How exciting is it that American culture has matured to the point of recognizing that there’s more than one way to skin this cat, that there isn’t a sort of one-size-fits-all,” said Pottage, 44. “And how much better for politics and for society that you’ve got people making decisions that have experienced multiple ways of being and living and growing in this society.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, by Anna Orso, August 5, 2019
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