Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

March 6, 2006  



Resolution promoting the 'natural family' is abnormal

by Thomas F. Coleman

Kanab, Utah recently gained the distinction of becoming the first city in the United States to adopt a resolution declaring that the "natural family is the fundamental unit of society."  It encourages women to be "wives, homemakers and mothers," men to be "husbands, homebuilders and fathers" and married couples to have "a full quiver of children."

Left out of this conservative vision of the "family" are married couples without children, women in the workplace, unmarried blood relatives sharing a household, single parents, and unmarried couples -- all of whom are considered second class citizens.  Solo singles are not even mentioned, of course, because there is no such thing as a quiver of one.

The Spectrum, a newspaper in the Kanab area, said the resolution "not only makes for poor public policy, it also sends the wrong message ó a message of exclusion."  The editors felt that "its passage tells people who do not fit the resolutionís definition of a 'natural family' that they are not welcome."

The resolution stems from a document entitled "The Natural Family: a Manifesto" which is the brainchild of Allan Carlson and Paul Mero.  Carlson heads up the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Illinois.  Mero is the President of the Southerland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City.

Last year, the Sutherland Institute sent a letter to 232 city councils in Utah asking them to adopt the "natural family" resolution.  To date, Kanab is the only municipality to endorse it. 

With elected officials in Utah keeping their distance from this hot button item, Carlson decided to test the waters in his own backyard.  He has lined up sponsors in the Rockford City Council and Winnebago County Board.

The Rockford Register responded with a critical editorial that asks: "If your family is happy, healthy and well-adjusted, what business does government have guiding, protecting or quarreling with your choices? And if your family (like all families from time to time) has trouble, would you really want government telling you itís because you stepped out of the confines of the natural family?"

If its primary supporters were only Allan Carlson and Paul Mero and their relatively obscure organizations, this resolution would not concern me so much, even though it is sexist and shows contempt for family diversity.  But there is a much greater level support for it among conservative organizations, religious leaders, and right-wing political activists.

Supporters include Gary Bauer, President of American Values who says "the pro-family movement has long needed a work that provides a broad philosophical overview of the traditional family" and that the natural family manifesto fills that need. 

Phyllis Schafley, President of the Eagle Forum, who laments "the failure of millions of Americans to form and maintain faithfulness to the traditional family" sees the manifesto as a lobbying tool for conservatives.

Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority Coalition, has put his stamp of approval on the manifesto as well.

Besides the ultra-conservative bent of its supporters, there are other aspects of the "natural family" resolution that bother me.  It's un-American and abnormal.

I say its "abnormal" because it defines the ideal family in a manner that defies the reality of how most people live today.  Only about 10 percent of American households consist of a stay-at-home wife and working dad who are raising a quiver of children. 

Half of American households are unmarried.  In most marriages, both spouses work.  One-person households outnumber married-with-kids households.  Half of marriages end in divorce.  Single parent families are quite common.  Same-sex couples can no longer be ignored.  Family diversity is the norm.

The natural family manifesto is also un-American to the extent that it clashes with our legal tradition of using a degree of flexibility in defining "family" for government programs and public policies.  It also creates tension with a growing trend among thousands of private employers to be inclusive in defining "family" in their employee benefits programs.

The best way to counter this "natural family" political agenda is for people of goodwill to speak out against it in communities where it is under consideration.  Newspaper editors, politicians, and radio talk shows feel the pulse of public opinion, often sidestepping proposals that lack wide public support.

Who knows, with enough backlash and vocal opposition, perhaps even the Kanab City council might rescind the resolution.  This would suggest that supporters such as Gary Bauer, Phyllis Schafley and Jerry Falwell may be pushing the natural family manifesto down a path to nowhere.

© Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.