|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
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
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
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and