As I was walking in downtown Salt Lake City today, I saw protests regarding the World Congress of Families, which I had attended earlier this week. One of these protestors had a sign saying, in essence, “End the use of the phrase ‘natural family.’ ” This sign alarmed me, because I strongly feel that society should have an ideal set that each child should have two, loving, married, parents. I knew that the social science literature aptly supports the idea that having two married parents improves a great number of childhood outcomes. I also knew that the consequences of out-of-wedlock childbirth, especially among minorities, have been known for 50 years, since future Democratic Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his famous Moynihan Report.
Of course, I knew why the protestor likely chose the sign in question: the World Congress on Families has long used the term “natural family” in relation to marriage between a man and a woman, not same-sex couples. The Congress’ use of this term traces to a 1998 UN statement, which explains that the natural family is “centered on” marriage between a man and a woman. This UN statement was made at a time when no country of the world had legalized same-sex marriage.
While I do oppose same-sex marriage, the focus of protestors on the term “natural family” ignores the majority of family policy issues in the United States today. As most people are not in same-sex relationships, I would hope the protestors and I would agree that social science is clear: children of opposite-sex couples tend to have better lives if, when possible, their parents are married and love each other.
Some supporters of same-sex marriage have attempted to merge the importance of ensuring every child has two married parents with their advocacy of same-sex marriage by pointing out that married same-sex couples are allowed to adopt. While well meaning, this response does not address the scope and depth of the issue—forty-one percent of children are born out of wedlock today, but less than one percent of children are raised by same-sex couples. While more same-sex couples may adopt in the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage, the minority nature of the LGBT community limits the positive impact the LGBT community may directly have on the number of children that have two parents.
It seems apparent to me that many would find it entirely consistent to advocate for same-sex marriage and to advocate that every child deserves to be raised by two married parents. Others who oppose same-sex marriage share the goal for children to be raised by two married parents.
It is my personal belief that both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage have valuable contributions to make towards solving pressing problems in family policy, such as out-of-wedlock births. But protests do nothing to increase such dialogue. Parties who focus exclusively on cherry-picking disagreements do a disservice to their cause. This is especially damaging where increasing dialogue may decrease divisive rhetoric, as well as produce understanding and constructive policies.
I hope many individuals and organizations that support same-sex marriage are willing to support programs to reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancy as well. Regardless, given the serious concerns I have mentioned about family policy in the United States, the solutions suggested in the World Congress of Families this week deserve to be heard, evaluated, and improved upon, not protested based on stereotypes.
In addition to the important concerns I have highlighted, the World Congress on Families is an important contribution to solving other pressing problems in society, such as human trafficking. It is fundamentally unfair to claim the Congress’ promotion of the “natural family” is code for being anti-gay. This would only serve to belittle issues that have been serious problems for fifty years by delegitimizing the congress or other family-promoting efforts.
Michael Worley is an attorney in Utah Valley.