Progressive Strategy: Retaking the Term: “Family Values”

(c) Josh Sager


Family values; if you are a liberal, like myself, or even a moderate Republican (an endangered species outside of New England), the mention of this term undoubtedly made you internally flinch. One would think that an ideology so innocuously named would focus upon improving child healthcare, education, housing, or any other situation vital to the health of families across the United States. Unfortunately, the right wing in the USA has perverted the definition of “family values” to describe an ideology of hate and bigotry.

In politics today, the ideology of “family values” is associated with discrimination against gays, the persistent attempts to repeal the rights of women, and the attempts to mix right wing Christianity with public policy. Ironically, not only would none of these initiatives would have a positive effect on the health of families in the USA, but they threaten to damage the health of non-traditional families across the country.

Everything one needs to know about just how far away from actual “family values” the discussion of such values has come can be found in the 2012 Values Voter Summit: At this annual summit, various groups, all of which claim to support “family values”, get together and discuss policy relating to their ideology. At the 2012 Values Voter Summit, Newt Gingrich gave a major address about the moral decay of America and the attacks on the family; yes, that Newt Gingrich. Gingrich has not only been married three times, but has married TWO of his mistresses (once his current wife became sick or simply old). Just the fact that Gingrich was invited to talk to this crowd of “family values” advocates as a moral authority invalidates the term as it currently is being used.

Conservative “family values” groups have been a central force in the rallying of the conservative movement; these groups push anti-gay rights/marriage equality and anti-abortion legislation, thus  act as a unifying force for the religious components within the conservative movement. Without the distraction of social issues, there is an extreme likelihood that many religious voters would either follow their own rational self-interests or the socially conscious religious doctrines of their faith (charity and community) to supporting the Democratic Party/progressive movement. When the bonding agent of social issues is removed, the conservative ideals of extreme individualism and the pursuit of profit without care for others are simply incompatible with many religious teachings. Because of this bonding effect, anti-gay and abortion rights groups are absolutely vital to the continued stability of the conservative movement.

The major rationales of the attacks on gay rights by “family values groups” are that they believe giving homosexuals rights somehow degrades the rights of heterosexual families and that homosexuals are inferior parents; these assertions are not grounded in reality. Studies in areas where gay marriage has been legalized have shown that marriage equality has negligible effects on heterosexual marriage and divorce rates. As to the claim that homosexuals are inferior parents, studies comparing heterosexual and homosexual couples with children have shown that homosexual couples have, on average, slightly superior family situations than heterosexual couples. The higher than average quality of parenting in same-sex households is likely due to the virtual absence of accidental pregnancies in gay relationships as well as the self-selection of adopting couples to be more involved parents. As shown by every reputable study, attacking gay rights is not a “family value” it is pure bigotry or ignorance masquerading as a concern for children.

Anti-choice “family values” groups often proclaim to be defending “family values” in their crusades to limit access to birth control and abortion services to women. The use of the term family values in this context is of dubious value because unwanted or teen pregnancies are damaging to the mother and often result in unstable households. Some anti-abortion activists believe abortion to be murder, but they support birth control and sex education so as to prevent unwanted pregnancies; these people can legitimately argue that they hold “family values” because they are trying to improve family planning services and the stability of families. On the other hand, those who oppose abortion, sex education and birth control do not hold values that actually help families. Contraception and sex education prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus giving single women families alike the ability to control whether they have children. The reduction in unwanted pregnancies allows families to remain inside of their resource limits as well as to reduce the number of unwanted or neglected children. By increasing security and parental choices, abortion, contraception and sex education actually benefit families, thus those who fight these options are not representing “family values” (perhaps religious/Christian values, but not family values).

Many conservative Christian groups claim to promote “family values” and “traditional families” (where there is a male breadwinner, a female homemaker and several children) in order to advocate their positions. Put plainly, labeling Christian conservative values as “family values” does not make them beneficial to families. If we allow any religion to simply label their dogma as having a monopoly on the term “family values” we surrender any actual meaning of the term.

Now that we have discussed the things that are inaccurately labeled as “family values”, we come to the question, what actually constitutes family values? Family values are values that positively affect the lives of children, the stability of households, or the general welfare of family groups.

  • Allowing people to plan if and when to have children is a family value, as it improves the well-being of families in general.
  • Allowing people, regardless of sex or race, to marry and take care of children is a family value, as it improves the stability and legal protections of such families.
  • Providing free childcare, youth healthcare, education, and nutritional programs, regardless of socioeconomic status is a family value. Such programs can improve the lives of millions of families (as well as society as a whole) through improving the general welfare of children and the ease of which parents can care for their children.
  • Properly funding our public schools, as well as providing easy to obtain college financial assistance (Pell Grants, National Merit Scholarship, etc.) to all teens is a family value; this would reduce financial pressures on families while giving those with intelligence, but no resources, a way to move up in society.
  • Protecting the elderly, both economically and in terms of providing healthcare benefits, is a family value, as without these programs the elderly must either move back in with their children or go unattended.

There are so many true “family values” programs which we are ignoring in favor of fake/religious conservative “family values” issues. Progressives should not allow those who simply wish to justify their bigotry, religious delusions, or controlling natures to monopolize the idea of “family values”–there are real issues that actually deserve this label and the moral high ground that it brings. True family values do not push bigotry or religious infiltration into the law, but rather, ideals that benefit families all over the country and the health of society at its most basic collective unit: the family.

By taking away the language of conservative “family values” as well as the bonding agent by which religion is fused to conservatism, progressives can simultaneously promote beneficial social policy and deal a heavy blow to the conservative agenda.

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