Ever since the dawn of recorded time, the nuclear family has been the building block of society. The traditional definition of family, a definition that well predates modern politics and reflects back to the farthest histories of recorded time, involves a man, a woman and their children. Generations that reach out over millennia come from a single reproductive union. The traditional idea of family has been under attack for some time with alternative definitions vying for equal legal status as a defined legal unit. A victory for proponents of same-sex marriage, the most prominent and socially divisive alternate definition of family, was struck when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear any one of the seven cases sent for consideration from various states on this issue, including the Utah case. Governor Gary Herbert response was swift, indicating that the state would need to abide by the law of the land, though intimating the battle was not yet over.
Traditional family definitions have dominated the landscape in Utah since its inception. Few places on the planet forward a more reserved, traditional view of family. But the traditional family has been portrayed in popular media more and more commonly as an oddity and an exception. A divorce rate exceeding half of all marriages and plunging birth rates in the United States stand as a testament that the portrayal of committed family relationships involving a dedicated and faithful husband and wife and including children are becoming less and less frequent. Marriage is viewed by many as an outdated institution at least, and more of a mutually beneficial contractual arrangement at best. And the most radical views of common law, cohabitation and same-sex relationships are taking front and center stage in the debate.
What is not heard frequently in this broad and complex argument, are the sociological implications of more divergent, less committed and disparate redefinition of family relationships. Of course, it is a fact that many traditional marriages have not been lasting, or even founded on solid principles of selflessness and devotion. The bearing and raising of children and the perpetuation of generations can have a profound effect on the union of a couple, but it must be done on certain underlying principles of dedication, fidelity, sacrifice and a commitment to a purpose larger than oneself. A family becomes the most important and persuasive sub-culture within the larger culture and sociological context in which the family lives.
Perhaps the sociological phenomenon is recent enough that a definitive body of research has not yet been brought forward to identify the sociological and societal impacts of non-traditional families. However, being the father of five, and interested by default in the subject, I have had many conversations with an old friend and professor of family studies at a major local university. His perspective is interesting for any reader to consider. He has begun significant research over the last five years into the positive or negative impacts of such non-traditional arrangements. And based upon our conversations, the initial data and returns are not good. Non-traditional families may indeed be less enduring and dysfunctional than beleaguered traditional families.
This long–tenured and respected professor has emphasized that one of the greatest challenges in his research is trying to get real forums and debates within the intellectual community to broaden the discussion of his potentially negative findings. Basically, he describes the political climate as too controversial to introduce real research and evidence to suggest that non-traditional families are having significant detrimental effects on the fabric of our society. In short, few of his colleagues across the country want to be the first to explore any data that may fly in the face of the politically correct winds that now seem to be blowing.
A recent example of sociological research that is gaining some traction is the troubling single parent birthrate of young African-American children in the United States. Almost two out of three are now being born into non-nuclear, single parent households. Crime and poverty rates associated with this phenomena are now only beginning to be recognized and tied to the family structure as a causal effect. But the fact remains that in liberal circles, which control a great majority of the power and agendas in our institutions of higher learning, the real discussions and research evidence on such issues are not seeing the light of day. And it is political motivation that seems to drive this.
It should be noted that one of the main historical barriers to absolute Statism, as established in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and other totalitarian countries is the devotion to the morality, nurturing and humanity that applies to self and others that is best taught within the constructs of the family. When the nuclear family is moral, engaged and strong, the state or its established institutions have a counterbalance. Neither the school instructor, the local magistrate nor the government can substitute for the relationships found within the walls of a home.
This is known by minds that would seek to substitute the power of the state for the protections of the home and family. If anyone needs an illustrative example of this, read “Survival in the Killing Fields” by Haing Ngor. His experience illustrates that the first item on a totalitarian agenda is to subordinate the goals of the family to the agenda of the state. In essence, the foundations of true freedom and personal responsibility are born and nurtured within the constructs of the family. The strength of that character is directly reflected in the strength of the family. And non-traditional families may yet be shown to be much more fragile than the politically correct dogma seeks to indicate.
Yet despite all of this, Utahns, and Americans in general, seem remarkably tolerant, even to a situation that may have a negative impact them in years to come. If this is not to be believed, just compare the current reaction to these issues to Nazi controlled Europe in the 1940s, where alternative sexual preferences would land one in a concentration camp instead of on front page headlines. The world and western society has evolved, but the implications of that evolution are yet to be fully understood. And the impacts of these decisions will be felt, for better or worse, in the next decade or two.
Hopefully future developments regarding the definition of family can be clarified from a sociological point of view as well as from a political driven agenda. The future and power of a nation resides not in the overarching legal structure of its government, but by the devotion and morality of its people. Time, history and now perhaps modern research suggest that these benchmarks of character are developed primarily within the walls of a home with nurturing parents that includes a mother and father in well-defined roles sharing equal responsibility and success for the family. If we look closely enough, we will likely find thousands of years of history and data to suggest that no political or social opinion will likely change the facts that hundreds of generations have already proven. No court ruling will likely alter established principles of human interaction. The continuing strength of our society may very well depend on recognizing the relevance of such history as opposed to changing or defying it.