Part 1 of a series. See Part 2 and Part 3.
October 2006 – Kanab, Utah, is a mostly Mormon town of about 3,500 people, beholden to the roughly quarter-million tourists who come through the county on their way to nearby Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. So why have some people called for a boycott of Kanab?
Simply put, the mayor and town council had the audacity to unanimously pass a non-binding resolution calling for government to support and uphold the “natural family.” The reason for government support, the resolution said, is that the natural family is a boon to its members and a protection against the “most serious public pathologies,” such as crime, substance abuse and poverty.
Not exactly shocking stuff, but response to the resolution was swift and vociferous. Articles in the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times claimed the town has split over the propriety of the resolution. Not unexpectedly, a Web site was created by opponents demanding that the city council rescind the resolution, while Arthur Frommer, author of the popular Frommer’s Travel Guides, called for a boycott of Kanab.
Has our society come to the place where the very concepts of marriage and family are now up for grabs, and if so, what are the ramifications of that new reality?
Is there a natural family?
In the case of the Kanab resolution, it appears that two things ignited the ruckus. First was the manner in which the city council defined the natural family. Anchored in “the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as ordained of God,” the natural family includes biological parents and children. (The resolution did not include a discussion of extended family members.)
“We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, home-builders, and fathers,” the resolution said.
What many opponents seemed to complain about most bitterly was the fact that Kanab had had the audacity to define marriage and family at all.
The Web site What’s Up with Kanab?!? defiantly exclaimed: “The city of Kanab does not have the right … to define an ‘ideal’ that excludes those who cannot or choose not to live within its boundaries.”
Not surprisingly, homosexual activists were quick to pound Kanab as well. “[The resolution] doesn’t address what the landscape of the American family looks like today,” said Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Utah in Salt Lake City. She told The Salt Lake Tribune that the concept of family “has evolved in a lot of different ways. …”
Such statements miss the point, however. Regardless of what people might choose to call families, or how the idea of family has “evolved” in our culture, the concept of the “natural family” asserts that there is a reality to the family unit that exists beyond human opinion or changing cultural norms.
That is, marriage is between one man and one woman because the human race is divided into male and female, and the natural, procreative act takes place between only one man and one woman. The concept of family is then understood to derive from the union of that couple, plus the offspring produced by that union.
If this is true, one cannot change the definition of what constitutes a “natural family” any more than one can change the fact – by vote or resolution or revolution – that only a woman can physically bear a child for nine months and then give birth.
Despite criticisms, then, the Kanab City Council did not create a definition of the natural family by some arrogant exercise of power, and then impose it on its citizens. Instead, city leaders merely recognized the existence of the natural family, and the societal benefits stemming from it.
Some who commented on the Kanab commotion seemed to admit this fact but still found the resolution hurtful.
Mindy Hatfield, managing editor of the Hurricane Valley Journal in Hurricane, Utah, asked the valid question: “Simply because the family does not include a mother, father and children, does that make a family unacceptable?”
Once again, however, Hatfield’s question misses the point. Recognizing the existence of the natural family simply admits the obvious about how humanity generally organizes itself. It does not, however, invalidate the lifestyles of those not encompassed within the definition of natural family.
Returning to the example of child bearing, there are plenty of women who do not bear children – either by choice or by physical infirmity. Such women are not unacceptable or contemptible or less female.
Nevertheless, the existence of women who don’t have offspring does not invalidate the simple statement, “Women have the capacity to bear children.”
The second characteristic of the Kanab resolution that seemed to infuriate critics was the city council’s claim that local government was charged with “the protection of the natural family” as its “first responsibility.”
In response to that sentiment, What’s Up with Kanab?!? unloaded on the Kanab city council one baseless charge after another. This horrid resolution, the Web site said, would be “psychologically destructive,” and by its passage the city council had excluded “a large number of people from the ability to become full participants in their community.” The council had also inadvertently threatened those who fall outside the norm with “reprimand or punishment by the law,” and the resolution would subject such unfortunate folk to “hate, prejudice and conflict.”
Has the local government of a small town in Utah really decided to harm all those falling outside the parameters of the natural family?
Hardly, according to Kanab Mayor Kim T. Lawson. He pointed out, following the passage of the resolution, that “there were no laws changed, there were no rights taken away, there were no freedoms lost. It is a non-binding resolution.”
Unfortunately, the hysterical outbursts uttered by What’s Up with Kanab?!? barely conceal the intent of radicals who want to alter marriage and family. “This is about our right to determine the nature of our household and what members we choose to include in it,” the Web site said.
But no one in Kanab has said otherwise. What really bothers the opponents of this resolution is that, when the city council decided to define family, it didn’t define family the way opponents wanted.
Anything goes is therefore the new standard: A home with a mom, dad and kids is no better – and certainly no more “natural” – than a home with two daddies or two mommies, or three or four.
“Tolerance and inclusion are necessary elements of a society that promotes growth and progress,” said What’s Up with Kanab?!?
By “tolerance,” of course, the Web site is demanding that the city council agree to applaud every conceivable nuptial and familial combination. And if and when the city council does that, by default, the radicals have won. The “natural family” no longer holds any cachet.
Real world consequences
If this is all so controversial, then why should government – even the council of a small town in Utah – bother to get involved in the debate? Why should a government say anything about what constitutes a family?
Mayor Lawson believes that government has a responsibility to identify the basic elements of what makes a society function best, and then support those elements. “We should do what we feel [is] in the best interests of our community,” Lawson said in an interview with the University of Utah’s KUED-PBS affiliate.
Despite the outrage of critics, what works best, according to Lawson and the empirical evidence, is the model of the “natural family.”
For example, according to The National Marriage Project, located at Rutgers University, “the available empirical evidence … consistently indicates the substantial personal as well as social benefits of being married compared to staying single or just living with someone.”
Unfortunately, because our culture has encouraged the deconstruction of the natural family, the What’s Up with Kanab?!? crowd may be winning the ideological battle. Statistical trends demonstrate that youth are increasingly likely to disregard the importance of the traditional family model.
In The National Marriage Project’s 2005 report, “The State of Our Unions,” research shows: “Less than a third of the girls and only slightly more than a third of the boys [in high school] seem to believe … that marriage is more beneficial to individuals than the alternatives.”
In addition, the percentage of high school seniors who said having a child out of wedlock is OK has grown dramatically over the last 30 years. And the majority of high school seniors also thinks it is a good idea for couples to cohabit before marriage.
If the young people who represent the future reject the concept of the natural family – in effect, what works best for society – this will no longer be merely a theoretical problem. Because when it comes to the family, any old thing won’t do; and what God has designed for mankind will.
Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series. Subsequent articles will examine what research reveals about the personal and social benefits of strong, healthy, natural families – and what happens when the family breaks down.