Are we making the family too special for our own good?

May 22, 2017 by

by Carolyn Moynihan, Mercatornet:

The family has had a privileged place in civilisation, with laws to protect it (governing marriage, for example) and, in modern societies, often policies to support it financially (tax breaks or child benefits). Why? Because the family is the little community in which children are born and nurtured and prepared for citizenship – with the help of other institutions.

It is a law of nature that the adults of a species look after their own young, and most human societies want them to do it well, not only for the sake of the individuals concerned, but because it is better for society at large.

Does that mean that the nuclear family is sacrosanct? That it is beyond criticism or change? That it must be kept together at all costs, even the safety of its weaker members? Or that people in other family structures do not deserve the protection and support of the state?

Of course not. And yet there are people today who see the family consisting of a married man and woman with the children they generate, rational and generally successful though it is, as an ideal that threatens equality and diversity in the domestic sphere.

Among them are two Scandinavian philosophers writing in the Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics this month. They examine the “special status” accorded the nuclear family and find that it is not consistent with “contemporary Western values” relating to women and children.

This alleged power of the nuclear family model is surprising. Divorce, cohabitation, sole parenthood and same-sex marriage have produced a family landscape that reflects quite well the way we value women and children now, one would have thought. We are constantly told that “families come in many forms” and this “diversity” is celebrated at the highest levels.

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