State of the Debate: Family Values: The Sequel





WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY

Maggie Gallagher, The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy
Lasting Love
(Regnery Publishing, 1996).

John R. Gillis, A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual,
and the Quest for Family Values
(Basic Books, 1996).

David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence
that Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable for the Good of
Children and Society
(Martin Kessler Books, 1996).

David Popenoe, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and David Blankenhorn, eds.,
Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America

(Rowan and Littlefield, 1996).

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Divorce Culture (Knopf, 1997).

In 1976, a team of social researchers returned to the small
midwestern city that Helen and Robert Lynd immortalized as "Middletown"
a half century earlier in the sociological classic by that name.
Like the rest of the country in the 1970s, Middletown—actually
Muncie, Indiana—had been shaken by the series of social and cultural
upheavals that had suddenly undone the seemingly placid domesticity
of the postwar era—the pill, the sexual revolution, the women's
movement, the divorce revolution. Middletowners were strikingly
ambivalent about these changes. For example, they "detested''
divorce. Nostalgic for the era when divorce was scandalous and
hard to get, they deplored the weakening of the spiritual foundations
of marriage.

Nevertheless, by 1976 a majority of Middletowners had experienced
one or more divorces in their own families. Asked about the divorces
of people they knew, they expressed little disapproval. Speaking
of the breakup of a daughter's marriage to an alcoholic or of
a friend's to a philanderer, they said they were glad that divorce
was now easy to get and no longer shameful. As one woman put it,
"Women no longer feel they have to be married to be accepted.
Women aren't staying in a miserable situation just to say they
have a husband."

Middletown both opposed divorce and supported it. As the researchers
noted, however, these attitudes are not as contradictory as they
seem at first glance. Middletowners were deeply committed to marriage
as an institution and a way of life, but they did not believe
that loveless marriages should remain intact. They saw divorce
as a necessary remedy, but worried whether divorce had become
too easy. In short, Middletowners were moralists about marriage
in general and pragmatists when it came to particular troubled
marriages. [Theodore Caplow et al., Middletown Families: Fifty Years of Change and Continuity (Minnesota University Press, 1981)]

Two decades later, Americans have still not come to terms
with the gap between the way we think our families ought to be
and the complex, often messy realities of our lives—or as John
Gillis puts it, in his new book A World of Their Own Making,
the gap between the families we live with and the symbolic families
we "live by."

Back in the 1970s, when the research team returned to Middletown,
family was not yet a major partisan issue. By the end of the 1970s,
however, "family values" had become a major battleground
in a still ongoing political and cultural war. In 1980, the moral
uneasiness of Middletown and the rest of America served as political
fuel that helped launch the Reagan era and the conservative ascendancy.

In 1992, it looked as if the fuel finally had run out; voters
were turned off by Dan Quayle's attack on Murphy Brown, Marilyn
Quayle's attack on working women, and Pat Buchanan's call for
a religious war for "family values." In August 1993,
columnist Christopher Matthews predicted that never again would
the Republicans waste their resources on the "fool's gold"
of cultural issues. Instead, they would follow the Clinton campaign
mantra "the economy, stupid." "The GOP has done
a political/moral gut check and decided that the most vital 'family
value' is a daddy, mommy, or live-together bringing home the bacon."

Yet less than a year after the election, "Dan Quayle was
right" became the new national consensus. A sudden surge
of op-eds, magazine articles, and talk show punditry warned that
the growth of single-parent families was the root cause of poverty,
crime, youth violence, and other social ills and thus the single
greatest problem facing the nation. (The American Prospect,
in its Summer 1994 issue, was one of the few publications to look
critically at these claims.) With liberals and moderates joining
in, the conservative rhetoric of moral crisis has come to dominate
discussions of welfare, education, and crime and helped to drive
American domestic policy well to the right.

With yet another national election behind us, it is a good time
to step back and reflect on the strange career of "family
values" as a theme in American political life. Why was the
public's verdict on Dan Quayle so quickly reversed? Along with
his economic message in 1992 Clinton had articulated a pluralistic
vision of family values:"an America that includes every family.
Every traditional family and every extended family. Every two-parent
family, every single-parent family, every foster family."
What happened to that vision?



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HISTORY VS. HYSTERIA

A bumper crop of recent books on family is a good starting place.
John Gillis's book attempts to place America's current obsession
with the family into historical and cultural perspective. Gillis,
a social historian, uses the past not as a repository of lost
virtues, but as a way to illuminate the present. Family life has
changed drastically in America and the rest of the industrialized
world. But as Gillis reminds us, family change is nothing new;
neither is anxiety about the state of the family. Recent research
into family life in past times reveals that diversity, instability,
and discontinuity have been part of the European experience of
family at least since the late Middle Ages, and continued into
the new world.

Despite the nostalgia that has engulfed American culture in recent
years, there never was a "golden age" of family. When
the Lynds visited Middletown in the 1920s, it was in the midst
of the mother of sexual revolutions—the age of flaming youth.
The 1950s, now revered as the pinnacle of the American family
dream, was to people who lived it also an age of anxiety. For
cultural critics of the time, the great menaces to family life
and American character were juvenile delinquency, comic books
(the Senate even held hearings on comics), and, strange as it
may seem now, the suburbs.

History is an antidote to hysteria. Gillis, along with other historians
of the family, recognizes that we are now, for good or ill, living
through one of the most intensive periods of social, economic,
and political change since the democratic and industrial revolutions
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the world is not
what it was in 1955 or 1855; families today face unprecedented
conditions—some of which stem from changes few would want to reverse,
such as women's strides toward equality.

Four of these books bring us into the firing line of the current
cultural war over the family. They represent part of the output
of the Institute for American Values, the think tank responsible
for the sudden shift in the national debate on the family since
1992. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture,
wrote the op-ed on Murphy Brown that inspired the remark in Dan
Quayle's speech; she was also the author of the 1993 cover article
in the Atlantic Monthly declaring that "Dan Quayle
Was Right."

Whitehead's new book expands on those earlier pieces about the
dangers of divorce and single parenthood. So do the books by her
colleagues—Maggie Gallagher's The Abolition of Marriage,
David Popenoe's Life Without Father, and most of the articles
in Promises to Keep, a book of readings edited by Popenoe,
along with Jean Bethke Elshtain and David Blankenhorn, who have
also written variations on the same themes. Their argument is,
we live in a "post-marital," "post-nuclear family"
society. Marriage has disappeared as a cultural ideal. A "culture"
or ideology of liberation and self-fulfillment, originating in
the 1960s and sustained by the liberal elite, has spread throughout
the society, leading to the disintegration of the two-parent family
and the desertion of their children by vast numbers of men. Single
parenthood, or "fatherlessness," whether it occurs in
the inner city or the suburbs or through divorce or out-of wedlock
birth, is a tragedy for children, and a catastrophe for the rest
of society. It is the direct cause of our worst individual and
social problems: poverty, crime, violence, delinquency, drug and
alcohol abuse, school failure, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency.
In short, it is the number one domestic problem facing the country,
because it drives all the rest.

The solution? A crusade to dismantle and repeal the culture of
divorce and unwed parenthood. As the Institute for American Values
writes in its mission statement, "the two-parent family,
based on a lasting monogamous marriage," is "the most
efficacious one for child rearing." These authors differ
on particular issues such as no-fault divorce (Gallagher would
abolish it, Whitehead has recently argued that doing so would
be a mistake), or premarital sexual relationships (Popenoe favors
responsible ones, Gallagher is shocked by the idea). But they
all agree that the heart of the problem lies in the prevailing
cultural values. They favor a range of public and private initiatives
to "restore" marriage and make alternatives to the two-parent
biological family socially unacceptable and practically difficult.

Since these arguments have become the conventional wisdom
over the past four years, there is a certain déjà
vu quality to the books. Social scientists and others who take
issue with this analysis have been on the defensive, fending off
charges of being "against" the two-parent family, "for"
divorce and single parenthood, and indifferent to children's well-being.
Nevertheless, the analysis remains flawed. The Institute for American
Values and its associates present a skewed and misleading version
of the research evidence on the causes and effects of divorce
and single parenthood. For example, institute writers feature
the highly pessimistic divorce studies of Judith Wallerstein and
her colleagues, which have been severely criticized on methodological
grounds by other divorce researchers. The children in Wallerstein's
study were not studied before the divorce to determine whether
their problems were new. Nor were they compared to children whose
parents remained in unhappy marriages or, indeed, to any other
control group.

At the same time, Whitehead and her colleagues ignore more systematic
research that does not support horror stories about the effects
of divorce. In 1991, for example, the journal Science published
a report based on a large, two-nation study of children at age
7 and later at age 11. The results showed that, compared to those
who remained in intact families, children whose parents had divorced
in the interim did have more problems, but they had shown those
problems at age 7, before the parents divorced.

Even without discounting the effects of pre-divorce problems,
the differences between children of divorced and intact families
are not as gross and categorical as these writers insist. The
figure "How Divorce Affects Children's Well-Being" illustrates
why it is misleading to write, as Whitehead repeatedly does, of
the "average child of divorce." Note that while the
average score of the divorced group is lower than that of the
non-divorced, the two curves overlap. Some of the divorced group
score higher than the average of the intact family group.

Despite all the hand-wringing, there is no evidence that the remarkable
demographic changes of recent decades represent a basic shift
in family values. Indeed, marriage and two-parent families remain
the norm and continue to prevail statistically. Anyone reading
these books and little else on family structure, however, is likely
to be surprised to learn that, according to the Census Bureau,
most children are born to married mothers and spend most of their
youth with their two parents. And the divorce rate has been revised
down to 40 percent from 50 percent. Of course, families are more
varied and more fragile than in the past, and today's Ozzies and
Harriets are both working outside the home.

But we are far from a culture that has "abolished" marriage
and the nuclear family. On the contrary, cross-national surveys
reveal that we are the most traditionalist of Western nations
in our family values. We have the highest marriage rates in the
industrial world. Our attitudes toward divorce would predict that
we would have the lowest rates of divorce, rather than one of
the highest. Nor is this a recent trend: We have always had higher
rates of both marriage and divorce than other Western nations.

The Institute for American Values views the family in a social
and economic void, as if family behavior were shaped only by culture
and values. Indeed, Whitehead and her colleagues seem to have
invented a germ theory of culture, in which bad ideas and values
spring up, infect a few minds, and then spread relentlessly throughout
the population. But most family scholars believe that the recent
transformation of the family results from an accumulation of cultural,
social, and economic changes. Shifts in women's roles are pivotal.
The shift to a service economy, for example, has drawn women into
the workplace; a series of life-course revolutions has reduced
the period of active child care in a women's life to a small segment
of an 80-year life span. Educational levels of both sexes have
risen.


THE WELL-BEING OF CHILDREN

Part of the reason for the impact of Whitehead and colleagues
is that they place the well-being of children at the center of
the national debate. The number of children involved in divorce
is huge—more than a million a year. Children growing up in single-parent
families are on the average likely to face greater disadvantages
than children in two-parent families. The United States is plagued
by a host of social problems, including the highest child poverty
rates in the Western world. And it is certainly true that the
nation's future depends on finding solutions to the problems plaguing
many children and families. But because these writers' definition
of family is so narrow, their genuine concern for children has
contributed to a frightened and punitive public mood. Instead
of seeking ways to assist children who grow up in less-than-ideal
family situations, these writers call for policies that will disadvantage
them still further.

Whether or not the new welfare bill does threaten more than a
million children with destitution, the vast majority of Americans
were willing to take that risk to send a message of disapproval
to single mothers. Similarly, exaggerating the effects of divorce
on children is likely to have unfortunate consequences. In his
book Childhood, the anthropologist and physician Melvin
Konner writes that "to continue sounding a hysterical alarm
about the effects of this experience without better evidence is
simply irresponsible. It preserves bad marriages that may harm
children more than divorce does, and it creates an epidemic of
hurtful guilt and shame in many millions of parents who failed
at marriage after doing the best they could."

It is also irresponsible to ignore how the risks to children in
divorced and single-parent families can be reduced. Whitehead
scoffs at the notion of a "good divorce," but a number
of factors do make a great difference. Indeed, a broad scholarly
consensus holds that economic hardship and high levels of marital
and family conflict are the major causes of stress in children's
lives. These are more important than the number of parents living
in the home for predicting developmental outcomes.

More recently, researchers have found that maternal stress and
depression account for substantial variation in children's psychological
functioning, including school achievement. Children do better
after divorce when finances are adequate, when both parents remain
involved, when parents manage to contain their conflicts, and
when other life stresses aren't added onto the stress of divorce.
Again and again, the importance of a warm, responsive relationship
with the custodial parent comes through as a critical factor.
One recent study of adolescents after divorce found that a nonresidential
parent's remembering special occasions like holidays and birthdays
had a significant impact on the child's adjustment.

In general, Whitehead and her colleagues have a highly selective
approach to the research literature. Many of the family researchers
cited in Whitehead's Atlantic article protested her misuse
of their data. Sara McLanahan, for example, has objected to efforts
to "demonize single mothers." "The evidence does
not show," she wrote in these pages ["The Consequences
of Single Motherhood
," TAP, Summer 1994], "that
family disruption is the principal cause of high school failure,
poverty, and delinquency." She points out that the high school
dropout rate for children in two-parent families is 13 percent,
compared to an overall rate of 19 percent. "So the dropout
rates would be unacceptably high, even if there were no single-parent
families." Further, while McLanahan points to vulnerabilities
in single-parent families in order to propose policies to remedy
them, Whitehead and her colleagues point to them as signs of the
moral failings of such families.

McLanahan's comments highlight an even larger problem with the
analysis: The passions aroused by debates about Dan Quayle and
the virtues of two-parent families have obscured the stresses
and anxieties experienced by families in all living arrangements
and across class, racial, and ethnic lines. The largest source
of family change and family stress is the shift to a postindustrial,
globalized economy, a change that many scholars have compared
to the industrial revolution. Indeed, the effects of today's transformation
on the family are precisely to reverse the gender-based division
of labor that emerged when work moved out of the home and men
followed it. The breadwinner-housewife family, with the accompanying
domestic ideology of "separate spheres," was a social
arrangement associated with the earliest stages of the industrial
revolution. Further economic development has drawn women out of
the home in a slow and, until the 1970s, nearly invisible revolution
that has been in progress for more than a century.

Commentators on both sides of today's family debate agree that
the shift in gender roles has unraveled the traditional marriage
bargain—she does all the family work, he brings home the bread
and the bacon. Now that wives are also employed outside the home,
they expect husbands to share in caring for the children and the
housework. Men are doing more than their fathers did, but not
enough to live up to the ideal of equal sharing that increasing
numbers of both men and women claim as their ideal marriage.

Economic shifts have also had unsettling effects on families by
pulling the rug out from under blue-collar families and people
with no more than a high school education. As sociologist Frank
Furstenberg has pointed out, marriage has come to be a luxury
item, something many young men feel is beyond their economic reach.
Living in a society that is becoming polarized economically, we
should not be surprised that family life is also becoming polarized.
In the 1950s, a young man just out of high school could support
a family. In the 1990s, the lack of high-paying industrial jobs
and the need for higher education has prolonged the transition
to adulthood. Living together unmarried—which in a legal sense
counts as single parenthood—has been the low-cost way to start
a family.

No country has anything like the polarized, partisan "family
values" debate we have here. Even in England, John Major's
"Back to Basics" campaign became an embarrassment. Instead,
both right and left in most other rich industrial nations have
supported attempts to mitigate the strains arising out of family
change. Why has the United States been unable to adapt pragmatically
to late-twentieth-century social realities?

Paradoxically, it may be our very devotion to family values that
makes the theme so politically appealing and yet so ineffectual.
Despite the decline of "traditional" family households
and the rise of single-parent families, these demographic shifts
don't necessarily reflect a fundamental change in what Ameri cans
believe and value. Ac cord ing to surveys and other studies of
American culture, marriage and parenthood remain essential ingredients
of the American dream.

Indeed, John Gillis argues that our current obsession with family
values reflects Americans' reverence for the family as a religious
symbol, whether or not they are traditionally religious or live
in "traditional" families. He describes how American
family culture has become increasingly like a religion; living
rooms have been turned into shrines of family photographs, and
family rituals like Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries,
and a host of others have been elaborated in ways that were unknown
until recent years.


BACK TO THE FUTURE

The country badly needs a realistic national conversation about
family matters where we could explore our concerns, differences,
and ambivalences—and seek the common ground buried under the polarizing,
moralizing rhetoric. Above all, we need to ask whether secure,
family-sustaining jobs are a possibility or a pipe dream in the
kind of economy we now have, and what we can do if they are not.

Such a conversation began in the middle 1970s, when President
Ford supported the ERA as well as the International Women's Year,
newspapers carried pictures of the President as the New Man making
his own breakfast, and the First Lady was an outspoken feminist.
The Democrats introduced the family theme to national politics
under the banner of "family policy." Walter Mondale
and Daniel Patrick Moynihan were among the first to propose that
government had a role to play in "strengthening families";
Jimmy Carter picked up the theme in his presidential campaign
and promised, if elected, to convene a White House Conference
on the Family.

For a brief time, the country seemed ready to confront the changes
in the family. The Ford and early Carter years were a time of
relative social calm. Policy intellectuals began to take an interest
in the family, out of disillusion with the social programs of
the 1960s and as a way to give policies for the poor a more universal
appeal. An array of study groups, foundations, and government
task forces began to take stock of the state of the nation's children
and families in order to propose policies to cope with older problems
as well as the new realities.

In a 1979 article in the Harvard Education Review, Joseph
Featherstone summed up reports by the Carnegie Council and the
National Science Foundation among others: American families were
under stress, though recent changes did not amount to a collapse
of the family. The impact of the economy and working conditions
on families was a central theme; the reports addressed the conflict
between work and family by proposing government and corporate
policies such as flexible work schedules for men and women and
leaves for pregnancy and child rearing. Jobs, a decent income,
and adequate housing and health care, they said, are the minimal
conditions for a healthy family life. The care of young children
is an important form of work, and anyone who does it should have
an adequate income. These recommendations sound utopian in the
1990s, yet are generally similar to family policies that most
other advanced Western countries have adopted.

Ironically, writing in the 1970s, Featherstone felt obliged to
defend these proposals against "the current fashion for sneering
at liberal reforms" then rampant on the left. Incremental
liberal reforms would not overthrow capitalism, he conceded, but
would temper "the viciousness of the system" and lead
to further reforms. Yet Featherstone was presciently pessimistic
that a new focus on the family would help spawn new policies;
instead, he feared that it would lead to an era of private solutions
to public problems—"an era of empty therapizing and empty
spiritualizing."

The fate of the White House Conference on the Family justified
this pessimism. The idea of such a conference had wide appeal
across the political spectrum. Yet its planning stages quickly
became a battleground over abortion, sex education, the equal
rights amendment, gay rights, and the very definition of family.
The conference was renamed "The White House Conference on
Families." The planners, considering this move a simple recognition
of the reality of family diversity, assumed the issue was, as
one put it, "How do we make it healthy and functional and
positive for those people who find themselves in those many situations?"

They were surprised to find that the name change galvanized conservative
forces determined to limit the definition of family to the basic
unit of husband, wife, and children. One of the original architects
of the New Right, Paul Weyrich, whose idea it was to use moral
issues to "ignite people who do not ordinarily vote Republican,"
recently recalled that the White House conference was the decisive
event that turned religious activists toward Ronald Reagan and
the Republican Party.

In the early 1990s, it again seemed reasonable to hope that the
ideologically polarized debate about family values might give
way to a more constructive, nuanced discussion. In the late 1980s
and early 1990s, a number of conservatives and liberals attempted
to find common ground on a number of child and family issues—for
example, child care and enhanced economic security for families
raising children. Once again, however, pragmatism was overcome
by moral panic.

The war over family values has been a convenient way for both
conservatives and liberals to avoid confronting the harder political
questions: What kind of country are we becoming? Will we become
more like the other rich democracies, conservative and social
democratic, who invest in families, whatever their form, as an
essential part of the nation's social infrastructure? Or will
we continue further down the path of increasing inequality, toward
what Edward Luttwak has called the Brazilianization of American
society, as more Americans live in middle-class suburban comfort
or the well-guarded enclaves of the wealthy while those outside
the gates grow poorer and angrier.

There are some signs of hope. One is the fate of the 1994 Republican
revolution, which demonstrated that although liberalism may have
become a dirty word, naked conservatism is frightening. As a campaign
epithet, "liberal" lost its sting; the candidates who
made the most derogatory use of the L-word went down to defeat.
With welfare off the table, the 1996 debate shifted away from
talk of virtues and values and toward the small incremental policies
aimed at "soccer moms": 48-hour hospital stays, extension
of medical and family leave, and the like.

Another sign of hope is the revival of the AFL-CIO in the last
election, under the new direction of John Sweeney. Seeking ways
to move its agenda forward, labor is beginning to reclaim the
language of family by speaking of "working families."
One survey found that 83 percent of a national sample agreed with
the statement that "working families have less economic security
because corporations have become too greedy and care more about
profits than their employees." The idea of appealing to core
American values like fairness and loyalty is a strategy that can
help liberals transcend the identity politics that has outlived
its usefulness.

Executives of some of our largest corporations are also at the
forefront adapting to the new realities of family life. Still
another sign of hope is the moral vision that has been articulated
by the U.S. Catholic Bishops and other religious groups offended
by the claims of the Christian Coalition to define family values
for the rest of the country. A recent article in Christian
Century
called for "a new political agenda" that
stresses "both personal responsibility and social justice,
good values and good jobs, sexual morality and civil rights for
homosexuals. . . ." If liberals want to add their own approaches
to the problems of American families, a good starting place would
be the old memos and reports issued in the 1970s—not just as a
source of good ideas, but also as a warning of where the pitfalls
lie.

But liberals find themselves in a far more difficult situation
than they did 20 years ago. The demise of the political left has
transformed liberals into the only left there is.

The right wraps itself in the mantle of virtues and values, intones
the standard litany of social crisis—crime, drugs, illegitimacy,
teenage pregnancy, divorce, welfare dependency—and blames liberal
permissiveness and policies. And when cultural conservatives argue
that only the stable, monogamous, two-parent family can raise
healthy children and keep social chaos at bay, liberals are left
either defending everything but the nuclear family, or joining
the anti-single-mother, anti-divorce, anti-remarriage crusade.

Seemingly, reconciling these contradictions would require the
sleight of hand of a Dick Morris. In fact, Morris sheds some useful
light on these dilemmas. In his recent book, Morris says his polling
found that voters were far less polarized than the public debate;
massive majorities embraced an "amalgam" of conservative
and liberal views. On welfare, for example, majorities favored
work requirements and time limits but also day care, job opportunities,
and training. In other words, they favored the kind of welfare
bill Clinton proposed in 1994.

During the 1996 campaign, Morris and Clinton even considered advocating
sex education and condom distribution in the schools, based on
a program Clinton carried out in Arkansas. "Until we get
real and give out birth control in schools," Morris advised
the President, "you'll never crack teen pregnancy."
In one poll, Morris asked voters which they preferred, a program
that promoted abstinence or one that gave out birth control information
and condoms. Voters backed birth control by two to one. Yet Morris
thought it was too risky to go into an election without at least
70 percent support. "We chickened out," he writes.

Nevertheless, liberals can take heart from these numbers and other
statistics like them. Americans repeatedly have shown that while
they cherish the family, they define family in an inclusive and
pluralistic way. In short, Middletown pragmatism is alive and
well, along with Middletown morality. Whitehead, Popenoe, and
their colleagues have missed an opportunity to speak to both sides
of American ambivalence, to open up a national discussion of the
complexities of American family life today. Liberals needn't swallow
the ideological bait and become the advocates of divorce and every
nontraditional alternative. Indeed, it is hard to find a liberal
or feminist who argues that a loving, harmonious, two-parent family
is not preferable to a post-divorce single or recombined family.

But that's beside the point. Loving, harmonious families are unlikely
to break up. "Just Say No" to divorce is the answer
that Whitehead and her colleagues propose for those who find themselves
in unloving, miserable marriages. The family restorationists claim
to speak for children, but their primary concern is to castigate
parents in the "wrong" family forms. Ironically, in
their ideological zeal, they fail to consider how the divorce
process can be made less destructive to the millions of children
already living in divorced and single-parent families. In effect,
they are writing off the well-being of these children. The liberal
response to hand-wringing about the decline in family values should
be to shape a political and economic climate that values all our
children and supports those who care for them. We should have
no part of efforts to hold children hostage to a narrow definition
of family that looks only at form and not at love, care, and responsibility.

Because social change has come on as suddenly as an earthquake,
it is not surprising that nostalgia has engulfed American culture
in recent years. In a sense, we are all pioneers, leading lives
for which the cultural scripts have not yet been written. But
liberals need to retain and support our enduring values of compassion
and democratic hope, and not succumb to the easy language of loss
and moral crisis. We are going to have to make our politics fit
the families we live in, not the families we would like to live
by.



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