Cover Story

Remaking the American family

A four-decade assault on the meaning of family has left the traditional model in tatters, but some Christian groups and churches are working to reverse the trend

Issue: "Remaking the family," March 6, 2004

President Bush leapt off the fence and into the fray last week as he endorsed a federal constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and preserve matrimony as a privilege available only to one man and one woman. "After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization," Mr. Bush said. "Their action has created confusion on an issue that requires clarity."

The confusion is mushrooming. Riding hard behind the matrimonial mess is an onslaught against the traditional definition of family. For example:

  • In San Francisco, at a mass same-sex wedding reception held on Feb. 22, lesbian Laura Bauer celebrated. "This is a great thing for us," said Ms. Bauer, who on Feb. 16 "married" her homosexual partner of eight years and attended the reception with their 5-year-old daughter. "With everyone talking about family, now we can give our daughter a family, and no one should take that away from us."
  • In New York, lesbian Beth Niernberg lives with Phillip Hernandez and James Slayton-two homosexual lovers-and together they "co-parent" three boys. Ms. Niernberg stays home and takes care of the boys, while the men, both psychiatrists, go off to work. The boys are each biologically related to Ms. Niernberg and to one of their dads, according to The Village Voice. The trio's agreement includes the proviso that when Ms. Niernberg finds a suitable female partner, the trio will become a quartet.
  • In Reno, Gail Faulstich and Mickie Law are raising four children: Ms. Law's daughters, Katie, 17, and Sarah, 11, and Ms. Faulstich's sons, Andy, 17, and Jake, 15. "We're kind of like the Brady Bunch," said Katie. "Except we're minus one girl and one boy and both our parents are women."

Say hello to America's newest version of "family": same-sex parents with kids from divorce, adoption, or artificial insemination-and more recently, multiple co-parents related to their children through tangled biological intersections. Such arrangements have until now existed mainly outside the public eye. Now, goaded by gay activists (and concerned liberals like San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom), courts, legislators, and public officials are stretching the definition of family beyond the historical bonds of blood, adoption, and matrimony.

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These days, gay activists say, all you need is love.

But serial misinterpretation of love, both gay and straight, has damaged the institution of the traditional family. In the 1960s, sexual "love" became everyone's "right." That led to disease, poverty, mental and emotional illness, and a wholesale loss of respect for women. Cohabitation began shedding its stigma, leading to a revolving-door family structure that often left children fatherless and economically deprived.

By the early 1970s, men and women who had married, but no longer felt "love" for their spouses, could divorce and seek "love" elsewhere. That plunged women and children further into poverty, resulting in a single-parent-family boom that according to Bureau of Justice statistics landed thousands of fatherless boys in federal prison. As state after state allowed husbands and wives to legally jettison each other for convenience's sake, the Supreme Court decreed that women-for "love" of self or career-could jettison inconvenient babies. That led to the death of more than 40 million children, many of whom would by now be having families of their own.

America's four-decade assault on the meaning of family has spawned statistics like these:

  • In 2002, 69 percent of children under age 18 lived with two married parents, down from 77 percent in 1980, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.
  • According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 59 percent of American children will live in a single-parent home at least once during their minor years.
  • Since 1970, the number of couples marrying annually has fallen 40 percent.
  • Every couple that marries has a 50 percent chance of winding up in divorce court.

Mike McManus lays much of the blame for such dismal demography directly on the doorstep of the church. "Churches are doing almost nothing," said Mr. McManus, whose Maryland-based group Marriage Savers promotes marriage preparation and restoration. "Our churches have not been disciplined ... they've had no standards." Many pastors, he said, prefer to refer troubled couples for counseling rather than prepare betrothed couples for the often-troubled road of marital union. It's another misinterpretation of "love," he said: attracting "seekers" and retaining members at the expense of upholding biblical standards that prohibit divorce and detail the roles of husbands and wives beyond romantic love.

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