A Vision of Families for the Twenty-First Century: A Declaration of Secular Family Values

By Cherry, Matt; Matsumura, Molleen | Free Inquiry, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

A Vision of Families for the Twenty-First Century: A Declaration of Secular Family Values


Cherry, Matt, Matsumura, Molleen, Free Inquiry


Family is at the heart of human life. Our family experiences - as children, parents, partners, or relatives - shape our own lives, and enable us to give meaning and love to the lives of others. In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State" (Article 16, paragraph 3).

All societies have long recognized that the family commitment is not merely biological, but rests on a complex foundation of contract, custom, and emotional commitment. Families have taken many forms - some, we have outgrown. The core of the modern family is two or more individuals who see themselves as a family, and who accept long-term responsibility for one another's health, security, independence, and happiness. The term family originally referred to individuals living together in the same household, though in today's mobile society people may consider themselves part of the same family even though they may live apart.

Today, sweeping economic, technological, and cultural changes present new challenges and opportunities to families across the globe. Many groups have reacted to these changes by calling for "a rerum to traditional family values." The authoritarian measures demanded by these groups undermine the rights of family members and keep families from adapting to their changing needs.

It is time to rescue "family values" from those who would use them to impose personal or state power over others. We, the undersigned, value all families that provide love, fulfillment, and empowerment to their members. To support the families of today and tomorrow, we affirm these principles:

1. People should be free to choose their own family structure and roles without fear of discrimination. This freedom extends beyond conventional nuclear families to include single-parent families, same-sex partnerships, child-free families, unconventional living arrangements, extended families, and those who remain unmarried. People should also have the right to be free of family attachments.

2. Consenting adults should have the right to marry, without any limitation based on race, nationality, religion, or sex. Interracial, inter-faith, and same-sex marriage should be given full respect under the law. Representatives of all religious and nonreligious belief groups, as well as civil authorities, should have equal authority to conduct marriage ceremonies.

3. In a marriage, equality between partners is the best foundation for personal growth and family happiness. Marital partners are entitled to equal rights when deciding to marry, during marriage, and at the dissolution of marriage. We oppose all attempts to obstruct or reverse the growth of women's equality and to subordinate women within marriage.

4. Family members should have the right to be free from mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Marital rape is a crime, and should be treated accordingly.

5. Children are entitled to the loving, competent care they need. Families that include children should protect their rights when they are young and prepare them to be adults able to share in fulfilling personal relationships and to enjoy the right of self-determination and the dignity of contributing usefully to a free society. There is no better environment than a loving family for raising caring, ethical individuals.

6. Adoption and custody decisions serve the best interests of the children when they are based on families', parents', or caretakers' ability to provide a safe, loving, and enriching environment for the child, not on whether they conform to traditional or religious models.

7. Children have the right to medical care and freedom from harmful physical treatment. Parents do not have the right to harm children, whether through abuse, genital mutilation, or other traditional or religious practices. Neither parents nor anyone else may withhold vital medical treatment from a child. …

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