I have what the Religious Right calls a “traditional family.” My wife and I have been married for nearly 20 years and have two children. The four of us live (along with two cats) in a house in the suburbs. From a demographic point of view, we couldn’t be less interesting.
But I’m keenly aware that not all families are like mine – and it doesn’t take more than a walk around my neighborhood to prove that.
Our neighbors are a blended family. They have four children of their own and have taken in a few relatives, including grandma. The folks across the street are in a similar situation, and one of their children is adopted. A few blocks from us, our friend Anne lives in an apartment with her two kids; she and her husband divorced a few years ago. When I’m out walking, I often see a same-sex couple out for a stroll with their adorable newborn.
Lots of arrangements, lots of families. In fact, a recent study by the Brookings Institution relied on Census Bureau data to determine that, for the first time in America, families like mine account for less than half of all households.
Reported The New York Times, “Married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010, according to data being made public Thursday and analyzed by the Brookings Institution. This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950.”
I’ve spent a lot of time at Religious Right meetings over the years. People in that movement tend to fret a lot about “the family,” and they love to portray themselves as “pro-family.” Yet I know that their definition of that term is limited, to say the least. The same-sex couple and their little one wouldn’t make the cut, for example.
So to the Religious Right, certain types of families deserve support – the ones they have idealized from a time when Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House.
Religious Right leaders speak idyllically about those days. And I suppose they were pretty good for some people – mainly white men (which, not surprisingly, is what many Religious Right leaders tend to be). If you were a woman who wanted to work outside the home or a black person living in the Jim Crow South, the ‘50s weren’t so wonderful.
Much has changed since then, thankfully. Liberation movements and federal civil rights legislation smashed Jim Crow. Women empowered themselves to seek entry into an entire range of professions. Gay people stood up and demanded equal rights.
It was a lot of change over a fairly short period of time, and it sparked a backlash. Much of that is led by the Religious Right. Even as social change continues, the theocrats among us keep pointing to a fuzzy, black-and-white image of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson on a TV screen and insisting, “This is the ideal! Anything else is anti-family!”
I recommend they take a deep breath, then step outside and look around. Yes, Ozzie-and-Harriet families will always be with us, and I’m glad for that. But alongside them we now have Harriet raising kids on her own, and we have Ozzie and Fred (or Harriet and Lisa) pushing a baby carriage down the sidewalk. We have Ozzie and Harriet cohabitating. You’re only going to see more of it, so get used to it.
When I see “Ozzie and Fred” in my neighborhood, I assume only one thing about them: They want for their child the same things I want for mine: safe communities, good schools, clean parks, well-stocked libraries, a secure economy and a vibrant, tolerant society.
Instead of throwing up barriers of division, I’d rather work alongside them to bring those things about. It strikes me as the real “pro-family” thing to do.
P.S. “The Wall of Separation” will be on hiatus on Monday. Enjoy the holiday weekend.