When “Pro-Family” = “Anti-Family”

By Anthony | October 7th, 2007 | 10:55 am

Joel Gillespie recently wrote a great post outlining his views on the “pro-family” label and some of the problems with the accuracy and selective application of that label. Joel says that a better label might be “pro-traditional family”.

In my reply to his post, I said:

One area that I would question is that of gay marriage. I understand that it’s not a “traditional” arrangement. However, consider this: There are now – and have been for a long time – de facto families headed by gay people. These de facto families aren’t going anywhere. They have kids from previous marriages or by adoption, the adults in those situations support and rely on one another. Is it not in our best interest as a society to make those arrangements strong, rather than weak? What purpose is served by trying to undercut them? They may not be “traditional” families, but they are families nonetheless.

Essentially, the problem is that the stance taken by some self-described “pro-family” or even “pro-traditional family” advocates is really anti-family if the family does not meet a specific narrow criteria. A good example of this came up recently in Utah (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars).

A Utah woman with a history of drug problems, currently entangled in legal issues as a result, wants her four children to stay with her uncle. Her uncle is willing and able to care for them. However, because he is homosexual and cohabitating with his partner, the state of Utah wants to place the children in the foster care system, where they may be split up.

To the state, it’s a simple matter of the law, which says that to adopt or be a foster parent, you must be legally married or single and not cohabitating. … The two men, both natives of Utah County, said they would love to get married, but voters passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

This would certainly seem to be one case where an insistence on only allowing “traditional” families to exist is having an overall anti-family effect. For now, a judge has said that the four children can remain with their mother’s uncle – for their sake, let’s hope that they prevail in this.

6 Responses to “When “Pro-Family” = “Anti-Family””

  1. Brenda Bowers Says:

    My comment got so laong I took it home Anthony. And, I really enjoyed today’s cartoon.. Says so much with so little. You are soooooo good. BB

  2. Joel Gillespie Says:


    If I remember my logic correctly I think you are caught up in an example of Reductio ad absurdum (or is it ad infinitum?). You have started from the value or idea of being pro-traditional family (family with a limited definition), come up with an uncommon and unlikely outcome of policy based on that definition, and making a judgment about the original idea based on that unlikely outcome. There are two problems with this in my mind. First, everyone is going to draw a line somewhere as to how they define a family, and this same scenario will repeat somehow for that definition as well. You could take the same story, draw the line differently, change the scenario of the “uncle� accordingly, and be guilty of the same supposed inconsistency. In fact, the outcome in this case does not in itself discredit the idea of defining family, which is always limiting, nor in this case does it undercut the particular definition of family used by pro-traditional family advocates. There are always and difficult and awkward possible consequences of almost any position, law, or rule. The second problem here is that you have assumed the Utah court to be wrong. But if the definition of traditional family used by the Utah court is valid, then their ruling is reasonable. It does not simply go without saying that children are better off being placed with a homosexual uncle and that uncle’s partner, than being placed in foster care. And being split up is only a possibility. It seems to me that you are using your premise (the definition of family used by “pro-family� groups is bad), to prove your premise, (the definition of family used by “pro-family� groups is bad).

  3. Anthony Says:

    Brenda – thanks! I left a comment over at your blog.

    Joel, the thing is, I don’t think that situation like these are unlikely or uncommon. As I said at your blog, there are many de facto families headed by homosexuals (around 160,000 U.S. households with children are headed by homosexual couples, if I did the math right). This is but one example of many problems that can and do occur from not giving their committed relationships equal protection. Check out Brenda’s post for a few more possible problems.

    I agree that we will need to draw the line somewhere with regards to who can enter into a marriage-type contract, I just disagree with you as to where to draw the line. And as I said on Brenda’s blog, I don’t think it has to be “marriage” by name – the benefits and protections are the important thing.

    As for using my premise to support my premise, I don’t think that’s true unless you’re willing to argue that the possibility of splitting up the siblings in question or placing them with non-relatives is *not* harmful to a “family”. True it’s only a possibility, but under these circumstances it shouldn’t even be on the table as a possibility.

  4. Joel Gillespie Says:


    What I am saying is that there are scenarios where even you would say that the possibility of splitting up siblings is a lesser evil than having them together in a certain circumstance. And the case in Utah is rare from a legal standpoint. The number of households with children “headed by homosexuals” is not the issue. I think you just admitted that you were using your premise to prove your premise, which, even if you like your premise, makes the argument , well, into just a statement.

    I have already on multiple occasions said that where there are de facto families already in place we should offer legal protections for children in particular, and even for surviving partners, even if is complicated and messy, as Brenda points out it will be. There is a point where simple human compassion overrules the other factors.

    Wherever you draw thew line it will almost certainly be arbitrary :-) not because you are arbitrary – it’s just the nature of the beast.

    Well, I can see this mushrooming and taking over a whole week! Always seems to happen with this issue. I guess I better find a way to stay offline.

    I think we agree about more than appears from the “arguments.” Joel.

  5. Anthony Says:

    ‘I think we agree about more than appears from the “arguments.â€?’

    Oh – absolutely. Your statement in your last comment:

    “I have already on multiple occasions said that where there are de facto families already in place we should offer legal protections for children in particular, and even for surviving partners, even if is complicated and messy, as Brenda points out it will be. There is a point where simple human compassion overrules the other factors.”

    … is right on, from the standpoint that I agree with it, and that you have indeed said it before. My post here wasn’t really directed as an argument “against” you, just as an expansion on what I had said at your blog, so I’m sorry if it came off as argumentative. I do agree that there is probably plenty of overlap between the practical aspects of both of our positions.

  6. Joel Gillespie Says:


    I think there is. I didn’t think you were being argumentative, but making an argument. That’s different than being argumentative. I also think that, by implication, my position got tied to other view points over at Brenda’s that I don’t agree with or advocate. I’ll get around to addressing that later. You know Anthony, as a citizen I want to find common ground with my neighbors and try to develop consensus as much as possible. I want to find areas of mutual compromise between different “sides.” I really dislike the partisan posturing that is most of present day politics. I hate it. I despise it. I have no respect for it. And I have little stomach for the sniping and bickering in this medium. Despite my occasional overly tart tongue, I am, as Mr. Sun nailed me a long time ago, a “community” guy, a “consensus” person. I know there are times when we all just have to gird up our loins and have at it, but that isn’t my desire or goal generally. If my homosexual neighbors from a while back had a child, I would be first in line to work and fight for that child’s right to inheritance or whatever. And while I have the view I do about gay marriage, I have no desire for harm to come to people that are gay, or to their children, and no desire to see them cut out of each other’s lives right at those times of life when they should not be, such as Brenda described. Obviously my point in my original post was to say that there are many issues which impact families, and many issues which impact human lives, and we cannot just act like only abortion or gay marriage matter for life or for family. I am not sucking up when I say that stuff. That’s where I am coming from. I do not like the approach of either party on lots of issues. I continue to hope to find a way to be engaged that is a different way, a third way maybe. I am theologically conservative as I often feel I need to say before I say something that may seem contrary to the stereotype, but do seek real on the ground solutions to problems and issues we all face together. Hey, another thing we may agree on – what is up with Clemson?