by Alexander Sanger
Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body charged with upholding human rights around the world, issued a resolution on the importance of the family in achieving sustainable development.
Despite an attempt by the government of South Africa to insert language that would explicitly recognize same sex marriages in the UN definition of family, the final resolution stated that the “family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.”
We also believe that families are fundamental units of society. We pioneered the introduction of family planning in the Americas and the Caribbean more than 60 years ago. Similarly, we agree that families are entitled to protection by society and that laws don’t stop at the front door of people’s homes: take for example the necessity of laws against gender-based violence and discrimination.
But we don’t believe that any international agreements should or can refer to “the family” in a singular sense. The truth is that there are plenty of female-headed households, as well as families led by grandparents, aunts or uncles, and siblings. The antiquated notion of a family as a woman, man, and children has also been challenged — and successfully won — by the legalization of same sex adoption in countries like Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico. And of course, the recent Supreme Court decision legalization of same sex marriage heralded the transformation of narrow definitions of family in the United States.
Despite these wins, for years, conservative forces have blocked the attempts by advocates and governments to broaden the definition of the family in various United Nations fora, discounting locally grown efforts to promote the rights of all families as a primarily Northern-based agenda. These efforts have not only hurt the progression of thinking at the global level about the various forms that families take, but have effectively led to exclusionary policies and decrees. And in September, the Pope — who has promoted the importance of the family in several for a — is set to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
All families — whether single-parent, chosen, same-sex, childless or traditional — have the same right to protection by the State and the right to pursue happiness and live safely without discrimination, violence and hate.
An individual’s body is their castle, and their individual autonomy and well-being should be respected and protected.