It’s time to take the “Family Values” mantle away from people who use it as a cudgel against those who don’t see eye to eye with them. No longer can we allow people to identify as “pro-family” while they champion policies that hurt the actual human beings in those families.
When you control the language, you control the issues. Republicans have speciously called themselves “pro-family” for so long it feels tribal. The rules are simple: If you are “moral” then you must be “pro-life” and “anti-gay,” and by default that makes you a Republican—and that gives you license to set up hierarchies of people, allowing you to discriminate while still calling yourself “moral.” It’s a sham and a con, but Tennessee is still in its grips.
News Flash! Tennesseans do not live in a world where nobody’s gay, where’s nobody’s transgender, where women don’t need abortions, where people don’t have sex outside of marriage, where people of color are treated fairly, where everybody can afford health care, where immigrants don’t enrich communities, and where children don’t need much. But listening to our representatives in Nashville and Washington, you’d think we do.
In Nashville they’ve been mulling over bills that would cast our LGBTQ neighbors as second-class citizens: jeopardizing their marriages, parental status, and civil rights. They’ve threated bills to further restrict abortion access, endangering women and handicapping physicians. They’ve talked seriously about allowing guns everywhere.
Up in Washington, where they could be passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship, they are content to watch the horror show of breaking up families. And since they failed to tell the truth about the benefits to the Affordable Care Act a long time ago, they are now forced to choose between taking a political hit or taking away people’s health insurance. All the while they remain silent as the greedy, narcissistic, bullying, racist, sexual predator they elevated to the White House condemns a generation of refugees to misery and death in the name of “national security.” And they’re the ones pretending to be “pro-family?”
For too long, progressives have ceded to the “religious” right the habit of grounding issues in moral language, particularly regarding reproductive decisions. The Orwellian claim to family values starts with sex and feeds on banning abortion. That’s the mother lode, the golden egg, the biggest lie of all. Try sending an email to Sen. Lamar Alexander—first you have to choose a subject line from a list that includes: Pro-life and Family Values. As if one has anything to do with the other.
“Pro-life” never has meant pro-life, only forced-birth. Despite propaganda disseminated by craven opportunists, no one is “pro-abortion.” No one needs an abortion. Until she does. And unless you’ve been in those shoes, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Abortion can be safe and legal or dangerous and illegal. That’s the choice. Women who object to abortion need never have one, but they should be careful about the power they hand to the state. Any state that can force a woman to give birth against her will can turn around and force her to abort.
“Pro-lifers” often fundamentally misunderstand the science behind pregnancy. They discount the importance and limitations of birth control. They deny the irresponsibility of abstinence-only sex-ed. They propagate lies about “babies yanked out of wombs” or the “selling of fetal tissue.” They seize on one story to represent all women while silencing the voices of women whose experiences don’t mesh with their beliefs. In the Texas Legislature, “pro-lifers” claimed they were “saving babies” when they cut funding to reproductive health clinics. What they got instead was a doubling of maternal deaths in just two years. We simply can no longer allow people like Sen. Alexander to get away with conflating “pro-family” with “pro-life.”
No one gets to be “pro-life” by ignoring the needs of actual children, dismissing the plight of refugees, or discounting the danger of environmental degradation. No one can yack, yack, yack about how guns don’t kill people, people kill people, so “it’s a mental-health issue,” while cutting mental-health funding. Pro-gun, forced birth, anti-LGBTQ, anti-labor, anti-universal healthcare, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-government (except when tax dollars enrich your buddies who own charter schools and private prisons): These are not family values. These are the values of extremists who want to reshape our communities to fit their own vision without looking to see who lives here. Who are the families? Favoring one kind over another is not pro-family.
“Family values” means fostering an environment that supports all families: a living wage; child-care access; paid family leave; health-care access; a robust and truly fair public educational system; universal pre-K; comprehensive sex-ed; access to safe, legal birth control and abortion; clean water; clean air; protection from gun violence; protection from discrimination based on (but not limited to) gender, skin color, nationality, religion, sexual preference, gender identity, income, disability, and educational level.
(For clarification, protection from religious discrimination does not mean using religion to single out people to discriminate against. If treating gay people like second-class citizens is a “Christian value,” it’s not one Jesus would have recognized. Lots of people manage to practice their religion without taking over the public square.)
Words matter. Blathering about bootstraps, “freedom,” and sexual purity doesn’t help families. You can’t eat an abstract idea. Or pay a medical bill. Or obtain birth control. It’s time for progressives to take our language back, to use our voices to stand up and say, loud and proud: Progressive values are pro-family and pro-life. Most importantly, they are the values that sustain and advance human rights.
With Much Ado, Catherine Landis examines how political decisions and social trends affect the lives of the people around her. She is particularly interested in issues concerning feminism, civil rights, education, the environment, and immigration reform. A former newspaper reporter, she has published two novels, Some Days There’s Pie (St. Martin’s Press) and Harvest (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press). She lives in Knoxville.
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