A monumental development for the pro-family movement came recently in Geneva when the Human Rights Council approved a resolution calling for countries to take concrete steps to protect the family, described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society.”
This is the second such resolution at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in two years, following two decades in which the family has been treated as highly controversial at the UN. In 2014, the HRC passed a resolution on the protection of the family by a vote of 26 in favor, 14 against, 6 abstentions, and one member absent. This year’s resolution enjoyed an increased majority: 29 in favor, 14 against, and 4 abstentions.
The resolution urges countries to adopt family-friendly laws and policies, while recognizing that the family unit faces “increasing vulnerabilities,” and calls upon international organizations to give “due consideration” to the family in the establishment of the post-2015 global development agenda.
The resolution notes that the family is “the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children,” and that while the State is responsible for protecting the human rights of all, “the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children.”
Both recent resolutions received strong opposition from states and organizations with a pro-“sexual rights” position on the basis that they might be used to “advance highly contentious family values and family-oriented policies,” according to a statement by the group Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI), which exists to promote the extremely contentious notion of “sexual rights” within international institutions.
The most contentious aspect of the resolution involved the definition of the family, which is not explicitly outlined. The 2014 resolution was described by the European Parliament’s LGBT intergroup as “non-inclusive,” as “the reference to a singular ‘family’ could be used as precedent to oppose rights for same-sex couples, single parents, and other forms of families.” During last week’s debate, South Africa proposed a narrowly rejected amendment calling for a text acknowledging that in different contexts, “various forms of the family exist.”
Egypt introduced the resolution, and said it imposed no specific definition and left the matter of defining the family to the discretion of member states. The text acknowledges the diversity of households by noting “single-headed households, child-headed households and intergenerational households are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion.” The resolution also pays particular attention to families with disabled members, calling upon states to ensure they receive adequate support.
In the same week the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the U.S., which voted against the resolution in the HRC, expressed disappointment that it “failed to recognize the diversity of families” – not content to allow fellow countries the opportunity to define the family in accordance with their own values.
The phrase “various forms of the family” is not neutral: in April the HRC Working Group on discrimination against women published a report explicitly including “families comprising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons” and “self-created and self-defined families” among its various iterations.
As the Vice-President of the LGBT Intergroup said last year: “It should not be up to an accidental majority of states to define what does and what does not constitute a family.” That declaration cuts both ways.