Humanist Declaration on the Preservation of Families
A Vision of Families for the Twenty-First Century
Family is at the heart of human life. Our family experiences - as children, parents, partners, or relatives - shape our own lives, and enable us to give meaning and love to the lives of others. In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State." (Article 16, paragraph 3).
All societies have long recognized that the family commitment is not merely biological, but rests on a complex foundation of contract, custom, and emotional commitment. Families have taken many forms - some, we have outgrown. The core of the modern family is two or more individuals who see themselves as a family, and who accept long-term responsibility for one another's health, security, independence, and happiness.
Today, sweeping economic, technological, and cultural changes present new challenges and opportunities to families across the globe. Many groups have reacted to these changes by calling for "a return to traditional family values." The authoritarian measures demanded by these groups undermine the rights of family members and keep families from adapting to their changing needs.
It is time to rescue "family values" from those who would use them to impose personal or state power over others. We, the undersigned, value all families that provide love, fulfillment, and empowerment to their members. To support the families of today and tomorrow, we affirm these principles:
- People must be free to choose their own family structure and roles
without fear of discrimination. This freedom extends beyond conventional
nuclear families to include single-parent families, same-sex partnerships,
and child-free families, and those who remain unmarried or free of
- Consenting adults have the right to marry, without any limitation
based on race, nationality, religion, or sex. Inter-racial, inter-faith,
and same-sex marriage should be given full respect under the law.
Representatives of all religious and nonreligious belief groups, as
well as civil authorities, should have equal authority to conduct
- A marriage of equal partners is the best foundation for personal
growth and family happiness. Marital partners are entitled to equal
rights when deciding to marry, during marriage, and at the dissolution
of marriage. We oppose all attempts to obstruct or reverse the growth
of women's equality and to subordinate women within marriage.
- Family members have the right to be free from mental, physical,
and sexual abuse. Marital rape is a crime, and should be treated accordingly.
- Children are entitled to the loving, competent care they need. Families
that include children should protect their rights when they are young,
and prepare them to be adults able to share in fulfilling personal
relationships, and to enjoy the right of self-determination and the
dignity of contributing usefully to a free society. There is no better
environment than a loving family for raising caring, ethical individuals.
- Adoption and custody decisions serve the best interests of the children
when they are based on families', parents', or caretakers' ability
to provide a safe, loving and enriching environment for the child,
not on whether they conform to traditional or religious models.
- Children have the right to medical care and freedom from harmful
physical treatment. Parents do not have the right to harm children,
whether through abuse, genital mutilation, or other traditional or
religious practices. Neither parents nor anyone else may withhold
vital medical treatment from a child.
- Children have the right to education free from indoctrination. Society
is strengthened by helping educate children and young adults to fulfill
their potential, not arbitrarily limited by the financial circumstances
of their families.
- Birth control and fertility technologies have been among the greatest
benefits in the history of the human family. Used wisely, they strengthen
families by making family relationships a matter of choice. Individuals
must be free to control their own fertility and sexual health, and
should not be denied access to sex education, contraception, prophylactics,
or abortion. We support continuing research on fertility treatments.
We encourage discussion of these issues within families, especially
before times of crisis, and oppose punitive or restrictive
laws that interfere with families and individuals making these decisions.
- Families are not static, nor is the world around them. New medical technologies pose new challenges: By extending human life and health, they enable the elderly and disabled to lead longer, fuller lives, but may require supportive care beyond a family's resources. Global economic changes reach into every household. Rapid technological developments continually change what we must teach our children to equip them for tomorrow's world. Genuine support for families means constantly and flexibly re-examining the relationship between family and society in the lives of free, responsible individuals.
These principles represent the only workable approach to sustaining families in a changing world: we must liberate individuals to create genuinely loving and lasting relationships. When families can provide love and support, they are a fundamental source of happiness for their members, and of values for all of society.
Permission to reprint this article granted to NJHN by the Council for Secular Humanism