"The Family and Freedom of Speech"

Address to the World Congress of Families by Rev. Dr. Mark Durie - 30/08/2014

I am very honoured to be speaking here today and have the greatest respect for Babette Francis, and for those who have come to brave the aggressive and violent protestors outside the gates.
Bettina Arndt rightly pointed out this week in the Australian that, on average, according to an overwhelming amount of research, the best type of family for a child to be reared in - best for the child, that is - is one where the natural father and mother are married. She reports three kinds of research into three kinds of families:

  1. Families with single parents tend to result in poorer outcomes for children.
  2. Step families are also not ideal:  she writes "The real surprise that emerged from all this research was that children of separated mothers who remarried didn't fare any better, even though these families were less likely to be in poverty. Children in step-families are just as much at risk of a range of adverse outcomes as children in single-parent homes." 
  3. Children brought up by de facto couples also have been shown to have comparatively poorer outcomes.

Researchers have compared the impact of poverty with that of family structure on child outcomes, and again and again they found that poverty or wealth itself - while important - could not overturn the impact of family structure. Even when children are raised in comfort, their outcomes are worse if they are not raised by two married parents.

The impact of less than optimal family structures hits the poor and disadvantaged particularly hard. It is now accepted in the US that the most urgent issue to address in relation to African American disadvantage is family structure. As President Obama said: "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison." The story of worsening African American disadvantage in the US during the 20th century is the story of the collapse of family structures.

Because an overwhelming body of research shows that being brought up by married biological parents is such an advantage, Arndt agrees with British family law judge Paul Coleridge that society should be concerned about the massive rise in numbers of children born out of wedlock. She says "it should be a matter of public concern when more than one in three Australian children is now born to single or unmarried parents."

The percentage of births outside marriage in Australia was stable at around 5-6% for the first 60 years of the 20th century, but since the early 1960's this figure has risen sharply to its current level of over 35%. That is approximiately a seven-fold increase. The 90's saw the most dramatic increase: this was the decade when the children born after the start of the sexual revolution (c. 1960 on) were, in their turn, having their children.

I was struck by media commentary this week by opponents of this conference. Kerry Davies, from the Council of Single Mothers and their Children said that this conference wants to take society back "hundreds of years" to an era of dark oppression.. On the scale of backwardness vs progress, the United Kingdom is more advanced than Australia: there the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers is nudging 50%.  And it is not just what children are born into.

Writing in The Independent, Jennifer Cockerel reported that 45% of children in the UK will experience a breakup of their parents' relationship before they reach the age of 16,  due to the trend away from marriage and the greater likelihood that unmarried couples' relationships will break down.

Bettina Arndt reflects on the astounding hostility among intellectuals, public media and policy makers towards the traditional family structure of a married man and woman raising their own biological children, during what US author Kay Hymnowitz has called "Forty-plus years of lies." She rightly points out that Cory Bernardi has been subjected to a tirade of abuse for reporting poorer outcomes for children in his book The Conservative Revolution. As Arndt notes, Cory Bernardi's comments on sole-parent families were sensible and based on evidence, mentioning higher rates of mental health disorders, more exposure to abuse and neglect, higher levels of criminality and promiscuity.

Of course this denial ends up being a failure of compassion. To fight aggressively against the idea that stable marriages and shared parenting is good for children is to manifest what is in effect contempt for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the vulnerable. African Americans have suffered greatly from the long ideological campaign against the family fought by the white elites of that nation. Now at last the 'forty plus years of lies' seem to be waning there, while Australian public debates are still stuck in the dark ages of obscurantist, ideologically driven hate-speech.

Let me be absolutely clear that nothing I have said here is intended to denigrate those individuals who raise their children with care and devotion in non-standard families. To report that step-fathering is not, on average, as good or as safe for children as biological fathering is not a slur on individual step-fathers or their families. Here the language of victimhood and demonization has reached a fever pitch in our nation.

If one rationally and calmly points out the results of a large number of research programs that show that girls are more likely to be sexually abused - according to some studies up to 20 times more likely - by step-fathers than biological fathers, this is not a slur on all step-fathers, any more than it is a slur on all sports coaches to point out that some coaches have abused their students.

What is most interesting to me about Arndt's article is the Why question: Why is our society so resistant to the idea that marriage makes a difference to children's well-being? Why has there been an ideological assault on the family? And why the visceral fear of facts. The facto-phobia. The Western Australian Child Health Survey staff 'shuddered' Arndt said, when they received a phone message from her to inquire about their findings that family type influenced child mental health.

Consider the visceral hatred and vilification. Witness the recent newspaper reports about this conference, littered with abusive terms like 'hard right', Islamophobic, 'hate-filled', 'disgusting', 'terrifying'. Some of these slurs are found in the mouths of critics, but others are in the mouths of the reporters themselves. Debbie Brennan, spokeswoman for Radical Women, commented that "the violence that ever comes, comes from the other side. We do have to take into account that the World Congress of Families and the far right generally are violent people." Having coming onto this premises today, I have observed that the aggression, abuse and hate is all outside the doors.

Arndt suggests an answer in the political left's long-held and bitter antipathy to the 'bourgeois' notions of the family and marriage.The Communist Manifesto of 1848 opposed both institutions. 'The bourgeois family' - it said - 'will vanish as a a matter of course.' But no, not as a matter of course. To achieve this end requires hard work. When the Communist Manifesto speaks of things 'vanishing' this is a euphemism for a mandate to destruction. Marriage was to vanish in the same way that dissenters 'vanished', that is to say, by deliberate intention and acts.

I am reminded of what happened in the grand experiment of post-revolutionary Russia, after the communist party declared the family to be in need of a good shake-up and instituted laws which removed constraints on divorce, abortion and remarriage, and abolished all legal distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children. By the 1920's the nation had  vast numbers of homeless children, or besprizornye 'unattended' ones, who turned to crime, delinquency, drugs and prostitution in their millions (they constituted around 5% of the total Russian population at the time). One researcher found that of girls 15 and under among the homeless, over 80% had engaged in prostitution. Russian artists of that period produced haunting paintings of these children.

While the revolution, civil war, the first world war and famine contributed to this epidemic of parentlessness, the deliberate dismantling of the Russian family by communist authorities was also a major contributing factor. The grim outcome of this vast social experiment was reported in The Atlantic in 1926. By that time a proposal to finally eliminate the distinction between marriage and cohabitation was meeting with unexpected opposition from ordinary citizens who were appalled at the consequences of the breakdown of marriage. Later the Soviet authorities reversed their family policies, to address the resulting catastrophic breakdown of social structures.

Today in Australia we are suffering from a soft revolution, long slow and drawn-out in its assault on the family. The wake-up call to ordinary Australians ought to be the dramatic rise of children born outside of marriage, year after year for the past 40 years. That is, unless you believe, head planted firmly in the sands against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the traditional family, built around a marriage between a man and a woman, is a retrograde structure which deserves to die the death of a thousand cuts. This idea has become mainstream among the elites. It is fashionable to decry it as an instrument of oppression, and support for the family is enough to make you a 'hard right' person, an epitome of all that is hated, feared and despised.

Vilification means declaring someone to be vile. This is exactly what is being attempted against supporters of the family, such as the World Congress of Families. This leads me to the issue I wish to focus on here: that of freedom of speech and the family. In the name of tolerance, an aggressive and threatening campaign is being waged in our society to shut down those who wish to affirm the value of the time-honoured family structure of a married man and woman raising their own children. There is a pattern here, which is not limited to debates about the family. This is to shout down, threaten, vilify and abuse those whose views you disagree with. By all means call them 'hard right' as well. The battle for ideas must be won, it seems, not be reasoned debate, but by slander and shouting.

I do commend Kevin Andrews for his original intention to speak at this forum. He was absolutely right when he said that the left, instead of arguing their case in the public arena, seeks to shut down the debate. They long for the ease of a world in which there is but one voice to be heard on certain issues. At the same time, I do respect his decision not at attend an event where the venue is being associated with an opposing political party. That it came to this, that other venues were cancelled, is a reflection of the fear and intimidation which opponents to this event have been able to stir up in the wider community.

It is telling that it is not only conservatives who are targeted in the witch-hunt public intellectual culture of 21st century Australia. Professor Sheila Jeffries, a prominent lesbian theorist and academic at Melbourne University, has criticized transgender surgery as 'an extension of the beauty industry' and called 'transsexualism' a violation of human rights. The New Yorker recently reported that her 2014 book which addresses this issue 'Gender Hurts: A feminist analysis of the politics of transgenderism' could not be launched, as had been her custom, with an event at Melbourne University, because campus security warned against it. Much as the police have presumably warned venues about this event today. The New Yorker has also reported that Professor Jeffreys has taken her name off her office-door, and a recent talk in London was 'invitation-only' - the implication being that this was for security reasons.

A previous book by Jeffreys, "Man's Dominion: the rise of religion and the eclipse of women's rights", was launched in November 2011 at a public event held in the John Medley building at the University of Melbourne. This book criticizes both Christianity and Islam for rising assaults on women's rights around the world. It seems that campus security did not have an issue with this event, and Christian and Islamic communities are more tolerant of her work than the transgender community. The really disturbing thing is that as a society we seem to tolerate this kind of abuse, and threats of violence. Why is it so - this is a question that we as a society, at every level, need to engage with, as a matter of urgency.

Freedom of speech is a precious gift, an inheritance from our forebears. It was hard-won, and at great cost.