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Home > Culture and Society

Happy Families

18 January 2004

President Bush is set to give a big wet presidential kiss to the institution of marriage in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.

According to the New York Times:

For months, administration officials have worked with conservative groups on the proposal, which would provide at least $1.5 billion for training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain "healthy marriages."

The NY Times reports a comment from Republican insider Ronald T. Haskins: "A lot of conservatives are very pleased with the healthy marriage initiative."

Pleased enough to give them his vote, hopes Bush. Liberal commentator John Baer, from the Philadelphia Daily News, is surely right to see the initiative as the vote-grubbing cousin of the Spirit mission to Mars:

Gay marriage and space travel are election-year diversions. They distract attention from a jobless recovery and the fact we're still stuck in Iraq. They drive a wedge where W. wants one, between open-minded voters eager to hear about issues actually affecting their lives and doctrinaire doorknobs eager to turn whichever way there's noise. Stop the gays! Fly to Mars! Is this what America should be talking about?

But more importantly, should the Republicans really be bandying about this dangerous word: “healthy”? The word “healthy” has such an unpleasant resonance...

The first thing to observe about the “healthy marriages” initiative is that, rightly or wrongly, it is an explicitly pro-heterosexual policy. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network News (CBN):

Bush officials say marriage promotion funds would only be available to heterosexual couples. The move, hoped to shore up Bush's conservative base, is not enough for some conservatives who are urging the President to call for a constitutional amendment that defends traditional marriage and bans same-sex unions. Bush is winning support from a southern conservative, Georgia Democrat Zell Miller. The retiring Senator says he will campaign for Bush, which could solidify his hold on the South.

A good solid male-female marriage is one of the ideological cornerstones of the American right. The ‘Statement of Principles’ of the Marriage Movement declares:

We believe that America must strengthen marriages and families.... Strong marriages are a vital component to building strong families and raising healthy, happy, well-educated children. Fighting together against the forces that undermine family values and creating a national culture that nurtures and encourages marriage and good family life must be at the heart of this great nation's public policy.

We have heard this rhetoric of strength (strong families, family values...) somewhere before. The unholy trinity of healthiness, national greatness, and the family were the gods of Nazism:

“The young and healthy are on our side.... We must build a nation healthy to the core, robust in its menfolk and absolutely feminine in its women.”

- Adolf Hitler

Please note: we are not equating President Bush with Hitler, or suggesting that Bush would advocate the death penalty for homosexuals, we are simply pointing out the dangers lurking in talk of 'healthiness'.

The Nazis loved health. Clear eyes and straight backs. Strong lungs and tops-off wrestling. Nazi theorist, Ernst Haeckel, praised the Spartan custom of exposing newly born infants to the elements – killing all but the “perfectly healthy and strong children” and that Germany should do likewise – for doing so was “of advantage to both the infants destroyed and to the community.”

The Nazis loved the family:

happy_family.jpg

'Farm Family from Kahlenberg' (1939) by Nazi artist Adolph Wissel.

In 1934, German women were told the Ten Commandments for the choice of a spouse (note again, in Commandment #2, the alignment of marriage and health):

1. Remember that you are a German.
2. If you are genetically healthy you should not remain unmarried.
3. Keep your body pure.
4. You should keep your mind and spirit pure.
5. As a German choose only a spouse of the same or Nordic blood.
6. In choosing a spouse ask about his ancestors.
7. Health is also a precondition for physical beauty.
8. Marry only for love.
9. Don't look for a playmate but for a companion for marriage.
10. You should want to have as many children as possible.

In 1939, three million German women were awarded a medal for having four or more children.

And the flip side of this worship of the family? The relentless persecution of homosexuals. On May 14th, 1928, the Nazi Party issued their offical statement on homosexuality:

Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy.

Homosexuality was a weakness, an abnormality.

“Particular attention should be addressed to homosexuality, which is clearly expressive of a disposition opposed to the normal national community.”

- Reich Legal Director Hans Frank in 1938.

This would all be ancient history, irrelevant to the 2004 presidential elections, if this idea, that homosexuality is a 'deviance' - an 'abnormality' - were not still pervasive in right wing thinking (particularly the thinking of the American Christian right). Cast your mind back to the Bishop Robinson debacle...

www.lnreview.co.uk/hi/world/000016.php

The word “healthy” urgently requires reclaiming. As Peri Jude Radecic of the NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) said on ABC’s Nightline: "Homosexuality is not an illness, it is not something that needs to be cured. We are normal, natural and healthy people."

This is why the word 'healthy' in the 'healthy marriages' initiative is so dangerous. It suggests that 'healthiness' is the preserve of the heterosexual union - and the war for a morally 'healthy' society is not something that we want to see being waged again.




Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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