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The Right Kind of Family By Kay Sutherland and Andrea Meditch Austin This July, delegates from Texas and other states west of the Mississippi will assemble in Los Angeles for a major convention of the White House Conference on Families. The purpose will be to make recommendations to federal policymakers on nothing less than the shape and substance of the American family. If you had not heard of this event, many of your neighbors had, especially those who tend to be conservative enough to receive, through church groups and other organizations, the propaganda of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. The Eagle Forum has worked hard in Texas and elsewhere, and that’s why the role model of the family envisioned in Los Angeles is likely to reflect the “traditional” view of less than 16 percent of the country’s population. This is how it happened. In 1978, President Carter created the White House Conference on Families “to examine the strengths of American families, the difficulties they face and the ways in which family life is affected by public policies.” The Conference was to be predicated on community hearings across the country culminating in three national conventions to be held at roughly the same time in the East, Midwest and West and consisting of delegates chosen from participating states. In theory, the Conference was to draw “the widest possible citizen involvement.” Instead of relying on “expert” advice, the community level meetings were intended to attract all kinds of parents with different problems, opposing opinions and varied solutions. It didn’t quite happen that way. In Texas, the fight for control of the delegation to be sent to the Los Angeles convention produced volatile rhetoric, hard feelings and in-fighting matching Kay Sutherland and Andrea Meditch are researchers for the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory and close followers of the White House Conference on Families. anything the political primaries have offered. The results were a smashing victory for the Schlafly/conservative women’s groups, arrogantly self-described as Pro-Family, who picked up all but a handful of the 85-member Texas delegation, including a rigidly conservative group of 60 delegates appointed by Gov. William Clements Jr. \(25 other delegates were chosen by a lottery system and two Jonathan Hole, the governor’s liaison for the Conference, described the Texas delegation as “conservative on the family, in line with the governor’s position.” Hole said the make-up reflected the views of the some 3,500 persons who had responded to the five community forums held in Texas. “Those responding did not rule out the single parent family, foster family or extended family,” said Hole. “They did, however, say that alternative life styles as legitimate family units should have no standing in legislation or court interpretations.” Polly Sowell, Texas volunteer coordinator of the Conference, put it stronger: “A huge, enormous majority were anti-abortion, anti-ERA. They want no government support of alternative lifestyles.” Hole said the governor weighted the slate toward the conservatives because of their saturation at the community meetings. “If they organize that much, the governor felt they deserved to be appointed,” Hole said. Elsewhere in the nation the story is similar. Schlafly conservatives took 22 of 24 delegates in Virginia and all eight in Oklahoma, for example. At the Texas forums in Dallas, Houston, San Marcos, Weslaco and Lubbock emotions ran high. Each speaker was given five minutes to present “two problems and one solution.” Pro-Family supporters dominated attendance at four of the forums \(passing up the poorly atThe sense of national organization of the Eagle Forum pervaded the meetings: Pro-Family speakers were well rehearsed, used similar language and covered the same topics. Their remarks possibly were based on tapes previously recorded by Pro-Family advocates for the Oklahoma meetings. These tapes have been distributed through women’s church groups and local organizations before each Texas forum. Extracts from several Pro-Family speakers at the Feb. 26 meeting in San Marcos reveal a marked insularity of view. First, a representative from the Atascosa County Chapter of the ProFamily Forum: “We cannot allow government to destroy our great and blessed Christian heritage. Restructuring the existing institutions seems to be the goal of the feminists. All these resolutions are based on the premise that the federal government is the answer to everyone’s personal problems, but this premise has never worked. “To give children all adult rights is to burden their immature and inexperienced minds with responsibilities of making judgments and decisions which are difficult for most adults to make. If you believe in God-given parental rights, then you must rise up and complain before it’s too late. We need a spiritual revolution in our country.” Another Pro-Family spokeswoman, representing “Citizens for God, Family and Country”: “How is the Christian community to relate to an institution \(the child to value the philosophy of those who murder babies, to value the philosophy of those who condone suicide, homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, mercy-killing and so forth? “The goals for public education in Texas encourage each student to become evaluators and instructors to decide which values or whose values they wish to accept or reject. The Christian philosophy teaches that whatever is said and done should be pleasing to the Lord. Yet THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9