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New Family Voice pushes old values

As he travels around the world, Brigham Young University law professor Richard G. Wilkins sees attacks on the traditional family coming from many sides.

He comes up against groups working to bring about changes in the way families are defined and how they function. There is a need, Wilkins believes, for other groups at the international level to defend the notion of a father and mother working together to rear children."Without strengthening families, without the kind of moral grounding that families give and can pass on from generation to generation, you just don't have a stable society," Wilkins said.

To help the family survive, Wilkins fused the resources of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies to form Family Voice. As a nongovernmental organization (NGO), the new group lobbies various United Nations conferences for family-friendly policies.

"It requires a massive effort on many different fronts to protect the family and to allow parents choices as to how they will educate their children, for example," said Carrie Taylor, a third-year BYU law student who represented NGO Family Voice at a U.N. conference in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this year.

Family Voice monitors U.N. documents for what it considers anti-family language, such as provisions favoring same-sex marriage or policies that may pit women against men or children against their parents.

Some nongovernmental organizations that lobby U.N. ambassadors believe that families perpetuate discrimination against women or oppression of children, so families should be changed or replaced by government, Wilkins said.

However, NGO Family Voice uses "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," a document issued by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the basis for its stance that traditional families serve society best.

It's a position that many in the international community consider obsolete, but it strikes a chord with others. Family Voice representatives have been approached with questions or requests for help from national governments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"The contacts we've made have come to us," said Cory Leonard, co-director of Family Voice. "We've been a magnet. It hasn't been anything we've done. It's who we are. We have something that interests a lot of people."

Wilkins, Leonard, and law school Dean H. Reese Hansen spent 10 days this month in Romania to meet with government officials about ways BYU can help families in Eastern Europe. Possibilities include scholarly exchanges, seminars and a family training and law center.

Family Voice divides its mission into three parts. First, the group advocates families' cause before international governmental bodies. Second, it educates people about the importance of families and the dangers of contemporary attacks on them.

The second objective may be accomplished through the creation of an Internet site or CD-ROM on which Family Voice would post updates about what the United Nations is doing on various social issues, and what resources are available for governments to protect families. It could also take the form of sponsorship of academic conferences and lectures on the family.

Third, NGO Family Voice involves itself in outreach programs that allow direct assistance to the world's families.

"We're not just going to stand around and say, `We ought to have stronger families,' and leave it at platitudes," Wilkins said.

Family Voice hopes to channel resources from groups such as BYU's Benson Agriculture and Food Institute and LDS Charities into areas where people need to learn to dig wells or plant crops, for example.

The group could also coordinate the review of international family law by BYU professors and sponsor seminars dealing with topics such as principles of successful families, helping troubled youths and conflict resolution.

"In some places, what they need is food and clothing," Wilkins said. "In some places what they need is instruction on how to keep their kids out of gangs or off the streets."

Leonard said U.N. ambassadors from many nations "are surprised that there are academics from a university in the United States who stand up (for the traditional family)."

As many as 100 Kennedy Center students and 30 law school students have assisted Family Voice with research and other work. The organization soon will hire a full-time administrator, to be paid by BYU, to take some of the load off Leonard and Wilkins.

Family Voice is seeking U.N. accreditation that would allow it to continue to participate at conferences.