State Representative Steven Thayn of Emmett is not shy about painting a nostalgic picture of how he thinks families in Idaho ought to work—think "Leave It to Beaver" on steroids. Thayn is also not shy about sharing his views on how that should be achieved—mandating it through legislation. But there are a couple of things he has been shy about revealing.
For one, he hasn't told the truth about domestic violence, a crime Thayn suggests is caused by a breakdown in the traditional family structure. In fact reports show that approximately one in every two incidents of intimate partner violence in Idaho are committed by a spouse.
For another, he hasn't revealed information showing that his family, held up as a paragon of family virtue, is not exactly what he has portrayed it to be. Earlier this year, his own son was arrested for domestic violence against his wife. In fact the arrest came just about the time Thayn was being named to head the Idaho Legislature's Family Task Force.
The fifty-three-year-old Republican was appointed by House Speaker Lawerence Denney (R-Midvale) to head the Family Task Force interim committee whose charge is, "To study the magnitude of the decline of the family since 1950; the effects the decline has had on state social policies; the reasons for the decline, and ways to strengthen the family."
Never mind that the six member committee composed of five Republicans and one Democrat averages just 49 years of age, with just two members who are likely old enough to have any concrete memories of the fifties. The others' memories of the decade are largely those of diaper-clad toddlers or are gleaned from other sources. And never mind that the nostalgic family of the fifties was elusive even then.
But why stop at the fifties? Surely the "erosion of the family" began long before poodle skirts, bobby socks and peddle pushers went out of fashion. Why not return Idaho to the pre-WWII era, before women were encouraged to "free a man to fight," got a taste of independence and never went back to the kitchen. Heck while we're at it, why not return to the era before women were allowed to sully themselves with messy things like politics and voting. Perhaps the late 1800s would be ideal, when the "rule of thumb" was still legal; a man could "discipline" his wife provided the stick used was no bigger around than his thumb.
But for now, it's off to the fifties. So to which part of the fifties would they like to return? To a time when, according to a Gallup poll, 62 percent of Americans considered it unacceptable—not inappropriate or unadvised—unacceptable for a girl to phone a boy, 50 percent supported Joseph McCarthy even as the Senate was condemning him, 94 percent of white Americans opposed interracial marriage and a large percentage suggested that a top field of study for aspiring women was home economics.
Maybe they'd like to return to the time when that tiny little bit of a scandal was rocking Idaho and the nation. Or how about the family friendly "good old days" when domestic violence was considered a private matter and wives couldn't even take out a restraining order on an abusive husband. That wouldn't change until over 20 years later.
Based on obviously idealized, romanticized and largely fictionalized accounts of the fifties, the task force was assigned to study returning Idaho society to this perceived golden-age for families. As the Idaho Statesman recently reported, Thayn's proposals include "repealing no-fault divorce laws and finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their children," hoping to reverse, as Thayn sees it, "the breakdown of the traditional family structure" which he claims is "the root of societal ills such as drug abuse, crime and domestic violence."
What Thayn isn't telling you about domestic violence, because either he doesn't know or he doesn't want you to know, is that in Idaho most domestic violence crimes are committed by a spouse. The Idaho State Police Statistical Analysis Center did a study on Intimate Partner Violence from 1998-2005. A chart from that report is shown below [click to enlarge].
Averaging the percentages over the eight years studied shows that 44.5 percent of these crimes are committed by a spouse, 36.6 percent by a boy/girlfriend, 11.6 percent by a common-law spouse, 6.4 percent by an ex-spouse and 0.5 percent by a same-sex partner. [Actually if the task force was really interested in reducing domestic violence, it appears that encouraging same-sex relationships would be beneficial, but I digress.]
Even when looking at the numbers as a percentage of the population, these statistics do not show that marriage is a factor in reducing domestic violence or that divorce is a contributing factor in its increase. Married couple families in Idaho comprise about 56 percent of the population over the age of 15 according to 2006 estimated population data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2005, 51.8 percent of the intimate partner violent crimes were committed by a spouse or common-law spouse (we have combined the two since census data does not distinguish common law from licensed marriages), a number approximately equal to their percentage of the population.
These numbers are a good indication that being married does not lessen the incidence of intimate partner violence and encouraging couples to marry or stay married isn't going to solve it. In fact encouraging these couples to remain married, whether by eliminating no-fault divorce or other means, can be potentially dangerous or even deadly. Society has spent decades trying to convince battered women (and men) to leave their violent spouses. Some of the task force's proposals will only hinder that effort.
The other thing Steven Thayn isn't telling you about domestic violence is that his plan to combat it doesn't work. His assertions that crimes like domestic violence could be prevented if families would just follow his "traditional family" example—moms staying home with the kids and preferably home-schooling them—doesn't make sense when you learn that Thayn's own son, who was home-schooled for a time, was arrested on a domestic violence charge earlier this year.
Damon Mathias Thayn, the then-twenty-eight-year-old son of Steven Thayn, was arrested by Boise police and booked into the Ada County Jail on April 4, 2007, charged with domestic battery against his wife. Court documents show that he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, paid court costs and a fine and attended anger management classes.
This information and Steven Thayn's unwillingness to disclose it calls into question his competency to make judgments about the parenting abilities of others. In spite of that, the issue isn't whether or not you agree with him and the Family Task Force on what constitutes an ideal Idaho family. The issue is whether a government ought to be in the business of elevating the status of some above the status of others based solely on whether or not they fit into a predetermined family model.
Our government, founded on the principles of equality and self-determination, has a duty to intrude on the rights of individuals as infrequently as possible. This includes allowing individuals the free-agency to determine what is in their own best interests, not subjecting them to the whims of legislators wishing to enforce a state-mandated "best" family model.