Family values is a phrase which has been misappropriated by US conservatives to refer collectively to their positions on issues related to marriage and reproduction, such as: abortion, sex education, homosexuality and gay marriage.
The phrase itself implies "those values which are reflective of the needs of families in general" or "those values which help to keep families healthy and thriving".
US conservatives usually frame their "family values" in terms of the traditional nuclear family, a patriarchal structure in which a monogamous heterosexual couple in traditional gender roles rear children together. This is headed by the father, who dominates, guides, and rules the family as the head of the household and primary breadwinner. The mother is usually expected to remain in the home to care for the children. If she has a job, it is of lesser importance than childbearing and rearing.
Typically, these positions are promoted and perpetuated as part of a patriarchal socio-religious societal unit that is part of a greater society composed of such units. US conservatives claim to believe that society stands or falls on the maintenance of the traditional nuclear family, and resist every attempt to broaden the definition or change the accepted structure or gender roles thereof.
While it is true that the mainstream of Western society has recently (within the past few hundred years, and especially beginning in the 20th century) come to define "family" in a very specific, limited way, this restriction has prevented or hindered many families (due to their preferred configurations being discouraged or even illegal) and caused the formation of many others that were dysfunctional because the allowed configurations did not meet the needs of one or more members. These "values" are therefore "anti-family" in many ways.
If it could be shown that other forms of family -- be they homosexual, polygamous, or some other format (e.g. Heinlein's line family) -- were harmful to society in some way, then a case might be made for excluding these families from the same benefits as heterosexual-headed families, or even for excluding them from the definition of "family". US conservatives have yet to make such a case, however, and either base their arguments on incorrect data or outright lies (typically about gay marriage) or on the simple presumption that the conclusion is true ("gay marriage is evil, therefore we must prevent gay marriage").
Groups advocating these positions include:
- Family Research Council
- Focus on the Family
- Knights of Columbus (e.g. youtube:0PgjcgqFYP4)
- National Organization for Marriage
- dKosopedia: server unavailable at 2012-11-07 10:40 EST; can't verify if there is an article
The core of the initial text of the "misappropriation" text was written by Wendy Cockcroft in a comment on G+.