VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The continuing strength of many traditional families around the world and the longing of many people to have such a family demonstrate that “despite past or even current challenges, the family, in fact, is the fundamental unit of human society,” said the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council June 24, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the family “continually exhibits a vigor much greater than that of the many forces that have tried to eliminate it as a relic of the past or an obstacle to the emancipation of the individual or to the creation of a freer, egalitarian and happy society.”

Speaking just two days before the Vatican was to release the working document for October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, the archbishop emphasized how important traditional families are for the development of the individual and for community development efforts.

Debates about “the nature and definition of the family” at the Human Rights Council and other U.N. agencies often give the impression that “the family is more of a problem than a resource to society,” the archbishop said. Yet “most people find unique protection, nurture and dynamic energy from their membership in a strong and healthy family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman.”

And at a time when many countries are debating same-sex marriage, he said, “ample evidence has demonstrated that the best interest of the child is assured in a harmonious family environment in which the education and formation of children develop within the context of lived experience with both male and female parental role models.”

The Vatican, he said, firmly believes “the family and marriage need to be defended and promoted not only by the state, but also by the whole of society.”