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Jewish World Review July 18, 2001 / 27 Tamuz, 5761

Paul Campos

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When 'Love Child' meant something completely different

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IF he fathers another child during the next five years, David Oakley is going back to prison. Oakley, who has fathered nine children by four different women, has already spent a year in jail for failing to pay $25,000 in child support. Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the terms of the remainder of his six-year sentence, which was suspended on the condition that he not have any more children during the suspension.

Interestingly, the four men on the court voted to uphold this sentence, while all three women justices dissented, on the grounds that having children is "a basic human right." It would be nice if not being stuck with a father like Oakley could be a basic human right, too, but apparently even the American legal system recognizes some limits to its declaratory powers.

On the same day Oakley was being threatened with prison if he continues to burden the state of Wisconsin with his offspring, it was announced that tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are expecting a child. Graf and Agassi aren't married, but child support is unlikely to become an issue in their particular case (the couple just bought a $23 million property in San Francisco).

From a libertarian perspective, there are no grounds for disapproving of Agassi's and Graf's decision to have a child out of wedlock. With tens of millions of dollars at their respective disposals, the rearing of their child will never require public assistance, even if the happy couple should find themselves less happy at some future date.

Considered together, these two apparently unrelated stories reveal the limitations of the libertarian mindset. Since our society can no longer stomach the idea of simply allowing the children of the poor to starve, public provision must be made for the innocent offspring of the feckless Oakley and his equally irresponsible paramours.

Naturally, those whose tax dollars are committed to paying for the consequences of reproductive recklessness demand that measures be enacted to deter Oakley and his harem from continuing in the same vein. Hence the imposition of criminal sanctions for fathering children without supporting them: An innovation that strict libertarians must deplore, but which is surely preferable to abandoning these children to the vagaries of "the market."

Given this, we can begin to see why it is wrong for celebrities to choose to have children out of wedlock. Quite simply, they are setting a bad example -- the kind of example for which all of us (and especially the children of people like Oakley) eventually pay.

No society can function well without a fairly high level of repression. A generation ago, the deep stigma attached to out-of-wedlock birth kept the illegitimacy rate approximately six times lower than it is today. That stigma is captured well by the brilliant Supremes song Love Child:

Started my life in an old cold run-down tenement slum;
My father left, he never even married Mom,
I shared the guilt my momma knew:
So ashamed that others knew I had no name.

Love Child was a chart-topping hit in the fall of 1968. Today, the song is as dated as a Gregorian chant. In particular, the idea that an inner-city child might consider it unusual -- let alone shameful -- to have been born out of wedlock is weirdly anachronistic. To the contrary, in the contemporary ghetto the child whose parents are actually married is the odd one out.

And not merely in the ghetto: In the celebrity culture Agassi and Graf inhabit getting married before having a child is strictly optional, and even a little quaint. It takes a case like Oakley's to remind us that love still isn't exactly free.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. Comment by clicking here.

Up

06/27/01: The corruption of the critics
06/20/01: McVeigh fired our dark joy of vengeance
06/13/01: Outrageous verdicts are genteel theft
06/07/01: Martin ruling only further handicaps us
05/16/01: The thin line between hero and hated
05/11/01: Nature defies advent of true meritocracy
04/23/01: Being fat is OK
04/04/01: The screams that go unheard
03/28/01: When a day care provider dumps her baby should her liscence be revoked?
03/21/01: While markets are rational, most people are not
03/14/01: Jesse's racialist bluster
02/27/01: Can 673 law professors be hypocrites?
02/21/01: There is a certain irony in all the foaming at the mouth Bubba's latest Excellent Adventure
02/14/01: The Napster thrill
02/08/01: War on drugs worse than drugs
01/31/01: Racial imbalance not always racist

© 2001, Paul Campos