Jewish World Review June 23, 2005/ 16 Sivan,
For whom the wedding bells toll?
"The Future of
Not so long ago, such questions would have been raised only in a
science fiction tale. Not anymore. They're questions seriously discussed in
college classrooms, advocacy seminars and in forums to challenge lawyers,
judges and policymakers. The idea is to change family law as we know it.
Marriage is targeted for deconstruction.
From the time that America was a colony, the marriage model was
governed by law, culture and traditions flowing from the Judeo-Christian
religious ideal. Marriage was specifically a social institution designed for
the protection of children. The law wasn't perfect, suffering the flaws of
humanity, but the law was clear and well intentioned. The law defined
rights, responsibilities and punishment and shaped a shared sense of
obligation in private and social conduct on behalf of children. We made
changes in the law from time to time, but we never dropped our concern for
the offspring of marriage.
That was then. "Family law today appears to be embracing a big
new idea," writes Daniel Cere, a professor of ethics at McGill University in
Canada and the principal investigator for an inquiry into the future of
family law, the conclusions of which are published by the Institute for
American Values, a non-partisan organization in New York City dedicated to
strengthening families and civil society. "The idea is that marriage is only
a close personal relationship between adults," he says, "and no longer a
pro-child social institution." (The report is available at
Influential advocates from politically correct academic and
legal organizations sneer at traditional marriage as another bad example of
"ethnocentric" thinking that promotes "old-fashioned ideological
stereotypes." These advocates accuse the law of dismissing "diversity." By
diversity they mean the experience of racial minorities, women, single
parents, divorced and remarried persons, gays, and lesbians. A large body of
social science and psychological data demonstrate that not all forms of
parenthood are equally child-friendly, but these advocates say that's merely
a point of view to be replaced by "close relationship" law.
In "close relationship" law there's a moral equivalence between
marriage and cohabitation what society once derided as "living together."
There's ample research to show that mere cohabitation to produce children
creates a less stable environment for them than marriage. In "close
relationship" law, a "partner" is the equal of a "parent" and conjugal
marriage morphs into the generic neutrality of "coupledom." In "close
relationship" law, marriage is just another "lifestyle choice" along with
other economically and emotionally interdependent relationships comprising a
kind of "family buddy system."
If this sounds far-fetched, fetch again. This reports shows how
"close relationship" law moves in mysterious ways and often gets imbedded in
law incrementally, without debate, because it operates under the public
radar. The report cites secular chapter and verse where the legal formality
of marriage is in danger of being replaced by other relationships described
in mushy language as "indistinguishable from marriage." The result of such
thinking undercuts the notion that a mother and a father should be the
standard for measuring the best interests of a child, even if honored in the
Through thick and thin (or even thin and thin), for better and for worse, marriage as an institution continues to define public norms that shape public attitudes and personal expectations. We ought to keep it that way. Philosophers from John Locke to John Rawls emphasize the importance of conjugal marriage for democratic society, and most of us understand that children do best with a mother and a father. So before we start tampering with our respect for traditional marriage, we should pay heed to what we know that works. If we don't want to do that for our selfish selves, we must do it for the sake of the children.
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