Thursday, September 21, 2006
Realistically Some Diversity of Family Forms must be Accepted Today
Norval Glenn: In defense of marriage
Some legal scholars value freedom over family. That's bad news for children and the future of our society.
09:04 AM CDT on Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Most recent public discussion of the law and marriage has focused on whether there should be same-sex marriage, but the issue of how the law should treat marriage goes far beyond that narrowly focused debate. More fundamental is the question of whether the law should promote and support marriage (possibly including same-sex marriage) or whether it should favor "family diversity" – the view that no family form is superior to any other. To the family diversity advocates, what others consider family fragmentation – including divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing and the consequent weak relationships of fathers with their children – is not a social problem but something to be celebrated. While the "celebration" of family diversity has largely disappeared among social scientists who study families – because research has failed to support it – it has increased among legal scholars.
Maybe ‘celebration’ is the wrong word to use here, since acceptance would be a better one.
Perhaps this difference in dealing with the world by lawyers versus social scientists stems from the different roles each plays in our societies. Legal scholars are ultimately still lawyers and have to deal with the law and the reality of the everyday world we actually live in; whereas a social scientist who only studies families does not. A social scientist can afford to sit around pontificating about the perfect family until kingdom come. Meanwhile our societies wither on the vine from the lack of children.
If we wish to continue we have to accept the inevitable, which is that the western world has changed, for better or worse. Everyone does not get married for life anymore (if they even get married) our divorce rate hovers at about 50%-60% and continuing to denigrate the real world compromises that women eventually have to make in this new world if they wish to have any children at all is not going to change that.
If we continue to paint these perfect marriages as the goal every woman must obtain before she has any kids, we are going to continue having few kids. This is a question of the perfect versus the good here. Not a celebration of family diversity but a realization that we either accept some diverse family forms or cease to exist.
I think if we look at it as a variant of the Hippocratic Oath "First, do no harm" to "the least amount of harm" then some sort of compromises can be made. Remember not all deviations from the tradition family are the same. Obviously the more radical and invasive the procedures (or legal contortions) that have to be used in order to create families, outside of marriage, the more we should be wary of them.
For instance: surrogate motherhood done only for money should not be given any encouragement or protection. This is obviously a deviation too far off the chart here. But is that really the same as a single woman deciding to use an anonymous donor to create a family of her own? Or a single person adopting a child who needs a home?
Again, I think operating under the concept of doing the least amount of harm (as in medical/legal contortions required to create a family) could be a better way to look at this. Just because we don't okay every family form doesn't mean we can only sanction the traditional one. It's not all or nothing and shouldn't have to be.