Monday, July 02, 2007

Deinstitutionalization

This is what David Blankenhorn is really worried about in The Future of Marriage. There is a concerted campaign to delegitimize the couple-raising-their-children model of marriage and family life. The form of the campaign is, he argues, being most effectively carried on not by a head-on assault, but by side actions. The proponents of The Full Stacey (see my posts of last week) explicitly want to dethrone The Family by placing it on a level with all kinds of families. The effect of this movement, Blankenhorn argues, will not be to broaden the meaning of family, but to deinstitutionalize marriage. When marriage is whatever people want to call a marriage, then there is no public marriage any more.

The core of Blankenhorn's advocacy of marriage for two decades is that it is the best institution for the hard but socially essential business of raising children. He knows, as I do, that any given child might be raised by all sorts of committed adults, and most of those kids will turn out ok. We should honor all those good-enough efforts to raise children as good enough. But the most likely, the most durable, the most efficient, and the most successful option for kids and for society is still to be raised by their own married parents.

I disagree with Blankenhorn about whether same-sex civil unions are too dangerous to legally permit. I think they are good enough. I also don't think there will be many takers, but that does not affect the principle of the thing. I agree with Blankenhorn, though, that any social change that really did deinstitutionalize marriage would be socially disastrous.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

A related article from today's CNN:

"The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of factors that people associate with successful marriages -- well behind 'sharing household chores,' 'good housing,' 'adequate income,' a 'happy sexual relationship' and 'faithfulness.'"

As the couples change their attitudes about the institution, how does the institution itself change?

full article: http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/personal/07/02/marriage.survey.ap/index.html

Gruntled said...

I don't see how a society can stop having children, and therefore how it can stop having marriage. I think some classes are coming to consider children optional, which spells Darwinian disaster for them. As long as they remain in the minority in society, society will live. But if the best trained and best paid stop having kids, the inefficiency of our social investment will soon come to bite us.

mjf said...

Thanks for your calm and useful points. I can agree about Civil Unions to a point, I think they can be good enough. Unfortunately the devil is in the details, and often it is the details that are missed in any meaningful discussion about them.

A loosely associative structure where people are free to choose beneficiaries, trusted agents, etc... can be an expression of freedom for allowing others to in part determine ones life and lifestyles either in incapacitation or for means of facilitation. Marriage fills this role, and that makes sense with what marriage expects of two adults. Yet marriage is something different because of its core impetus.

Civil Unions are also different, when the details get into play. My problem with Civil Unions are threefold:

1) The sexual-[dis]orientation hegemony, in spite of complaints about the restrictions on marriage, have created a more prejudiced and biased version. It has all the same restrictiveness, on (in my opinion) much more arbitrary grounds.

2) It is advocated only as an incremental step to fully neutering the marriage definition.

3) It is tied directly to marriage in its formation and application. The explicit tie to marriage law gives it the same unwieldiness as neutered marriage. As an equatable force its social understanding is tied directly to marriage, having the same cultural effect as marriage.

On the third point, I believe the closeness in CU's to marriage is what initially confuses Eskeridge's data on Scandinavia, and his inability to provide a real impact point for which to make the association that is so easy for Blankenhorn and Kurtz to point out. He can easily commit to a specific legal change, though similarity in legal structure, and social understanding seem lost on him.

But just to sum up, I can agree with CU's in concept, but details that seem to keep wedging themselves into the CU concept tend to taint them beyond effectiveness for the social need it could fill.

R.K. said...

My biggest problem with Civil Unions is simple: although they are not legally marriages, you can just bet they are going to be called marriages in the media and in entertainment. That is, a same-sex couple who in fact received a civil union will be referred to as "married" when seen or referred to in the media, further causing young people to think that marriage has already been androgynized. If the media would agree to not do this and stick to this agreement, I'd have less problems with the idea, though I'd still have many other concerns.

José Solano said...

A problem I have with these terms is that they are essentially euphemism politically contrived to evade examining the actual condition. I have proposed elsewhere that the homosexual relationship be called just that, THE HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIP. After all, legislation for “civil unions,” “civil partnerships,” etc.is being created exclusively for homosexual relationships. They are not like reciprocal benefits where other adults may reap benefits. Call it what it is and then let the people vote to see if they wish to provide special privileges and benefits for homosexual relationships.

The Culturologist said...

We're talking about a very, very tiny fringe portion of the population. Perhaps 3% of Americans are homosexual (per the most broadly agreed upon figures), and only some subpopulation of that number (and for male homosexuals, who are more numerous than females, almost certainly a minority) are coupled.

The dangers of the slippery slope to marriage (and thus to the entire culture) far outweigh any benefits to be accrued to that tiny number of people. I think one has to oppose even civil unions for them.

Marty said...

I can't abide Civil Unions for the same reason I cannot accept same-sex marriage:

I don't believe the State, or the People, want to legitimize family relationships that are founded in gender bias and segregation.

Any man or woman who is incapable of loving a member of the opposite sex -- soley because of their different genital structure -- need therapy to correct their bigotted thinking. What they DON'T need is affirmation.

Separate is never equal. Why so many leftists are suddenly claiming that it is, is baffling.