Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Wicked" is Great With Teenagers

I took my two teenage daughters and one of their friends to Chicago this week to see "Wicked." This was fun in itself. The show, which concerns the early days of the good and wicked witches of Oz, is fine, and the production was well done.

I had an additional pleasure, though, in traveling with these young ladies. Having three teenage girls loudly and happily singing "Popular" and "Defying Gravity" and the rest of the soundtrack while wizzing (so to speak) through Indiana is a wonderful domestic pleasure.

They also make a great captive audience for puns; they groan so well.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Meth is Worse for Families

Today family therapist Kathy Miles talked to my family class about recent social problems that affect families. I knew that Kentucky, and other rural states, had a significant problem with methamphetamines. Every week has stories of a meth lab being busted in the small towns around here.

Miles told us that meth is worse than other drugs for families because the binges last longer – days instead of hours. When police raid a meth lab, they take a social worker with them, because they are likely to find kids who have been completely neglected for days. A common horrifying detail of these arrests are of the five year old who has been trying to take care of herself – and feed and change a baby. Miles said that all foster placements in eastern Kentucky are full, in part because the meth lab kids urgently need to be removed from their homes.

Every drug takes a toll on families, but this one seems particularly painful. It will be better for us all when this particular fad is over.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

One-Flesh Union of Complementary Persons

So, what was the upshot of my couple of weeks with The Meaning of Marriage?

I have been convinced that the marriage makes two people one flesh. I pretty much thought that before, but taking this as a secure foundation for thinking about marriage – independent of whatever the state calls "marriage" – is a great help.

I also already thought that men and women are complementary as a group, though any particular couple works this out in a unique way.

Putting these together, marriage is a one-flesh union of complementary persons, prior to politics.

Right now, I don't really see how you could do that with more than one other person. I will keep thinking about it.

[This one is short and late in the day because I had a wonderful, family-building trip with my daughters to the big city to see "Wicked." A good time was had by all.]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Contraception and Abortion Create More Poor, Fatherless Kids

Sociologist Brad Wilcox, in his Meaning of Marriage essay, reviews the high hopes that some had in the 1960s and '70s that the Pill and easy abortion would mean that every child would be born into a secure home. If it was so easy to prevent births that the parents were not prepared for, this reasoning went, then responsible parents would only have children when they were married and financially ready.

It turns out, though, that there are lots of irresponsible parents. In facts, there are plenty of guys willing to make babies, then leave it up to the mother to decide to have all the children she wanted. After all, it was her choice. Contraception and abortion, and the culture of choice that came with them, shifted the balance in a relationship from the women who wanted to marry and raise kids with their husbands, to the men who might or might not follow through in marrying their pregnant girlfriends and raising the children they made.

The problem of fatherless children affects all classes, but is most common, and hurts the worst, among the poor. In fact, having children without husbands is the main way that women get and stay poor.

When responsible people free themselves from rules that would force them to act responsibly, they feel freer – and do the right thing anyway. However, the unintended consequence of removing the rules and restraints is that other people feel free, too – but often don't do the right thing anyway. Leaving the responsible people to help pick up the pieces.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"Naked, Fragile, Unenforceable Agreement"

That is what Katherine Shaw Spaht says marriage is fast becoming under the law. The law, she says in The Meaning of Marriage, is rapidly retreating from its traditional defense of marriage, to instead making it just another private agreement. The three traditional elements of the legal understanding of marriage – permanence, mutual fidelity, and sexual complementarity – are all being eroded, dropped, even treated as mere prejudice.

Spaht's solution was to help draft the covenant marriage law in Louisiana. This is a second category of legal marriage, more demanding than the usual civil contract, that couples may voluntarily choose. It requires more time and preparation going in to marriage, and, if necessary, getting out. It establishes in law higher standards of marriage, especially if children are involved. Ironically, it does so through the mechanism of a contract (despite the covenant language). Spaht is trying to turn the very tools that have been undermining marriage to marriage's defense. I honor the project of covenant marriage, and note that it has been hugely successful – among the five percent or so of Louisiana marriages which use it.

I do not think things are as far gone as Spaht does. Marriage is a much stronger institution in our culture than it is in our law. And marriage could not survive without cultural support, no matter what the law said. But she is surely right that the law's rapid retreat from marriage threatens to undermine cultural support in the medium run.

To stem that tide we need a strong defense of marriage in law as a permanent, mutually faithful, and sexually complementary relation. Which is what we are talking about in this blog every day.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Marriages Have Privacy Because Marriage is Public

Katherine Shaw Spaht, in her Meaning of Marriage essay on how law has been abandoning marriage, cites an important step down the slippery slope in one of Justice Thurgood Marshall's opinions. In the 1978 case Zablocki v. Redhail, Justice Marshall wrote, "it would make little sense to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society" – the decision to marry. I normally agree with Justice Marshall, but in this instance I think he is exactly wrong.

Marriage transforms individuals and society because it is a public vow. We recognize marriage as a status apart from all others, as making two persons into one flesh, because it is a public promise by the couple and by society. That vow carries with it many grave responsibilities, most importantly to raise any children that the marriage might produce. Raising children well is a grave public duty.

We accept the privacy of what goes on in families more than in any other institution. Family privacy is not absolute; other institutions will intervene if family members are beating one another. But we grant the most leeway and place the most trust in families to do in private what they want because we believe that, ultimately and in the main, that private freedom will most enhance the public good.

Society has a great interest in marriage as a public act and public status because marriage is a shield behind which people have privacy. If the state treats marriage as just another private choice that individuals might make, society loses the public benefit of marriage, and marriages lose the trust that allows society to respect their privacy.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Will Republicans Ever Deliver to "Family Voters?"

The Reagan coalition was an "alliance of opposites" which joined the traditional big business base of the Republican Party with social libertarians and religious conservatives, all of whom wanted "smaller government." The conflict between the libertarians and the Christian conservatives was always the most obvious fault line in the party. The alliance, though, was enough to put Reagan and Bush I in office, and sweep the Republicans to power in Congress. Of the three legs of the Reagan Republican stool, big business, and the rich people who run them, got the most, libertarians got something, and family values conservatives got not much. Some defended the conservative credentials of the party, though, for achieving what could be done over Democratic and "liberal elite" opposition.

The second time around, the current President Bush held together that coalition. Republicans expanded their control of government, and have been in power long enough to effectively control the judiciary, too. Unlike his two Republican predecessors, George W. Bush really is an evangelical Christian from a red state. He has talked the talk for a long time, and now has the political muscle to make it so.

So, what have family values voters gotten for their quarter century of loyal support of the Republican Party? Almost nothing. Whenever there is a conflict between business interests and traditional family interests (as there is on almost every issue), the governing party has sided with business.

This is not just my conclusion. Lately, some heavy hitters among conservative Christian Republicans have been critical of the Bush administration on exactly these grounds. Alan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Religion, Family, and Society, said "when the interests of big business and the interests of average families collide, the GOP almost always gives way to the interests of big business." Even more significant are the criticisms from Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, the research arm of Focus on the Family. He notes that "When you look at what the [presidential] discussion has been since 2004, marriage has been absent from the vocabulary."

One of the great achievements of both parties in the 1970s was to mobilize evangelicals to vote at all. In 1976, the "year of the evangelical," previously apolitical evangelical voters turned out for born-again Democrat Jimmy Carter to throw the Watergate rascals out. Four years later, evangelicals moved to their more natural home, the family-values-talking Republicans under Reagan.

It is hard to imagine evangelicals as a group deciding the reject all worldly politics. But it is easy to imagine a continuing erosion of evangelical voting, as they conclude that the Democrats are too opposed to their family values, and the Republicans, though they talk a good game, are too wedded to mammon to deliver for God. If Republicans won't actually produce traditional family laws under George W. Bush plus majorities in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, they probably never will.