February 14 2012
Cupid obviously forgot to stop by the newsroom at the New York Times today with boxes of chocolates.
The paper of record celebrates Valentine’s day with a symposium headlined “Family Ties, without Tying the Knot.”
We don’t address same-sex issues on Inkwell, but we are very interested in the role of intact families in bringing up the next generation. I find it interesting that the New York Times uses Valentine’s Day as the peg to ask:
Why are lawmakers so hung up on marriage? If fewer Americans are choosing to marry, what are the legal implications for relationships that are based on something other than marriage or parenting?
Kevin Noble Maillard, a professor at the Syracuse University College of Law, who was in charge of the symposium, set the stage for discussion:
Legally speaking, the only way in America to recognize family is through marriage, blood or adoption. This is a problem. Not everyone can get married, and not everyone wants to. Perhaps friends could prick their fingers and become blood brothers, but no state will recognize that. One of them could adopt the other, but then there is the “ick” factor. Maybe groups like Entourage could become domestic partners, but there are too many people. There is no legal room for best friends forever and all the legal benefits that marriage confers….
[L]aws reflect our society's awkward and narrow ways of thinking about family. If friends want to recognize each other as a committed unit, nothing is going to stop them from living together, making joint purchases, even raising children. Unsanctioned family unions occur in every town, community and state — gay couples, unmarried cohabitants and friend families. But these are not “real” families, according to government standards, because they are neither nuclear nor hierarchical. They will keep living their lives as usual, but in the eyes of the law, there will never be a "Full House" of "Golden Girls."
And this gem of clear thinking dropped from the pen of one Laura Rosenburg, an associate dean at Washington University School of Law:
[F]amily law has been silent about friends. This silence separates marriage from “mere” friendship, positioning nonspousal friendship as so different from marriage to be outside law’s concern. Many people may agree, but legal recognition itself is a salient difference between friendship and marriage. Married couples bearing or adopting children automatically receive parenting rights and benefits, for example, whereas friends face hurdles when attempting to adopt children together or otherwise jointly establish parental rights. The state constructs marriage to be like no other relationship.
How might life, sex, intimacy, parenting and care change if law supported both types of relationship? States could extend marital benefits to friends or, conversely, pull back legal recognition of marriage, treating coupling between adults more like friendship. Both approaches would change the legal content of family and friendship. But they also risk reinforcing the line between friendship and family, changing the content of each category but not the categories themselves.
So let’s prick our fingers, be blood brothers and sisters, and get our book club to adopt a child?
Fortunately, some less politically-correct thinkers are doing work on the family and finding that the best way to raise children is through a stable, two-parent family.
Most recently, Charles Murray, in his new book, Coming Apart, finds that low-income people are perpetuating poverty by bringing up children in marriage-less households.
As a remedy, Murray recommends something that would be dismissed by the sophisticates who participated in the Times symposium:
The "something" that I have in mind has to be defined in terms of individual American families acting in their own interests and the interests of their children. Doing that in Fishtown requires support from outside. There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold.
The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.
The New York symposium is too dumb to be funny--but it is laughable.