A Plea for the Restoration of Traditional Marriage

Marriage exists for one reason and one reason only: to raise children. If you don’t want to have children, don’t get married. If you do, recognize that the state has a compelling interest in seeing that they are properly cared for. To this end, a child’s parents should be considered married the moment he or she is born, legally bound by a set of rights and obligations to both each other and to the child that only ends when the child reaches the age of eighteen. There is nothing new here. It is just the codification of a long-standing social arrangement.

Childrearing is one of the most rewarding tasks a person can perform, but it must not be undertaken lightly. For instance, it is wishful thinking to believe that one person is capable of raising a family all on their own. Though possible, single parenthood is not in the best interests of the child. Equally naive is the belief that a child’s biological parents can raise it all by themselves. Dual parenthood (the so-called “nuclear” model) is no less a pipe dream than single parenthood. From midnight feedings to playdates, soccer practice to college applications, it is simply too much work for two people to manage. Childrearing is a task best handled in small groups. The biological parents, of course, bear the bulk of the responsibility, but they should share it with extended family members, friends, neighbors, and professional nannies. It may not take a village to raise a child, but about ten people is the bare minimum. The legal institution of marriage should do what it can to accommodate this proven model.

(Why then, you may ask, does the law only make provisions for two parents? Because there are more childrearing arrangements out there than can be anticipated, and an attempt to codify them all would result in fruitless micromanagement. Better to let human biology draw a bright line at two adults and accept that not all good things need to be legally recognized as such.)

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Traditionally, marriages were not “love matches” but were rather arranged by two families with everyone’s interests–not just those of the bride and groom–in mind. Since having a child entails a lifelong commitment between all these parties, the wisdom of the traditional arrangement is self-evident and all that remains is to find the best way to to carry it forward into the modern era. Social media, for example, can be a great help. Once a young person has reached a point in life when he or she can think about starting a family, that person can create an online profile detailing personal history, education, profession, religious and moral beliefs, desired number of children, and other information relevant to a prospective spouse. The young person may even delegate the initial search for a mate to their parents, who will look through the profiles and select an initial rough cut of candidates. This saves the young person some work, but is also an acknowledgement that a marriage is between families, not individuals. If the parents have a conviction that, say, their daughter should only marry a college-educated man, or their son should only marry another Jew, this is their opportunity to make those wishes known. However, these days we place a greater value on individual liberty (particularly the individual liberty of women) than in generations past, so the final decision must lie with the pair to be married. There is a difference between respect for tradition and slavish adherence to it.

The fact that marriage is a fundamentally social compact is the main reason why the “love match” model does not work. Marriage is not something a pair of young people should indulge in for their own sakes, because they crave the importance they think having a child will give them, or the unconditional love they imagine it will provide. People who are unprepared for the task should not get married hoping things will just “work out” because they are “in love”. In fact, being in love has nothing to do with being married. Love is certainly an essential component, but the notion that a single pair of people should be parents, and co-habitants, and lovers, and best friends, and furthermore should pursue this arrangement to the exclusion of equally deep or deeper relationships with all other people for the duration of their entire lives is preposterous on its face. It would be laughable if the disappointment and resentment this fantasy engendered were not harmful to the child whose needs, as always, must come first.

Parents standing beside children on bicycles

Should parents live under the same roof as their children and in the same town as their extended family? Preferably. Should childrearing tasks be divided up in ways that best suits each individual family member without regard to received notions about what the “proper” roles are for different genders? Clearly, since the child is best served by cheerful and efficient parenting. Would the same laws apply to adoptive parents regardless of their sexual orientations? Of course. Should people in long term relationships enter into legal agreements with each other about shared property, inheritance, medical decisions and the like? This is prudent, but it doesn’t make sense to call these agreements “marriage” because they have nothing to do with parenthood. Should married people be monogamous? Absolutely not! Imagine all the prime childbearing years squandered by young people who put off marriage because it means the end of romantic adventure, or the harm inflicted by parents who use sexual dissatisfaction as an excuse to walk out on their offspring. Love and sex have a role to play in marriage, but to make it their only avenue of expression is a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless, will many people as they age lose interest in serial “love matches” and settle down with the person they were married to? In many cases yes, because parenting creates a bond between two people in a way that nothing else can.

But should the law have anything to say about these clearly desirable outcomes? No. That is the thing about us traditionalists–we are confident. We don’t write laws to badger people into doing what is best because we believe people already know what is best. The law’s job is merely to ease their way.

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