The Obama administration’s latest use of children as political props has, as usual, called forth much praise and very little outrage. We have become accustomed to such things. We hardly notice. And this latest is by no means the worst.
The irony is that while children are moved to the fore when useful as window dressing on issues to which they are peripheral, they are so often shoved off the stage when they are central to the issue.
EXAMPLE ONE: DIVORCE, also called dissolution of marriage. Marriage is an act of union between two adults, and so is its dissolution. As things now stand in America, children, if any, are collateral issues, like joint property. Their interests are to be addressed in working out the details, not in the basic decision to permit the dissolution.
Divorce involving only two married adults, at least one of whom is unhappy with the marriage, is one thing. It is hard to think of any reason why law or society should stand in their way.
But what about the other kind of divorce? What if it means the breakup of a family with children, often because one of the adult partners (usually the husband) is tired of the responsibilities and limitations imposed upon him by his role in the family.
The results of such “divorce” is all around us. Poverty in the US is largely caused by fathers abandoning (or being thrust from) families and leaving behind single mothers with children. It is the result of easy divorce.
Of course, it is also the result of easy breakups of unwed cohabitation “families”, where no formal divorce is required because no formal marriage was thought necessary. And it is increasingly the result of single women making a choice to bear children without a resident father at all. But all these phenomena may be regarded as facets of a generalized downgrading of the importance of the “traditional family”, and especially of the role of the father, as a general concern of society.
We have taken the sexual and libertarian mantra that society should not interfere in the “private affairs of consenting adults,” put the children out of our minds, and gotten to our present state of affairs.
Yet no legislature, as far as I know, has ever seriously debated treating adult divorce as one thing (tolerable as being of no concern to society), and family destruction/abandonment as the terrible destructive act that it is.
Such is the confusion caused when our language is used to facilitate this child vanishing act.
EXAMPLE TWO: GAY MARRRIAGE.
In the cause of ending the cruel persecution of gay people, “civil union” laws were proposed. While they were being adopted or considered in many states, it was proclaimed that only full “marriage rights” were acceptable.
The debate proceeded like this:
“Children are the real point of marriage,” the traditionalists said.
“What about childless couples? Aren’t they married?” the advocates countered. “Marriage, like sex, is about consenting adults. Besides, science shows that children only need caring adult parents, not mothers and fathers.”
And so, a few shoddy social-science “studies” supporting their position are cited. Contrary studies (and common sense) are ignored or brushed aside.
The courts have led the way in airbrushing children out of the picture of marriage. In a typical example, when the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited:
“an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents. On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children. These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies. The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.” (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis. No information regarding the court’s “independent research” is provided.)
And, by a remarkable bit of circular sophistry, each debate victory reinforces the other. Because marriage isn’t about children, gay couples can marry. And because gay couples can marry, they must be free to adopt children (like any other married couple). Gay adoption is OK because children don’t need mothers and fathers. And because gay adoption is OK, gay marriage must be OK too, so that the children will have families. Not that there is anything wrong with single parents…
And so on.