We all know that marriage in America has been having a tough go of it in recent decades. The left is getting everything it has always wanted with what we can call the traditional family: mom, dad, married, with kids, is becoming increasingly rare. In fact the percentage of Americans who are married has reached an all time low. This all started a long time ago, but broke out in the glorious 1960s with the sexual revolution and the passing of no-fault divorce laws throughout the country. Redefining marriage to include homosexuals is nothing compared to the harm no-fault divorce did to the definition of marriage.
We often forget that it was conservative hero Ronald Reagan who signed American’s first no-fault divorce law in California in 1969, not that he was proud of it. But within 10 years pretty much every other state passed similar laws. Once people were allowed to get out of a marriage for any or no reason at all, divorces skyrocketed. In the old backward days of the 1950s and prior, a spouse who wanted out of a marriage had to show one of the three A’s, adultery, abuse or abandonment. Then there would be a trial; it was messy and difficult to get a divorce.
For the modern secular liberal whose mores took over American culture in the 60s, this just wouldn’t do. Staying in a marriage if you weren’t happy and completely fulfilled was stifling and not at all fair; self-fulfillment as the new cultural norm led naturally to no-fault divorce. Undergirding the coming divorce revolution was a fundamental modern liberal mistrust of the traditional family unit. Patriarchy was by definition bad and oppressive; women needed to be liberated and easy divorce was the way to break the unjust hold marriage had on women. Children of course were an afterthought.
So here we are over 40 years later and what hath a divorce culture wrought? For some of us the answer would be statistics, because divorce hasn’t touched us personally. Sure we know there are lots of divorces and single mothers and children who have grown up without moms and dads, and we know this isn’t a good thing, but civilization isn’t falling apart around us; we have our jobs, our middle class lifestyles; suffering as a result of family breakdown only touches us tangentially.
Yet the personal consequences of easy divorce have been profound and ubiquitous. I would guess every American knows someone who has been divorced or is a child of divorce, and in almost every single instance the fallout has not been good. Everyone pretty much agrees that Dan Quayle was right, even though he was piteously mocked at the time; he is mocked no more. We now know the worst of the personal effects of easy divorce largely break down across class lines, as Charles Murray has pointed out in his latest book. Yet I’ve personally witnessed the emotional and psychological damage of children and adults of upper middle class divorce.
But something rarely talked about or admitted, especially by the modern liberal, is what flows into the void created by marriage and family breakdown? You guessed it, the state. The size and scope of the welfare state would be minimal if divorce was rare. The more marriages break apart, the more divorce culture infiltrates family life, the more the state is required to step in and pick up the pieces. Of course we know that welfare often makes worse the conditions it seeks to ameliorate, but left-liberals don’t seem to much care about that; as long as people have their most basic material needs met, who cares how much dysfunction there is. Well, don’t ask the people who live on the south side of Chicago, where murder is a fact of daily life. The breakdown of the family there is literally a matter of life and death.
But the consequences of the easy divorce culture go beyond personal misery. I learned about this recently in a long article at The Imaginative Conservative by Dr. Stephen Baskerville: “Freedom and the Family: The Family Crisis and the Future of Western Civilization.” I was going to put some quotes here from the piece, but there were just too many good ones, so go read it yourself. What stands out is how an easy divorce culture leads naturally to the tyranny of the state over family life. Again, we don’t live in a dystopian Blade Runner America (then again it’s not 2019 yet), so for many of us the consequences of the easy divorce/family breakdown culture don’t impinge on our every waking moment, but for many others they do.
This should give libertarians and so called “fiscal conservatives” who don’t think those messy “social issues” have anything to do with liberty and the growth of the modern state pause, especially “social issues” revolving around the family. Further redefining marriage to make gender irrelevant to the institution is not going to improve the strength of marriage and families. How can it? Children need a married mother and a father to have the best chance of growing up as healthy contributors to society. The Founders of America knew how important the virtue of its citizens would be to the success, or failure, of this experiment in republican self-government. Without stable families, mom, dad, married, kids, not the “modern family” kind, the experiment is destined to fail.