Voices

Uncommon bond

Family collapse opens a door for totalitarianism

Issue: "Home again," July 12, 2008

Sara Sarasohn, discussing in The Washington Post her upcoming marriage in California to her lesbian partner, explains how the institution of marriage is, literally, coming apart. Today, she argues, couples can have sex without being married. They can have children without being married. They can live together, buy a house together, and partner together in a myriad of ways without marriage being necessary.

"I can't pretend to speak for the people who are against gay marriage," writes Sarasohn, "but I think this is part of what they mean when they say that gay marriage will unravel the whole institution. Our national conversation about gay marriage has already shown how the different elements of marriage-legal, religious, romantic, economic, civil, procreative-have become independent. . . . Now, adults have the prerogative to mix and match the various things that make a marriage in whatever way they choose. It's just that when gay people do it, it's more obvious that 'marriage' has already been deconstructed."

If Sarasohn is right, this means that the institution of marriage has become functionally and culturally obsolete. People still want to get married. But because marriage has no particular purpose, people can define and practice their marriages in any way they choose.

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If marriage is being dissolved into its constituent and now unrelated parts, the same could be said of parenting. Single parenting has broken apart the roles of mothers and fathers in a child's life. Mothers must often assume the entire burden of raising a child. Divorced fathers are often kept at a distance from their children, with artificial visitation rights and impersonal child support requirements. In many cases, though, now that marriage has become optional for having children, fathers often play no role whatsoever in a child's life.

The dissolution of the family as the basic unit of society means that all of its authority, powers, and responsibilities go, instead, to the government.

The state is increasingly assuming the role of the father, functioning as the provider, the protector, and the disciplinarian. The state is also assuming the role of the mother, concerned about our health, nagging us about eating right and avoiding bad habits, and forcing us to be sensitive, well-mannered, and nice.

But the replacement of the family with the state has only just begun. Nearly 20 European nations already have laws-regularly introduced in California-forbidding parents from spanking their children. Recently in Canada a father grounded his 12-year-old daughter for posting inappropriate pictures of herself on the internet, not allowing her to go on a school trip, whereupon the girl sued her father and the court overturned her punishment.

The technical term for the state assuming all social authority and control is "totalitarianism." To avoid such "total" domination and to rebuild a healthy culture, we must put the family together again.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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