Bill Murchison

Hear me out, between gasps of derision. A man and woman who make a covenant of lifelong union -- "in the sight of God, and in the face of this company," as the Book of Common Prayer would have it -- have a structure within which to live, and I don't mean a house. I mean something bigger: an undertaking within which sorrow and joys are to be duly enacted and -- the present point -- children to be conceived and raised. The joy of children, every parent knows, is not uniformly joyous. It's rigorous, draining work. But the kids are yours. You'll love and care for them, normally speaking, because that's part of the undertaking.

Forgive me, or rather, don't forgive me -- I'll say it anyway: Illegitimacy strips children of rights and dignity and exposes them to insecurities and anxieties (not least concerning who they really are) that they would less commonly encounter as members of the ordinary family tribe. A child who isn't your own, save in the biological sense -- a child your society lets you reject or neglect just as you like -- starts out far, far behind in the game of life.

Let's not make Alexander Hamilton the archetype of the illegitimate child. The social statistics say poor and ethnic minority partners account for most illegitimate births. The prosperous and college-educated form and maintain families, making sure their kids get what they need and deserve.

Do we ever think we're smart in the 21st century -- so smart that we can let go of rules and institutions, doing just what we like and no more? Ultimately, because human needs and nature never really change, a lot of people are going to end up sorry their parents, maybe grandparents, adopted that banal line. In the meantime, here we'll be, stuck as usual, with the consequences of stupidity.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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