John Leo
In modern journalism, radical change is often announced by a yawn-inducing headline. For instance, "Legal Group Urges States to Update Their Family Law," (New York Times, Nov. 29). The headline, one step up from "Don't Bother to Read This," refers to a ponderous 1,200-page commentary and set of recommendations by the American Law Institute, a group of prominent judges and lawyers. The proposals, "Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution," may seem like dry, technical suggestions about custody, alimony and property distribution. But what this "update" really amounts to is a devastating legal assault on marriage.

The Institute report says that in many important ways, domestic partnerships should be legally treated like marriage. It defines domestic partners as "two persons of the same or opposite sex, not married to one another, who for a significant period of time share a primary residence and a life together as a couple." When breaking up, the report says, co-habitants are entitled to a division of property and alimony-like payments, just like married people who divorce. And after a relationship ends, the co-habiting partner of a legal parent may share custody and decision-making responsibility for the legal parent's child.

The report validates homosexual relationships and gives them a status comparable to that of marriage. If accepted, this idea would lead immediately to the next legal argument: If gay and straight commitments have the same status in state law, isn't it picky and discriminatory to withhold the word "marriage" from the gay version? Heterosexual couples who live together would also get the same status as husbands and wives, blurring or eliminating another line between marriage and serial affairs.

The most drastic notion embedded in the suggestions is that marriage is just one arrangement among many. Marriage is being deconstructed here, downgraded and privatized. It is no longer the crucial building block of the social order, and makes no special contribution to civil society that justifies any distinctive honor or status. This report, says Lynn Wardle, professor of law at Brigham Young University, "continues the war on the traditional family and traditional sexual morality that has been waged for over three decades."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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