John Leo

Wardle has a point. Marriage is in trouble for a lot of reasons, but surely one important factor is the relentless hostility unleashed by the 1960s counterculture, which portrayed marriage as oppressive, patriarchal, outmoded and destructive to children. The attitudes of today's elites reflect that never-ending campaign. Now we have lots of "marriage" counselors who never use the word marriage and textbooks on families bristling with hostility toward the nuclear family. As I wrote in this space several years ago, "One of the problems in trying to shore up the institution of marriage is that so many of the professionals who teach and write about it -- counselors, therapists, academics and popular authors -- really don't support marriage at all."

What they do tend to support is known as "close relationship theory," the idea that sexual and emotional satisfaction come from intense, fragile and often short-term relationships that aren't necessarily going anywhere. One advocate calls them "microwave relationships," cooked up fast, served and consumed, presumably with other similar meals to come. It all seems like the dream world of a randy adolescent chasing cheerleaders. Marriage is knocked off its pedestal and the family itself fades away. Children tend to fade away too in close relationship theory, as emphasis comes down hard on adult fulfillment.

To get an idea of where this theory and our legal elites may take us, take a look at last year's report of the Law Commission of Canada: "Beyond Conjugality: Recognizing and Supporting Close Personal and Adult Relationships." Canada's elites are usually earlier and franker than ours in presenting socially destructive ideas. The report says flatly that the state must remain neutral in relationships -- no promoting marriage or giving it any edge. Registering partnerships of any kind "could be used to replace marriage as a legal institution," the commission said." Religious marriage ceremonies would continue to exist, but they would no longer have legal consequences."

These are the marriage-hating ideas of the most radical counterculturalists, circa 1969, now surfacing on the agenda of U.S. and Canadian legal elites. At a time when efforts to bolster marriage are gaining some traction, the elites are telling us that marriage is defunct and almost any kind of short-term, self-serving relationship will do. Can these people be taken seriously?

John Leo

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

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