The new attack on marriage

Posted: Apr 21, 2003 12:00 AM
In 1996, Jeanette DiLone, an aspiring actress, model and single mom, met Kenny Anderson, a pro basketball player, at a club on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Kenny was a married man. But that did not seem to affect Miss DiLone: "I felt like I had met my soulmate," she said.

So naturally, Jeanette moved with her daughter out of Harlem into luxury digs paid for by Kenny. For four years, Kenny supported Jeanette, and by Jeanette's account alternately abused her with alcoholic rages and indulged her with guilt-stricken promises to take care of her, buy her a house, marry her, give her a big ring. Fast-forward four years: The relationship is over. His marriage (not surprisingly) did not survive.

Now Jeanette is in court, trying to transform her adulterous affair into the social equivalent of a marriage: Kenny should have to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed. Ridiculous, no? Kenny's lawyer thinks so: "The law doesn't require him to keep paying an ex-girlfriend."

Not yet anyway. But if the most powerful trends in family law, driven by advocates for family diversity, have their way, the law of marriage will be utterly transfigured, eliminating distinctions between married, adulterous, same-sex and domestic partners.

This spring the utterly mainstream and influential American Law Institute released its "Principles of Family Dissolution," widely trumpeted as the scholarly, high-minded results of a 10-year study. And what, in the legal establishment's view, is the next step in completing the no-fault divorce revolution? Reward people like Jeanette for adultery with a big-bucks settlement.

The ALI also proposes creating whole new classes of legal parents. Kenny might also be considered a de facto parent to Jeanette's child, which might mean child support. But in return, Jeanette could lose the ability to keep her child away from Kenny, alcoholic rages or no. Vengeful men, violent batterers and/or pedophiles (who are known to seek women with children) will no doubt particularly revel in their new legal rights.

Insane? Not really. Canada and Europe have already moved down this legal path, which is the logical, inevitable result of decoupling marriage from its natural roots in sexual reality.

The great big idea behind marriage is that the man and woman who make the baby should stay together and love both each other and the child their sexual union produced. Adults have an obligation to at least try to conform their sexual behavior and loyalties to give their children this fundamental protection.

The ALI proposals are instead explicitly based on the new idea that adults' sexual preferences triumph over the needs of children, who are expected to resiliently flourish (with a little help from lawyers) no matter how adults choose to behave.

These two big ideas, it is becoming increasingly clear, are mutually exclusive: Either we create the kind of society that urges parents to conform their sexual behavior to what is best for children, or we view the sexual liberty rights of adults as a kind of trump card, mowing down any obstacles in its path.

This summer, the Massachusetts high court is viewed as likely to rule that confining marriage to men and women is unconstitutional. Gay marriage supporters think and talk about it as a social justice issue for homosexuals, leaving the core of marriage unaffected. But creating a legal right to gay marriage requires first fundamentally stripping marriage of its great historic purpose: as a carrier of the message that children really do need mothers and fathers, and adults have a responsibility to act sexually in ways that lead to this outcome. At its most fundamental level, same-sex marriage is not about what we think about homosexuality. It is about what we think about marriage.

People who care about marriage and understand its critical importance need to speak up, before it is too late.