“Singles’ Rights” Goal of Abolishing Marriage Would Impose Legal Isolation on Everyone

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/Thoma_Loneliness.jpg

Hans Thoma. Loneliness (1880)   To impose legal separation on all of us would only cultivate loneliness.

Last week a singles’ rights activist wrote up what she claimed was a critique of my recent Federalist article called Welcome to Selfie Nation.  My piece was an exploration of various social trends, particularly some recent attempts to cultivate hostility towards married people for being “privileged.”

Most significantly, Bella DePaulo, author of the book Singlism and a blogger for Psychology Today essentially confirmed in her response what I’ve been saying for quite some time:  that same sex marriage isn’t really about marriage, but is being used as a vehicle to abolish marriage.  A coterie of singles’ rights advocates are arguing that state recognition of marriage discriminates against singles.  And they hope to use the precedent of same sex marriage to abolish marriage.

But DePaulo never addressed my most basic points:

1.  That the decline of marriage “plays right into the hands of central planners who have always been keen on getting rid of marriage altogether.”

2.  That putting every human being in legal isolation — which is exactly what abolishing civil marriage would do – can only diminish freedom of association for every child, woman, and man.  Once the state no longer recognizes your spouse or child or parent or siblings, etc. except at its pleasure, your personal relationships will inevitably come under greater regulation and bureaucratic control.

Rather than confront these concerns, DePaulo pulled out of thin air the bemusing nonsense that I am “afraid of single people.”  She also claimed I place blame on single people for “breaking down family bonds and community ties and contributing to a sense of alienation and division and distrust.”  Are you kidding me?

Who believes single people are even capable of doing such things?  Unless maybe you believe they’re some sort of monolithic force.  That idea — so untrue — would never occur to me.  Maybe it has more to do with DePaulo’s own outlook, but it sure isn’t mine.

I was talking about a shift in society that breeds isolation in people, reflected in the General Social Survey.  It’s a cycle driven by complex forces that we can’t pin on any one group of people.  Distrust breeds isolation.  Isolation breeds distrust.  Separation from intimate ties breeds distrust.   Distrust discourages the formation of intimate ties.

On Pious Baloney

A fun touch in DePaulo’s  post on my article is her (subconscious?) reference to a famous line by Newt Gingrich.  By which I mean she labels as “pious bologna” [sic] my connection of children with marriage. But I’ll raise DePaulo ten Newts on that.  Whether we grown-ups like it or not, the only legitimate reason for any state interest in marriage is that the state’s citizens come from a particular organic union that produces them.

Now the problem here for DePaulo and so many others, is that they have a perspective on children that insists on separating them from the people who sire and bear them.   Look, I get it. Indeed, a lot of unmarried people have kids and a lot of married people don’t.  And different family configurations abound.  And I understand that there are cases of dysfunction.  But that’s irrelevant to the point that state recognition of marriage can’t really exist for the benefit of adults.  It exists for the benefit of all the children in a society, whether or not their parents can or do get married, and whether or not married people have children, and no matter how many or how few children there are.

So it’s the union that produces citizens in which the state should be interested.  And it doesn’t matter whether that union takes place traditionally or in a petri dish or even at all.  I know that’s a hard thing for us grown-ups to wrap our heads around these days.  I do understand, believe me, that it doesn’t feel easy.  But it’s just one of those buried truths that have a way of outing themselves rather unpleasantly when ignored. You can take it or leave it, but it’s still true whether we like it or not.

If there are concerns about inequities, people of goodwill should find a way to address the inequities without endowing a centralized bureaucracy with the power to impose legal isolation on every single one of us, and particularly on children.

Families are the Roots of Community          

Below are a few claims DePaulo uses to support her belief that marriage should be abolished, and by logical extension, why she believes each and every person should be legally single:

  • Married people are “insular” and don’t contribute much to community
  • Married people don’t call their parents or siblings as often as singles do
  • Singles do more things “in the community” than marrieds do:  “They participate more in civil groups and public events, they take more art and music classes.”
  • Singles, not marrieds, keep cities lively and dynamic
  • Singles, she says, visit sick and infirm people more than married people in Britain do

DePaulo doesn’t cite sources on the above.  She’s suggesting, I guess, that singles are in some form, morally superior because, for example, they call Mom and Dad more than married people.  This is silliness.  Just arguing on her terms, I’d venture a guess that married couples are far more involved in community schools.  I don’t know how many members of legislatures and county councils and people who work for non-profits are married versus single.  But I’d be willing to bet it’s quite a majority of marrieds, even today.   And, no, married people are not morally superior for this participation.

Intimacy, not Separation, is What Breeds Trust

But I do find one of DePaulo’s observations of particular interest.  She writes that “getting married changes people in ways that make them more insular.”  I think what DePaulo perceives as “insular” is probably just a by-product of intimacy. Intimacy requires time and a certain degree of exclusivity and privacy in relationship. Committed relationships usually require intense work and a great degree of self-sacrifice that’s not going to be handily visible in the public sphere.  Nevertheless, that kind of interpersonal work with family members pays huge dividends for society because it tends to build empathy.

What this means, though, is that contributions to the community by marrieds – with or without children – are going to have deep roots and perhaps might not be as apparent to people like DePaulo who look to have everybody engaged on the surface, primarily in public places.   Not so much in private places which seem “insulated” from the larger community.  It seems that DePaulo doesn’t view the nurturing of one’s own children as something that counts in this scheme of things.  Nor perhaps would running a scout troop, or volunteering at your child’s school or with their sports teams, or through a church.  And certainly not the hard work of ironing out a committed relationship with or without children in the home.

If the only kinds of community activities that “count” in DePaulo’s eyes are at specific places identified as “community” – whether they be parks and recreation, theater groups, environmental groups, and so on – well, then, perhaps singles do those things more because that’s where the people are?  Or perhaps because practically every young adult today has “mandatory community service hours” to put in as requirement for high school graduation?   Regardless, DePaulo’s view speaks volumes about her stunted view of community and who contributes to it.

Abolishing Marriage Would Abolish Community 

I think we all understand in our gut that intimacy breeds trust.  Without trust – which has been declining over the past several decades – people become alienated and true community dies. You can have lots of people out there doing lots of activities, busy as bees at the hive.  But if there are no bonds of family intimacy which serve as the unseen ground water that irrigates the community – or what goes on unseen inside the hive of community by both marrieds and singles — then you don’t really have a community.  What you have left is a shell of a hive with the bees buzzing about outside of it.  Yes, you can see them better that way.  But without the hidden core – consisting of families, consisting of both marrieds and singles – each of us ultimately has no place to go.

Let’s abolish the Big Lie that abolishing civil marriage would “get the state out of the marriage business.”  It would do the exact opposite, which is why statists love the idea so much.  I leave you with this excerpt from my Federalist piece:

All of the machinery of this bait-and-switch operation is well in motion to abolish civil marriage, and with it family autonomy. So our national conversation on marriage ought to cut right to the chase. Ultimately, the real question is not about who can get married, but whether or not we may live in a society that recognizes marriage and family. Abolishing civil marriage is a dangerous proposition that imposes legal isolation on everybody, making us all strangers to one another in the eyes of the state.

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