Breaking news from Hollywood: The Kids Are All Right has just been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture! Big surprise.
The movie in case you haven't heard, is about two lesbian moms raising a daughter and a son; the son misses having a Dad and goes out in search of their biological father. Hey, comedy ensues!
I haven't actually seen the film, but it's pretty clear from this amusing plot summary (by British Jesuits!) why Hollywood is entranced with fantasy about two moms raising two kids together:
Bart needs a father figure, but isn't satisfied by the John Travolta clone who donated his sperm. Lisa loves his easy charm. Professional Mom is already on the way to alcoholism, leaving Slacker Mom open to a frantic seduction. Luckily, Slacker Mom cries in front of the family, and a sentence from Bart is enough to heal the wounds of adultery and mistrust.
The film goes out of its way to stress how 'normal' this nuclear family is. Professional Mom brings her work stress home. Bart and Lisa have teenage tantrums and resist their parents. Every character is a stereotype, and the moral dilemma--how to cope with the intrusion of a biological parent--is dealt with easily, as soon as he reveals himself as an immature philanderer.
The other moral drama of The Kids Are All Right is the adultery between Slacker Mom and Biological Father. Quite why this couple pair up is never made clear--perhaps Slacker Mom is responding to some atavistic impulse, or maybe Biological Father just oozes sexual pheromones. If the reason behind their tryst is obscure, the resolution--Professional Mom shouts at everyone--is equally unsophisticated. There is a moment where Biological Father has a revelation about his low-down ways, only this is squandered for a more melodramatic revelation of the adultery.
The unimaginative handling of the drama is matched by a predictable form. The children begin to bond with Biological Father: you need a montage. Slacker Mom makes her apology: ensure that it is moving by cutting to crying family members. The question of the son's need for a male role-model: have him caning drugs and hanging about with a skate-boarding jock stereotype. Ironically, the representation of males in the film is so two-dimensional, it becomes offensive.
...[R]ather than interrogating the problems arising from the situation, the finale falls back on 'love conquers all', without resolving the various tensions. Biological father is simply excluded, the son's needs are unanswered, and the daughter goes off to university, doubtless to academic success.
It's a typical Hollywood fantasy.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the kids are not doing that well.
"What's the matter with kids today? A great deal more than you might realize," begins a USA Today editorial, "One-third are overweight or obese. Nearly a third drop out or can't finish high school in four years. All told, 75% are in such a poor state that they are ineligible for military service for reasons ranging from health to drugs to criminal records to lack of education. Last month came bad news about the rest: 23% of those who try to enlist fail the basic entrance exam."
And as USA Today, to its credit, points out, a lot of that is due to the decline of marriage as a child-rearing institution. Quick, what's the proportion of children born outside of marriage?
Answer: a record-high 41 percent.
As USA Today concludes, "Our view on kids: When unwed births hit 41%, it's just not right."
What happens when mother and fathers do not marry?
A major study following 5,000 such children uncovered that the majority of these mothers are adults, not teens. They had close relationships with the father of their child when that child was conceived. But as USA Today points out, "But by the time the child was 5, most of the fathers were gone and the child had little contact with him. As many of the mothers went on to new relationships, the children were hampered by repeated transitions that did more harm to their development."
Why does marriage matter? Why isn't love enough?
Well, back in the real world, when Mom and Dad are not married, they don't live in the same home, their economic interests differ, and their jobs take them to different places, they develop sexual and romantic ties to third parties; and conflicts (not comedy) ensue. They have children with different partners, inside or outside of marriage. Family ties becomes complicated to understand, much less explain. Children learn that fathers are not reliable, that mothers are stressed out and in need of more love than a child can give, that families are not bedrocks of identity but in constant flux--and that there are few rules that really count. Many, many single moms struggle--and succeed!--to be good mothers, and some fathers sacrifice a lot to try to stay close to their children when they are not married. I am a child of divorce; I know that.
But I also know this: Without a powerful commitment to marriage, the job of parents becomes immeasurably harder, the number who succeed becomes smaller, and the children grow up in a world where the prospects for reliable love look bleaker and bleaker. Many suffer, and some are permanently damaged.
Children are profoundly grateful for whomever loves them; but they long for the love of both their mother and father. They want to know they were conceived in love, and that they can count on that love. They want to know what a man's love, and a woman's love, feels like.
When men and women cannot truly commit to each other in marriage, and when society as a whole cannot uphold that commitment as uniquely necessary, children suffer.
Marriage is two different things in our culture today: It is a symbol of ultimate romantic satisfaction; and it is a vow.
The first "expresses," the second obligates.
The first is inherently unstable and shifting: an aspiration never a fact. The second is what makes true love possible.
Here's the message I take away: When you sacrifice duty for love, you tend to end up with neither. Our obligations to love are what make lasting love possible in real, actual lived human lives.
Advocates of gay marriage would say that's no business of theirs; making babies is what opposite-sex unions do. But that mindset is part of retreat from viewing marriage as an authoritative social institution capable of affecting not just the emotions but the sex lives and the financial lives of men and women.
And so a man, about to enter a gay marriage, pauses on the brink when asked to write his own vows: What does marriage mean to him?
"I realized that while I have written numerous political articles about why same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, I had never thought through what exactly it meant on a personal level."
He concludes: "Ultimately, I'm still not sure what marriage 'means,' but Michael and I can make it up as we go along."
He says he doesn't know what he is promising exactly, but that's okay.
Transforming marriage into a personal, expressive commitment to happy love, however the two parties define it, is not elevating marriage; it's demoting it.
When social scientists look back on our era, I'm confident they will begin to trace the connections that have lead to a massive decline in child well-being.
Marriage as a Hollywood fantasy, as the expressive symbol of all possible human aspiration for the satisfactions of love, ecstasy and romance, is flourishing. Marriage as an authoritative public institution, a public (not just a private) vow, capable of indicating to people (both those who are married and those who are not!) who they ought to have sex with, and whom they should not, with whom they should have children, and with whom they should not, is under powerful attack.
And not just from Hollywood!
Here's the latest from Washington D.C. Pres. Obama's Department of Justice has filed a brief pretending to ask the federal courts to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. But in reality, this brief guts marriage of its core public meaning.
Pres. Obama has purposefully gutted marriage of its authoritative role in protecting children and reduced it to a "tradition" with no deep roots in any human reason.
When the House passed DOMA back in 1996 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities, they knew this law would come under judicial scrutiny; the attempt to push gay marriage through state courts was the reason the law was passed.
And so the House, with unusual thoughtfulness, laid out its reasons for passing this bill, for the purpose of clarifying to the courts the reasons for defining marriage as one man and one woman.
The very first reason is: "H.R. 3396 ADVANCES THE GOVERNMENT'S INTEREST IN DEFENDING AND NURTURING THE INSTITUTION OF TRADITIONAL, HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE," about which the report goes on to say: "At bottom, civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing. Simply put, government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children. ... That, then, is why we have marriage laws. Were it not for the possibility of begetting children inherent in heterosexual unions, society would have no particular interest in encouraging citizens to come together in a committed relationship. But because America, like nearly every known human society, is concerned about its children, our government has a special obligation to ensure that we preserve and protect the institution of marriage."
In his DOJ brief Pres. Obama has taken a great black pen and scratched out that reason for marriage. In our press release, I called that exercising a "retroactive line-item veto" that seriously distorts Congress's intent and makes it far easier for the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA.
The devastating legal effect of this dereliction of duty is already visible. Just this week, in yet another DOMA case out of California percolating through the federal courts, the judge, in refusing to dismiss the claim, noted: "Federal Defendants disavow the governmental interests identified by Congress in passing the DOMA, and instead assert a post-hoc argument that the DOMA advances a legitimate governmental interest in preserving the status quo of the states' definitions of marriage at the time the law was passed in 1996."
(For more on the difficulty of sustaining authoritative traditions in the modern age, see "Tradition in the Age of Equality" by James Poulos.)
This is one reason why I am confident that the work you and I are doing with NOM is so important. As our own Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse said in her essay in the Public Discourse, we are "marching on the right side of history" in standing up for marriage as the union of husband and wife:
Advocates of redefining marriage assure us that all will be well. Children will do fine, whatever the loving adults in their lives decide to do. ...As time goes on, it will become more obvious that "marriage equality" requires us, men, women and children alike, to ignore biology. ...
Children with father-hunger will start to speak up. Young people will start to notice that some of the differences between men and women actually matter. Mothers in same sex unions will start to notice that raising sons without fathers is harder than they had been led to believe. Suppressing all these feelings in all these people will simply not be possible indefinitely. Not everyone will remain silent. Abortion advocates never anticipated the Silent No More campaign, wherein women suffering the after-effects of their abortions began to speak up. As time marches on, the brutality of the marriage "equality" regime will become just as obvious as the brutality of the abortion regime is today.
The children themselves will eventually have something to say about all this. Today, the energy and enthusiasm of the young is on the side of life. And in spite of everything we hear today, the same will be true of natural marriage. Conjugal marriage is the Right Side of History.
Yes, we are on the right side of history! Thank you for all you make possible.
But Jenny's words are also a reminder that the work we do here at NOM is only one part of the story, and the smaller part. The work of making love visible, of making marriage real, of raising children capable of duty yet inspired by love, to be men and women "made for each other" is our greatest task. Our counterrevolution begins in the home.
Wow. This is kind of philosophical for a movement newsletter, isn't it?
But from my heart to yours, thank you for sticking with me, and--more importantly--for being willing to stand up for the great truths about marriage.
God bless you and semper fi!
Gay-marriage advocates are pushing hard in multiple states, stretching our resources in the next few months. We are fighting for marriage in states across the country, including Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere, as well as defending DOMA nationally. Can you become a monthly donor today to give us the resources we can count on to plan? Just $5 every month would make a huge difference. Or, if you aren't in a position to make that kind of monthly pledge, a one time donation of $10 or more will help us stand--with you--for God's truth about marriage.