Marriage and Family Life Cannot be Privatized

Mar 1, 2018 by

by Scott Yenor, Public Discourse:

The existence of each political community depends on married adults having children and raising them to responsible adulthood.

A series of setbacks in the culture wars may tempt conservatives to wish away any further conflicts about marriage and family life by “getting the state out of the marriage business.” Marriages would then be the concern only of the couples themselves and of the institutions of civil society that those in the marriage connect themselves with. In any event, conservatives might think, it is better to have no state recognition of marriage than an erroneous one.

This temptation to make marriage a private affair seems justified for several reasons. First, much of marital and familial life is private. There is little direct governmental input over whether to have sex, whether to have children, how to raise children, and so on. Second, our cultural circumstances have changed: much apparent privatizing has already occurred on issues related to marriage and family life. As a society, we have privatized access to contraception, loosened regulations on obscenity and pornography, allowed easy divorce, and now equated same-sex relationships with marriage. Marriage generally may have no choice but to follow suit.

As others have argued in this space, such a position adopts the central liberal illusion that the state can be neutral in moral controversies. My new essay “Can the State Be Neutral on Marriage?” combats this shibboleth. Why? Because the liberal approach to marriage cultivates an ethic of expressive individuality, compromises the tutoring of the passions, and tends to undermine parental rights as well.

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