This is Part 6 of the Conservative Standpoint a serial post by Cole D.
All conservatives need to care about marriage: so must the state. I can think of no more egregious and pernicious concept than romance driven definition of marriage. Such a concept, that the matrimonial foundation rests on two individuals love, and nothing more, has come up with frequency among my circles. This notion leads directly to the libertarian idea state has no business being involved with marriage because marriage is about two whole persons coming together for the purposes of self-actualization and not for the creation and rearing of children. This assumption is dangerous because not only does it remove various barriers to the redefinition of marriage, but it also removes the moral imperative that states remain involved with the married family as a third party to the contract, despite the fact that marriage is essential to society.
The great conservative minds have all recognized the fundamental institution of the family. Burke, Buckley, Hamilton, Hume, Kirk, Scruton, Oakeshott, and Kristol as well as many others recognized that the family—as an institution—was of critical importance in ensuring childhood well being and preventing the infiltration of the state into the private lives of citizens. This statement seems self-evident to the to the majority of conservatives, however, to those unfamiliar or unconvinced of the arguments in favour of marriage the case must be made on empirical grounds that marriage is an effective and necessary means to ensure the continuance of the family. Because the conservative recognizes that marriage is necessary for the establishment of the permanent family marriage is not an outdated and irrelevant institution; in fact, marriage is of critical importance to the health of society, and therefore society has a stake in engaging, reforming, and incentivizing the institution.
If we conceded that marriage is in fact relevant, and it seems it is, why else would homosexuals so vociferously clamber for the right to marry otherwise; then it seems self-evident must that marriage is crumbling in the western nations of the world. This begs the question what went wrong in the 1960’s? What put the institution into a tailspin, which only now it is beginning in some minor capacity to recover from? The primary answers, when one looks deeply at the history of marriage, become apparent immediately: in order of importance, these changes are the contraceptive pill, the abandonment of stigmatization of unwed mothers, the distribution of marriages unique incentives, the growth of the welfare state, and no-fault divorce.
Marriage in the United States is in decline: in 1964 and 93% of children were born to married parents. By 2010 59% of births occurred to married couples. This same pattern is obvious throughout the Anglo-Sphere, in Canada and in Britain births to married parents are 67% (not births but children living in married households) and 53% respectively post millennium. Though the large decline in the marriage rate is a consequence of changing, societal incentives, some causes are a more direct and open example of transformed incentives than others.
One of these easy to target yet hard to quantify changes is the introduction of mass contraceptives and the sexual revolution; both go hand in hand with increased pregnancy and sex outside marriage. One might ask why the contraceptive pill is a concern when opposition to the medication seems only to arise amongst Catholics, and one might ask how opposition can remain when it is in apparent that the birth control pill has enriched the sexual lives of so many married couples. The answer though, is simple, the birth control pill directly decoupled sex and the consequences. The pill removed any real responsibility associated with sex, along with the incentive to remain chaste up until the wedding vows. Someone may ask why it is an issue that sex and procreation are no longer inexorably linked, after all people are still getting married. In response it may be said that prior to May 1960, and the FDA approval of Enovid as a contraceptive, a man, generally speaking, had cause to commit and marry before he engaged in sexual relations with a woman, and a woman had a reason to withhold sex. If a man could only acquire sexual gratification through marriage then he was a great deal more likely to marry. Peter Hitchens wrote in The Abolition of Britain. ““Before the pill, women had a powerful argument against sex before marriage. Virginity was not just a fanciful idea, but a wise precaution.” A great deal more hardship originated with the introduction of the contraceptive pill, and surely, Margaret Sanger’s mission caused great harm to society, driving increases in both the abortion and pregnancy rate. Seemingly the oral contraceptive, along with various other methods such as Nuva Ring, IUD, Plan B (or Emergency Contraceptive), and hormone injection have facilitated a reduction in the the female ability, or desire, to leverage sex for commitment.
Concurrent and prior to the contraceptive revolution another revolution was taking place that had originated in post Great War Britain, the gradual removal of the social stigma and censure around single, unwed, motherhood. In the Abolition of Britain Peter Hitchens takes time to chronicle the steady reduction in stigma associated with single motherhood, and how, despite the most generous intentions the results were actually harmful to the family.The initial movement to remove stigma and normalize bastardy arose in 1918 with the British National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child. The group sought to ensure women were not sequestered in workhouses away from children, who often died from malnutrition, and that fathers were by law forced to finance part of the child's care. Meanwhile, the group also worked to alter public opinion and limit cruelty to the offspring of unmarried mothers. This activism was of no significant harm because all the group was capable, and really strove to do, at this junction was secure a reasonable standard of living for bastard children.
The primary issue with the National Council was that it took no stance against the status of the unmarried mother. The group slowly secured more benefits for the children of reckless affairs, but by the mid-twentieth century its agenda had transformed. This transformation is evident in a passage from the National Council’s own history: between 1945-1959 illegitimate births had fallen in Britain, but this was not good enough for the National Council. “In the fifties, the priority of the council seemed to be working with the mother to make her a responsible member of society, rather than influencing society to be more tolerant of unmarried motherhood.”
Gradually, through the advocacy of the National Council, and an increase in unwed mothers the stigma on unwed mothers and fathers evaporated. Over the course of the 1960’s and 1970’s the unique privileges of marriage, were distributed to the single parent households, and the growing welfare state made it less hazardous for single parents to support children. These changes removed the immediate hazards of divorce and made it no longer prohibitive to remain unmarried with children. A new term came into use in Britain: the One-Parent Family. Since these changes were affected, illegitimacy has skyrocket. The rate of illegitimate births rising from 12.5% of total births in Britain in 1981 to 20% 1992 and 53% (being raised in single parent homes) in 2010. Removing all associated stigma against single motherhood was an unrealized and unknown attack on the marriage bond, and when the social stigma along with the legal prohibition on single motherhood and divorce disappeared, the results were disastrous. Enhancing this effect was initiation of social work, as a substitute for religious charity, which could "help but not scold." This has destroyed the incentives for marriage, because it rewards the negative behavior and steals the unique benefits of marriage, the unique rewards for virtue. As Hitchens may be summarized, “ If marriage does not have exclusive privileges many people, and above all men, are less likely to bother with a public and enforceable legal contract which may well get them into a great deal of trouble and load them with inescapable obligations for the rest of their lives. . . . Being married is no longer more respectable, more secure or more subsidized than being unmarried.”
With each subsidy directed toward the single parent family, a new phenomenon grows: marriage to the state. What does one mean by suggesting that parents are now married to the state? It means two things: firstly, that the state has provided such robust benefits to the single parent that it is feasible to remain unmarried, and secondly that the new and extensive welfare provisions for single parents have served as a replacement for a fathers income in the households. This pricing out of fathers from the family became devastating among the already poor, where men make a marginal income, often only slightly ahead of the benefits received by mother. The extensive welfare provisions that made comfortable living for single parents possible originated in the United States with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which engaged a vast welfare apparatus. For those who meant well it was reasonable to expect that by bringing the income of single parent households up to something comparable to a two-parent household the poverty markers among children of unwed parents would disappear. However, this assumption has proved itself the basis of unmitigated disaster, which bureaucrats and educators remain reluctant to recognize.
In 1964 at the initiation of the War on Poverty 93% of children were born to married parents. By 2010 59% of births occurred to married couples in the United States. There is a strong correlation between the proliferation of welfare services and the growth of single parenthood, but again we must establish why this is a bad thing, and why the idea that improving incomes to single parent families is specious. The American, Heritage Foundation Found, “According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.” More significantly, they report that when both single parent families and two parent families are compared on the basis of income and education, an often cited "oversight", the married two-parent household is 75% less likely to experience child poverty. Therefore, we are aware that the single parent household is significant risk enhancer for both negative social outcomes and child poverty. Now it is time to reveal just how welfare dependency exasperates these problems.
One saw before a correlation between the growth of the welfare state and the growth in the number of single parent families. In the United States, single parent families get the lion's share of means based welfare funding. In the United States, the government in 2011 offered 450 billion in welfare funding: single parent families claimed 330 billion. Irving Kirstol knew that welfare encouraged illegitimacy and child poverty and wrote as much in the essay Life Without Father, claiming that welfare literally “outbid” the biological father. He recognized that these welfare payments were not significant to most upper and middle class Americans, but compared to a father without a high school education, many were priced essentially out of the market their returns on labour reduced to only a marginal improvement over payments from the state. This is important, not only because welfare dependency is expensive, but because working, and financing his household are the most fatherly thing a man can do and if you decouple fatherhood and earning you do irreparable damage to the desire of men to serve as fathers to their children.
Kristol uses the example of a father who earns $10,000 a year and a mother who collects $8,000 a year in benefits: if the father joins the family, and marries or is found contributing to such a household then the state will remove access to benefits. Certainly, the family is now making $10,000 but the father's labour is only worth $2,000. The jobs these new, under-educated fathers find themselves doing are often dirty, demeaning, and dangerous. There is little incentive to continue if your labour only adds $2,000 additional income above what the mother was collecting through welfare payments.
The Heritage Foundation commissioned its own report on the ways in which welfare drives illegitimacy and it found similar results. The Foundation referencing another report said. “June O'Neill's research has found that, holding constant a wide range of other variables such as income, parental education, and urban and neighborhood setting, a 50 percent increase in the monthly value of AFDC [aid for families with dependent children] and food stamp benefits led to a 43 percent increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.” In the report the researchers recognized that welfare not only prices the father out of the family, but welfare itself increases the likelihood of out of wedlock births and poor childhood outcomes, despite controls on children’s IQ, parent’s IQ, housing, income, age, and race the consensus was that these children did worse. Children of mothers and fathers wed to the state experience poorer outcomes regardless of the family income itself.
One can see how low income fathers are priced out of family life, but one can also see how another different incentive is acting upon the married family to both increase the likelihood of dissolution and reduce the likelihood that men will desire to marry in the first place. The marriage contract is only a contract in name. It leaves the most committed and the most loving partner punished in the event of a marital termination and in the process has completely changed the way society approaches marriage.
No fault divorce law may be the both the best intended and the most pernicious legislation in the western world in the last 50 years. No fault divorce has torn asunder millions of families and left them smoldering in the wake of a single spouse's unhappiness. No fault divorce has a long history; Louis De Bonald argued passionately against no fault divorce (by 1794 the revolutionary government permitted divorce for any reason at all) and the contractual notion of marriage during the French Revolution successfully convincing the government of France to ban divorce in 1816. Now, to clarify, I do not suggest a return to a blanket ban of divorce. However, it must be recognized that Bonald understood a number critical premises upon which marriage is based. He recognized that marriage is not about the spouses; he recognized marriage is not an ordinary contract.
Marriage is not about the spouses because the union of marriage is created strictly for the creation of a separate institution: a family. According to Bonald The man is an individual and so is the woman, but the child, the mother, and the father, must by necessity exist in relation to one another and cannot exist outside of the family. A father for example is a precondition for motherhood, and this is marriage. In his book, On Divorce Bonald had the foresight to recognize the fallibility of man and his innate difficulty in sustaining a union between two peoples. Bonald recognized that without the temperance of marriage, self-love and preservation would win out of propagation. “Is this pretended natural affection for other not too often ready to give way to affection for oneself?” What is implied in this statement is that without a binding legal basis one's tendency to vacillate would lead far too often to the dissolution of the union during times of transient hardship.
Bound to concept of a permanent union, not a contract, is the notion that people amalgamated in marriage do not exit the union with the same properties in which they entered. The wife often sacrifices her beauty, dignity, and fertility— her best utilities to secure a new marriage. Likewise, marriage is almost never dissolved entirely mutually and despite appearances, at least one party often has grievances, but has no recourse to maintain the contract. This reality is illustrated in part by the modern observation that women initiate unilateral divorce in much higher numbers than men approximately 70% in much of the world, with others estimating that up to 40% of divorces initiated by men are only filed because the wife has used coercion to push her partner toward dissolution of the union. Key to Bonald’s thesis is the recognition that, “[e]verything which is irritating in an indissoluble marriage becomes unbearable in a marriage subject [capable of] dissolution.”
Though Bonald managed to rescind no-fault divorce in France the legal precedent had been set, and it arose anew in much of the western world after the middle of the 20th century.
Hitchens gives the example of the 1948 sea change that occurred during the case of Allen vs Allen. A POW returned to Britain to find his wife and children living with another man. In the ensuing decision, the court refused him custody of his children in the dispute. “From that moment, guilt ceased to be decisive in custody cases.” In time, it would be asserted that women had a “biological right” to their children regardless of fault morals had been bypassed in the name of biology, but in turn, a negative incentive disappeared. Furthermore, in 1965 the Law Commission was established, and divorce reform was handed over to the lawyers. The commission came up with “irretrievable breakdown” as cause for divorce effectively establishing not only “divorce on demand” but “unilateral” divorce on demand in Great Britain.
The advent of divorce outside of abusive circumstances changed marriage from union based around the rearing of children to one romantic love. The ability to dissolve a union on demand without any justifiable reason and no fault made neither party culpable for its actions. Prior to the initiation of widespread divorce reform the law recognized the right of the divorcee, male or female, to the property, children, and finances; however with it the biological right of the wife to the children, and the division of assets— not bound or punished by guilt— created an endowment readily procurable at any time. Not only did children find themselves substituted for romantic love, but also men were left with no plausible reason to engage in contract, when the only guarantor of its security was faith in one's partner, not recourse to the law.
This brings one to the question of why they should care about the transformation of the state of marriage. To justify this concern I can offer a handful of incontrovertible, though not exclusive, reasons. Presented upon the understanding that marriage is the foundation of the family, and the family is the most important, and basic element to a successful society. First is the fact that the family is an essentially a closed unit and bound by blood. The family is the first of Burke’s "little platoons" that makes up the fabric of communal life and provides for the needs of the society's members. The true conservative knows that the family is the enemy of the socialist and liberal states because the family both provides largely for itself in material goods, and therefore diminishes the demand for state services and welfare, and it provides the means by which groups pass on culture and unify generations. The family is the antithesis of the states groupthink and it has always been the enemy of assimilation. A family through its closely-knit ties and multiples generations prevents the easy sublimation of state rhetoric. Lastly, conservatives must care because bastard children suffer egregiously.
By presenting the reasons above, for why the conservative as an individual should care about the state of marriage, we now must determine why the state should care about the state of marriage. Despite the fact that libertarians are so quick to castigate us
against the notion of state involvement in the institution they fail to recognize the theoretical grounding upon, which the communitarian notion of marriage is based. The libertarian in perpetual love for himself and his liberty will sacrifice the well being of future generations for his furtive pleasures and self-evident rights, while at the same time denying the right to a fruitful and safe life to both descendents and their peers. With this recognition is the obvious claim that the state has a direct interest in preventing poverty, crime, hardship, and by extension welfare abuse. We have uncovered that marriage and a the two parent household is the key in preventing child poverty and reducing welfare consumption for both the single-parent and future children, and through its distribution of collective resources the state has a direct interest in preventing their misappropriation.
As a conservative I am to make the case that marriage is a social concern not an individual one; since the middle of the 20th century lawmakers increasingly disrupted the fabric of marriage with an aim toward utilitarianism for those fortunate enough to be living through their adult years. However it did this at the expense of the wellbeing of both children and by extension society. Likewise, it was, I earnestly believe not the intent of the courts to systematically destroy marriage as an institution, however that is what it has done by making the investment in both time and resources unconscionable for the vast majority of men, who, may now experience fornication and without fear of burglary by divorce courts or censure from society.
This leaves finally, a number of propositions to be suggested in order to improve the incentives surrounding marriage and reaffirm the centrality of marriage to family life. In order to make a marriage something both desirable and permanent conservatives can advocate for a number of changes. Among these changes is a sexual education designed to inculcated moral values and introduce the idea of moral responsibility in the sexual exchange. Sexual education can easily become a family education, centred on the biological reality of conception, as well as the importance of marriage and the family for the well-being of the children and parents. Furthermore, in order to address the widespread fornication and the provide a unique incentive to the married couple the contraceptive pill could easily be regulated so that it once more could only be proscribed to the married woman and not her unmarried counterpart. The same may be said for any male alternative that comes to market, like vasagel, in the upcoming years. It is necessary to assert, for those sex-positive activists will moan endlessly that no one needs sex, but sex does need to be coupled to the risk or reward of procreation. Finally, and most critically the single greatest cure to the decline of marriage and the mass defection of men from this institution is a reinstatement of fault based divorce law. It would be simple to return to the status quo ante and revoke such acts as the Canadian 1986 Divorce Act. However, such ambition must be tempered by the fact that people value their liberty regardless of consequence and it is obvious that supreme courts impede any such legislative attempts, however, the flame of a reformed marriage must not be allowed to die, and as conservatives, we have a duty to continue to advocate for such change until it occurs.