This article originally appeared in the July 2003
issue of Liberty, PO Box 1181, Port Townsend, WA 98368. Annual subscription US$29.50.
Copyright 2003, Liberty, all rights reserved.
The Federal Bureau of Marriage?
by Stephen Baskerville
Following its resounding successes in stopping drug use and
eliminating poverty, the government now sets out to save marriage.
All sorts of social pathologies, from violence, to substance abuse, to teen
pregnancy, to suicide, can be traced to fatherless families. To deal with this,
Congress is now preparing to enact Bush administration proposals to promote healthy
marriages. This gives the impression that politicians are addressing a problem that has
become too conspicuous to ignore. In fact, they are avoiding it. The very agencies asked
to promote healthy marriages have for decades been entrenched in the divorce and
child-support system, which depends on the breakup of marriages.
Thirty years ago, with no public discussion of consequences, no-fault divorce laws
effectively ended marriage as a legal contract and precluded couples from entering binding
agreements to raise children. Deception was involved from the start. Laws advertised as
allowing divorce by mutual consent actually created unilateral divorce, permitting one
spouse to dissolve a marriage without accepting any liability for the consequences.
It would have been different if the new laws had removed government from marriage
altogether and rendered it a wholly private contract, as libertarian Wendy McElroy has
proposed. Instead, government developed new instruments to intervene in families.
Three decades of unrestricted divorce have created a public-private complex of judges,
lawyers, psychotherapists, mediators, counselors, social workers, child support agents,
and others with a vested interest in perpetuating divorce. Whatever pieties these
practitioners voice about the plight of fatherless, poor, abused, and violent children,
the fact remains that their livelihood depends on a steady supply of such children. The
children of divorce fill government coffers, fuel political patronage, expand police
powers, justify surveillance of citizens, and create a host of problems for officials to
solve to which is now added the problem of creating more healthy marriages.