As I’ve been reading (with delight!) the ongoing exchange between Dan and Greg (inter alia) concerning bouncing dead cats and marriage and such, I find myself wondering why we’re dancing around the issue of children a bit. Not entirely dancing around it; Dan provided a clear explanation of the state’s interest in marriage in his original post: “The state cares about marriage because if a man and a woman get together and produce a child, someone has to care for the wee little one. And if it is not the child’s parents, the burden falls on society.”
It seems to me, then, that the third facet of marriage (see Dan’s original post) isn’t so much between the couple and the state as it is between the family and the state. It’s true that the state probably has some interest in regulating property disputes between childless divorcing couples, but other than that, as Dan rightly points out, the interest of the state in marriage is in the relationship between marriage and procreation.
As Dan notes, as of a few generations ago we have “intentionally decoupled sex and its consequences from the institution of marriage”. But crucially, we’ve also decoupled sex and its consequences, or at least its most, well, consequential consequence? Meaning, babies. The idea that sex and babies are intrinsically linked – something that all human beings simply knew since, well, always – is now scoffed at. We’ve fixed that problem. Sex is recreation, and children are work, and now we can maximize the former and minimize the unintended instances of the latter.
But what it that problem wasn’t actually a problem? What if sex and babies were in fact supposed to have some sort of necessary connection – both ways, not just in the “if you want to have a baby you’ll normally have to have sex” way, but also in the “if you want to have sex you should be prepared to have a baby” way? If that proposition were in fact tenable, then that should probably figure into our diagnosis of whether marriage is dead. Why? Because, as Dan also pointed out, the marriage debates have missed the point of talking about “the heart of the issue, which is the nature of marriage itself.” I submit that it is both – in its very nature – both unitive and procreative. (Fine, I didn’t come up with that one.) So if we want to blame liberal divorce laws for aiding and abetting the destruction of the unitive aspect, we should probably start looking at what killed the procreative face of marriage.
Gigantic disclaimer: I don’t mean to be cruel here; I absolutely agree with Dan that couples who don’t have children are not at all “less married” than those who do. But I really do wonder why the state should care about marriage if children are only accidental and not essential to it. And, yikes, what stands in the way of reducing sex to sport if we engineer natural consequences out of it.
I realize I’m treading really dangerous waters here, and I don’t mean to be glib or, certainly, offensive. When I say that children are essential to marriage, I mean that the nature of marriage, not each case of it – i.e., a married couple should be open to the possibility of children, while of course in some cases it won’t be possible for various reasons. But it seems like a point that needs some attention if we’re attempting to figure out what went wrong with marriage and how to save (or resuscitate) marriage.