August 10, 2005    

Dear Concerned Citizen,

 
by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Children need their own mother and father. Mountains of social science research now support this common sense observation. After thirty years of experimenting with different family forms, the results are definitely in. Those diverse families that were supposed to usher in a new era of freedom and equality do not serve the interests of children. Children have the best chances in life when they live with their own biological mother and father who are married to each other.

The children of unmarried parents have greater problems in virtually every area of life. Children of unmarried parents have poorer health, starting with lower birth weights. These children are also more likely to have accidents. Children of unmarried parents are more likely to have mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. Children of unmarried parents have lower educational achievement, are more likely to repeat a grade of school and to drop out of high school. Children of unmarried parents have greater difficulty forming life-long attachments themselves as they grow older. Fatherless boys are particularly more likely to have trouble with the law, and end up in jail.

These kinds of problems show up in families in which the parents were never married, or the parents lived together without being married, or the parents were married and divorced, or married, divorced and remarried. Each of these "diverse family forms" has significant problems for kids, and some have distinct problems all their own.

Many of these problems are the result of adults who subjugate the rights of children to their own, as my colleague David Blankenhorn has persuasively argued in his recent address, The Rights of Children and the Redefinition of Parenthood.

"Now, as we know, a basic problem when we use the language of human rights is the tendency and the temptation to treat each specific right as if it stands alone, in splendid isolation and reigning in absolute mastery, conveniently disconnected from other rights that may conflict with it -- and also disconnected from any overarching anthropology or system of values that alone permit us to adjudicate rights in conflict and also to understand rights in relationship to duties, obligations, and other human goods that cannot easily be expressed in terms of rights. The obvious danger in this take-your-pick, cafeteria-style, essentially de-contextualized approach to human rights is that each right, in its isolated supremacy, tends to get expressed in absolutist, totalizing terms. I fear that we in the United States, trained as we are in what we call our “bill” of rights, are particularly prone to this temptation, and that as a result, we Americans have much to learn from the typically more holistic, integrated human rights frameworks that are evident in a number of other countries, including Denmark."

The social revolution in family structure was supposed to bring about greater freedom and equality. As a society, we have become less judgmental, more accepting of differences. We even demand that the government take steps to level the playing field among the different types of families. Neutrality. Fairness. Impartiality. The state should not "privilege" marriage over other types of families. Society is racing toward this goal of government impartiality, particularly with the movement to treat same sex unions on par with opposite sex married couples.

The irony is that more freedom and equality for adults results in less freedom and equality for children. The children of unmarried parents are certainly not equal to the children of married parents in terms of their prospects for a happy and prosperous life. The only way they can be made equal is for the state to intervene on behalf of the children of the unmarried. By spending tax dollars for educational, medical, psychological and social programs, the state can attempt to level the highly skewed playing field that naturally emerges between the children of the married and the children of the unmarried. But trying to create equality for the children creates gross fiscal inequalities: the state must tax the married to pay for the children of the unmarried.

Likewise, the promise of greater freedom for adults to choose their own style of living, sexual coupling and child-rearing brings about a decrease in freedom for their very own children, and in some respects, for themselves as well. When spousal or parental cooperation breaks down, the government becomes intimately involved in rearing children. It isn't unusual for unmarried parents to be unable to work together to make and keep a plan for visitation and support of children. When this happens, the family courts become involved. Divorced parents face the prospect of court supervision of the minutiae of family life. So too, do the single mothers when their child's father decides he wants to be involved with his child.

Family courts regularly rule upon how much time and money the non-custodial parent spends on children. The courts may get involved in who gets to see the children on Thanksgiving, which parent gets the child's report card first, whether a parent gets to move out of state, and whether the non-custodial parent can drop in at a Little League game. These invasions of privacy would be considered outrageous in any other context. Yet America considers this routine, business as usual, for the children of divorced or separated parents.

The far-reaching fiddling with family forms has been destructive for children. That much is blindingly obvious from the social science research. But this social tinkering has not attained its stated objectives of equality and freedom, even for adults. It is time to exercise some judgment, declare the experiment a failure and restore the two-parent married couple family as a social norm.




 

In a recent address titled The Rights of Children and the Redefinition of Parenthood presented to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, David Blankenhorn warns of even more difficulties for children as experimental family forms continue to evolve.

In Britain, in February of this year, the government health service, worried about a drop-off in donated sperm and eggs, began an active recruitment campaign to ask new sperm and egg donors to come forward. In the United States, after same-sex marriage became legal in the state of Massachusetts, public health officials in that state proposed striking the words “mother” and “father” from the birth certificates of all children in that state, replacing these words with the phrases “Parent A” and “Parent B.” More broadly, the entire field of reproductive technology as well as the broader fertility industry in the United States continues in an almost entirely unregulated environment.

In Canada, in an amazingly contradictory pair of moves, it is now the right of an adopted child to know the identity of his or her biological parents; whereas in the case of donor-conceived children, revealing to the child the identity of his or her biological parents is a federal crime, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. Also in Canada earlier this year, the federal government, as a part of its implementation of equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, proposed striking the term “natural parent” from all of Canadian law, and replacing it with the term “legal parent.”

That sound you just heard is the earth shifting. The social change I am describing contains a number of dimensions and carries with it a number of important likely consequences for families and for society, including (but probably not limited to) an increase in personal freedom and autonomy, greater recognition of the rights and dignity of gays and lesbians, a weakening of marriage as a pro-child social institution, and direct strides toward the marketization and commodification of human reproduction. Each of these likely consequences -- and please notice that as a group, by most reckonings, they would appear to be a decidedly mixed package -- is important and deserves serious consideration.

This erasing of the biological basis of parenthood from the law... not only represents a dramatic transfer of power from private life to the state, but is also, I believe, contrary to the best interests of children. But I want to focus today on just one of the dimensions and consequences of this trend. I am referring now to a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be a parent and how we decide who are a child’s parents. Specifically, I am referring to the phenomenon of erasing the biological basis of parenthood from law and replacing it with the idea of the state-defined “legal” parent. This erasure not only represents a dramatic transfer of power from private life to the state, but is also, I believe, contrary to the best interests of children.

Blankenhorn calls for greater consideration of the rights and needs of children and cautions against the redefinition of parenthood.

Human rights proponents today and in the coming period should work creatively to develop and expand, particularly in light of new medical and technological developments, the rights claims of children with respect to marriage and the family. So here is my recommendation. Just as human rights theorists in recent decades have worked creatively to develop and expand the rights claims of adults with respect to marriage and the family, so human rights proponents today and in the coming period should work creatively to develop and expand, particularly in light of new medical and technological developments, the rights claims of children with respect to marriage and the family. To make my own small and initial contribution to this worthy endeavor, let me conclude with four propositions about the rights of children.

1. Every child has the right, in so far as society can make it possible, to know and be raised by its two natural biological parents, except when it is contrary to the child’s best interests. The implication of this right is that society should recognize and support the institution of marriage, since marriage is our only social institution that seeks fully to unite, in the persons of the spouses, the biological, social, and legal dimensions of parenthood. The great good and goal of marriage is to give to each child the gift of the two persons who brought the child into the world. For this reason, marriage is society’s most pro-child social institution and probably ultimately society’s single most important protector and guarantor of the rights of children.

2. Every child has the right to a natural biological heritage, defined as the union of the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg. Society should typically refrain from actions that would efface or deny the child’s natural biological heritage, or what the French philosopher Sylvianne Agacinski calls the child’s double origin.

3. Every child has the right to know his or her biological origins. Individuals and society should typically refrain from creating genetic orphans, or children who do not and can not know their natural origins.

4. Children have the right to be heard. Today, the rights claims of adults tend to come through loud and clear. Children’s voices are much harder to hear.

Click here to read the full text of the speech

Responses to Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder:

At last, thank you for this insightful article. I have worked for years in the apparel industry, defending my work to people who think Latin American industry is nothing but sweat shops exploiting the poor. In fact, most of the factories are state of the art, bright, clean, large facilities owned by people who take care of their employees with many special programs like food supplements, providing glasses where necessary, community information (i.e. AIDS education), and sports programs. We take these things for granted, but they are big luxuries in developing countries. They provide jobs to construct and maintain these facilities, support industries (like shipping companies), as well as a training ground for middle managers from factory workers. I have seen a rise of middle class in the Dominican Republic in direct proportion to the work in apparel factories. This truly proves Bono’s point of giving developing countries a means to earn their way out of poverty. The other point I have continually stressed is that the jobs that are being lost in the U.S.A. and Canada, are ones that statistics show are being replaced by higher paying jobs. The truth is North American workers do not want to work for $10/hour or less. Every Canadian or American apparel factory owner I know asks me if I know where they can get sewing operators. I tell them I could get them plane loads from Latin America. This is also true of any company that pays in that range. Just ask McDonald’s and WalMart how hard it is getting workers. Their turnover, I believe is somewhere in the 40% range. Apparel prices have actually fallen over the past ten years, due to consumer pressure. The only that way that was possible, was outsourcing to countries where labour is cheaper. Sometimes I think all the hullabaloo is about getting votes for politicians and union officials, not about the real issues. Bravo for your insight. - G. H.

Your article about the merits of free trade begs the question, "What about the displaced American workers?" Who educates their children? Who pays their medical bills? Who puts food on their tables? What is wrong with making $15.00 an hour and being able to have a decent home, a reliable medical care and the hope of a secure retirement? $15.00 an hour only works out to about $31,200.00 per year before taxes - a wage which is rather modest and which many young American college graduates would consider unacceptable for their first job. I recently visited my mother's home town, a mill village in South Carolina. All the mills are closed. While younger workers were able to find new work, many who were near retirement age could not. They had no skills to offer the new workplace and no opportunities for retraining. I have watched that community slide into poverty and despair. I have seen houses that literally collapsed because of neglect. I have seen the face of America's very own third world. Welfare benefits have been slashed and extended unemployment benefits have run out for these people. Who is to give them hope and opportunity? While I certainly do not oppose the economic development in the so called Global South, what is the Christian response to American communities and the people left behind with nothing but doom and destruction in the wake of globalization? I have consistently supported free trade, but I find it less and less acceptable in the face of the failure of the United States to provide an adequate safety net for displaced workers. Market forces have no conscience. Only human beings do and we have not adequately provided for those displaced in the world economy. Our consciences have been seared by greed, I fear. - Rev. D. L.

The Great Anti Poverty Solution - a rejoinder To ideologues like Dinesh D'Souza, any stand by Democrats needs to be denounced as politically motivated. It is touching to see him express concern for the poor of the "third" world and support free trade and globalization as a strategy to both alleviate poverty in the third world while providing low cost goods that Americans can afford to buy. His claim that American workers making $ 15 an hour should not grudge third world workers who will make far less to produce cheap goods for consumption in the US, ignores several home truths. The tragedy of the past 10 years in the US is that while well paying jobs with health care and retrial benefits are disappearing due to outsourcing or American companies being unable to face foreign competition, the "new" jobs appearing in their place pay barely above minimum wage and with few benefits, particularly little health care. Wal-Mart the largest private US employer pays $ 7 per hour and minimal healthcare. The second and more serious aspect of this policy is that there is no concerted attempt from the ruling Republicans to ensure that American workers remain BOTH CONTEMPORARY AND COMPETITIVE. This can be done only through sustained education of both employed and displaced workers. In the American system it will be unrealistic to expect the private sector to bear these costs. Private companies invest minimally even to keep their EXISTING workforce contemporary! [Witness the decay of two great American research institutions - the Xerox Labs at Palo Alto and Bell Labs in New Jersey as their parent companies Xerox and Lucent are in financial distress and cannot afford to support these labs they did in happier times.] - H. P. (India)

I have to disagree with the article concerning Wal-Mart and its relationship with poverty. It does not build more stores in impoverished areas to help people; it builds them there for the cheap labor force. Wal-Mart employees' are poorly paid and those "great benefits" are beyond the financial reach of most who work there. Granted, the company does offer low priced items (not that great in the grocery department, however) but at what cost to their employees. And now, they are even using automated checkouts to replace their workers; I refuse to use them. Wal-Mart is not a foe against poverty; they are a perpetuator of it. The facts are out there (www.wakeupwalmart.com) but, as with most who are reporting with an agenda, what is revealed is not what is always the complete truth. - R. B.

While I am no economist, there are some things I have observed over the years. The sending of American jobs overseas or to some Third World country where labor is cheap has rarely, if ever, resulted in lower prices for goods shipped back into this country. If the price of an American made shirt is $60.00 and the company moves to Costa Rica to take advantage of cheaper labor, the price will still be $60.00 to American consumers (many of whom have lost their jobs) because of the company’s policy of maximizing profits (many times at all cost.) Several years ago my brother who is a pilot for Delta Airlines expressed his concern for that airline’s future. His concern stemmed from a change in company policy to employ contract workers who would provide services for the airline instead of Delta employees. He soon began to notice that the contract workers who had no (for lack of a better word) allegiance to the company were not performing at the same level as company employees. Consequently, the quality of services diminished, customers became dissatisfied, and sales slumped. Delta Airlines is now in trouble all because of the current trend toward maximizing profits at all cost – this time the future of a once strong and service oriented airline. - J. L. B.

I read Dinesh D'Souza's article with interest. I have been torn between the two sides of this argument. Questions I have for Mr. D'Souza: 1) You seem to be very indignant with what you call the "Pat Buchanan" position of "protecting high-paying American jobs should take priority over the interests of Nicaraguans and Hondurans, however indigent and needy they might be." However, I see no concern on the part of the Nicaraguans and the Hondurans about what happens to those Americans now left without jobs who can't purchase the goods now made by cheaper labor but not being offered in the States at a cheaper price. 2) Maybe the displaced American citizens should get themselves retrained so that they can find a new job. Well, maybe they could become programmers/computer consultants with skills to use products from a company such as Oracle. But then, those classes cost thousands of dollars here in the states -- not easy to come by when you don't have a paying job. Then you find yourself competing with people from countries such as Mr. D'Souza's home country of India where the cost of training is a fraction of what it is here. I know this is the case because I personally managed contracts with consultants from India who told me that they had no problem keeping up with skills because they could just go home to visit family and pick up a couple of courses inexpensively. 3) I believe that handouts are not the answer and I believe that allowing all people of the world the opportunity to succeed is important. However, do we have to create a new poverty group in one country in order to help another group out of poverty? Could it be that the business owners are the ones really benefitting? Do we see a prices being adjusted according to new cost benefits from outsourcing? - V. M.

Your latest newsletter, featuring commentary on "CAFTA," makes some good points but ignores some basic facts, as well. Your commentary says that yes, some jobs will be lost in the US, by folks who are "non-competitive" in the world market. And, you say, those who oppose CAFTA would deny third-world workers "the few dollars a day that they need to climb out of desperate poverty." You neglect to mention, however, that they earn those "few dollars a day" by working for a few cents per hour in conditions that have traditionally been called sweatshops. U-2's Bono is right that poor countries deserve the right to earn their way out of poverty; but those Americans who enjoy purchasing shirts or shoes at reduced prices have a right to know that they are doing so at the expense of the people who made those items, usually women and children, working under near-slavery conditions. If you want to give that situation your whole-hearted endorsement, have at it. Some of us have scruples about that, however. Do I support CAFTA? Yes, in part. But I also support encouraging our trade partners in all parts of the world to make human rights part of their planning. - D. G.

This is a very good article – with one blind spot. First, my background : I am of Costa Rican decent and have family in Costa Rica. I am an IT professional in the U.S. My company has outsourced much IT work to India. Point 1: Costa Rica has barely a middle class. You can only believe it by seeing it yourself. Hopefully the free trade agreement will truly help the poverty stricken in CR and not the managers and merchants. Point 2: The cost of the goods coming back to the out-of-work consumer will not reflect the incredible savings in labor. There will be a small layer of rich people who will remain rich because the outsourcing saves money. - R. D.

Dinesh, You have got to be kidding us. Can you please give us a treatment of free trade that is more nuanced than the tired "a rising tide lifts all ships" argument? As a theological and political liberal, I agree with you that free markets are the best, most efficient way of organizing economies. Very few people actually argue this point (including Democrats). The problem is that "free markets" aren't really "free." You know this. Governments radically interfere in the operations of the market, giving billions of dollars of welfare payments and subsidies to corporations--corporations whose profits aren't shared equally among all citizens. Why should governments favor corporate interests instead of advocating for people and their inherent rights as workers (unless those corporate interests are footing the bill for Joe Congressman's next re-election campaign)? Dinesh, the problem with the free market is that it doesn't have a conscience--it will eat up and spit out a human being and an American family in a heartbeat. It will decimate the natural environment, spoiling it for future generations. People--and their elected leaders, unlike the market, DO have consciences. We owe it to one another to protect the dignity of the workforce--of the human souls whose labor makes profits and prosperity possible, and to protect the natural environment that is our gift from God and our duty to faithfully steward. Brother, can we have a serious conversation about free trade and invoke religious and ethical principles rather than recycling stale (and false) economic propaganda from the Reagan years? You're smarter than this article suggests. I hoped for better. - D. L.

EXCERPT: In order to protect American jobs that pay $15 an hour, Pelosi and company seek to deprive poor people in the Third World from earning the few dollars a day that they need to climb out of desperate poverty. I care about our poor much more than I care about theirs. You are using crap logic right here. The central issue is this: Protecting low wage American Jobs versus Allowing corporations to lower their costs I don't care if you fall into the latter category. - upset individual - J. S.

Thanks... In Christ. - E. P.

Again, you all would be amusing if your words weren't so destructive, and un-Christian.. My prayers for you... - C. T.

I attend a United Methodist Church . .. and of course our Church is involved in attending to the needs of all people on the globe. I am sure we do our part, which is probably not solving the problem. Seems we should be asking, "how can we relate to the world so that resources can be distributed according the supply and need ..." How do you feel about our involvement in Iraq? is that the answer? Seems The Great Anti-Poverty .... is it really a solution? - P. K.

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The Social Health of Marriage in America: 2005
 
 
We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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  Jennifer Roback Morse
Jennifer Roback Morse is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. She has appeared on numerous talk radio shows nationwide and is a regular columnist for the National Catholic Register. Her public policy articles have appeared in Policy Review, the American Enterprise, Fortune, Reason, the Wall Street Journal, and Religion and Liberty. From 1980 to 1996, she taught at Yale and George Mason universities. In 1996, she moved with her family to California, where she now pursues her primary vocation as a wife and mother.
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