Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Marriage, class, opportunity, and outcomes

This New York Times piece, by Jason DeParle, called "Two Classes in America, Divided by 'I Do,'" strikes me not only as a must-read, but as a must-engage and must-take-to-heart.  It's not a new observation, i.e., that the less-traditional "lifestyle" choices that are increasingly available when it comes to cohabitation, single parenting, divorce, etc., tend to have worse results for poor people than for the better-off.  A bit:

[S]triking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.       

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes. . . .

It's not just that marriage might be "confined" to the fortunate classes; it's also, it seems, that mobility into those classes (or not) is connected to the decisions that people make -- and that people's parents make -- about marriage and childrearing.  The supermarket glossies coo about this or that celebrity having a baby outside of marriage, but "a large body of research shows that [children of single parents] are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school."

Maybe the piece should be called "Dan Quayle was right"?  In any event, for the lawyers (and everyone else!):  Can can law do, if anything, about the challenges identified in the piece?

UPDATE:  An interesting reaction to the DeParle piece, here, at Get Religion.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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I hope your suggested title of "Dan Quayle Was Right" does not do anything to deter those like me who are "left of right wing" from reading this excellent and rather heartbreaking piece. (I read it yesterday.) It is not necessary to be a conservative or a Republican to see the damage being done by out-of-wedlock births and single parenthood. I am sure that if I thought same-sex marriage was a problem, I would see what the article depicts as a much, much bigger problem. It seems to me too bad that the former gets all the attention.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 16, 2012 4:06:52 PM

That's a get-the-genie-back-in-the-bottle question. Even if we reform the laws that helped contribute to the situation, what effect will that have on the problem? Certainly if we repealed the no-fault- and irreconcilable-differences-divorce laws it would undo some of the legal framework, and perhaps repudiate the myth that these laws make us all happier and more flourishing than we used to be. But would that work to undo the sort of damage at issue here? It seems this practice among the poor of never marrying isn't directly connected to the divorce laws any more.

Posted by: Titus | Jul 16, 2012 4:20:43 PM

This seems like a compelling argument for allowing more couples--such as same-sex couples--to have access to the protections that marriage provides by allowing the legal creation of families.

Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Jul 16, 2012 5:39:56 PM

We apparently have different definitions of "compelling."

Posted by: Mike | Jul 16, 2012 7:17:02 PM

David, you are quite right to suggest that the failure to respect and protect the essence of fatherhood and motherhood, has had a profound impact on the human family that is deeply disturbing and heartbreaking.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 17, 2012 7:11:37 AM

"It seems this practice among the poor of never marrying isn't directly connected to the divorce laws any more."

In Louisiana some years ago, we passed "covenant marriage", an attempt to graft back onto the legal system pre-no-fault divorce. Very few people actually enter into these marriages, I suspect because of their already formed cultural, religious, socio-economic, etc. views on the permanence of marriage.

I do hope you respond to Eric Bugyis's snarky little piece over at Commonweal, Prof. Garnett.

Posted by: Josh | Jul 17, 2012 10:26:33 AM

The Commonweal piece is horrifying. Catholic social teaching holds that the 2-parent married family is the basis of any just society, yet the self-acclaimed social justice Catholics could not wait to brand Garnett's commentary "sanctimonious." If American Catholics cannot even agree to support the family, what on earth do we still have in common?

Here's the Commonweal link:

Posted by: ron chandonia | Jul 17, 2012 10:55:26 AM


Regarding the piece on Commonweal, I think it is at least in part justified. To amplify slightly on my comment above, I think invoking Dan Quayle (who was, in my opinion, not right) invited discussion of the Times article as ammunition for conservatives fighting the culture war.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 10:58:48 AM

An earlier post states that "Catholic social teaching holds that the 2-parent married family is the basis of any just society." Is there any significance to the fact that there is no specification as to the gender of the two parents in this statement? As it stands, it does not exclude 2 same sex parents from the definition. And care is required in any response to this that assumes that a "2-parent married family" can only include two members of the opposite sex, because (a) the two members of a couple, even if man and woman, may or may not be the biological parents of the child they are raising, and (b)there are some jurisdictions that allow wame-sex partners to marry, thus making them a married couple in the eyes of the law. Clearly reproductive capacity is not the standard for who the two parents can be, and, whether one agrees or not, there are jurisdictions in which two parents of the same sex are married (and are legally parents as well).

A question: if "Catholic social teaching" requires that marriage be defined as one man and one woman, does it follow that all Catholics must perforce agree with this definition or face some unspecified consequence? In other words, is acquiescence in this a requirement of all Catholics? If the answer to this is in the affirmative, that is not my no doubt flawed understanding of Catholicism.

This leads, however, to the further question of whether it accords with Catholic teaching to advocate that same-sex parents should not be allowed to marry, or, if married, that their marriages should be rejected in the eyes of the law. This result would cause their children to lose any and all legal protections that the status of their parents as married provides to them, and takes us back to the starting point of this thread: if marriage helps children, should anyone concerned about the welfare of children argue that married status should be more difficult to attain?

Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Jul 17, 2012 12:04:15 PM

You see I would call that a "non-obvious and highly inferential case for allowing more couples--such as same-sex couples--to have access to the protections that marriage provides."

Posted by: Mike | Jul 17, 2012 12:55:17 PM

Ellen, according to Catholic teaching, Christ Has confirmed that from The Beginning the one flesh union between a husband and a wife is what creates a new family.

"Have you not heard from The Beginning that God created them male and female, and for THIS reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh..." - Jesus, The Christ

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 17, 2012 1:07:28 PM

Ellen raises a truly bizarre question in her response to my comment above: Does CST specifically exclude "2 same sex parents" from its description of the family structure that is the basis of a just society. Short answer: Yes--and with good reason. It might be helpful, Ellen, to read chapter 5 of The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Posted by: ron chandonia | Jul 17, 2012 1:35:10 PM

I respond, briefly, to Eric Bugyis's critical response to this post, here: http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2012/07/more-on-the-i-do-divide-a-short-response-to-eric-bugyis.html

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 17, 2012 1:43:54 PM

"Regarding the piece on Commonweal, I think it is at least in part justified."

I don't. One can certainly take different things away from deParle piece (here's Matt Yglesias' take: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/07/17/why_would_declining_male_wages_lead_to_a_decline_in_working_class_marriage_.html).

But when Bugyis dismisses Garnett's take away as merely "sanctimonious" self-congratulation, or suggests he's just making a "family values" argument, I think that is unfair and, frankly, unbecoming of a publication that purports to represent thoughtful, informed Catholic opinion and analysis. Unfortunately, the closer we get to election day, the more it seems to be happening. Again, that's not to say that they have to agree with Garnett, but I think the piece belies their own (dare I say it) values.

Posted by: Josh | Jul 17, 2012 2:21:03 PM

One might attempt to respond to Miss Wertheimer, but there is only so much time in the day, and her statement contains so many errors, that the task simply is not practical in any comprehensive sense.

Suffice to say that the Church's teaching that marriage is only the inseparable union of one man and one woman demands the full assent of faith on the part of members of the Church. A Catholic who held and promulgated a contrary teaching may ("may" because there are additional criteria) by doing so commit the sin of heresy.

Posted by: Titus | Jul 17, 2012 2:27:19 PM

See Catholic Canon 750 regarding those things that are to be believed by Divine and Catholic Faith including The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 17, 2012 11:46:23 PM

As I said in my response to Bugyis's critical post, I genuinely didn't mean to open up the can of worms about Dan Quayle, culture wars, and SSM, but instead to (a) note (as others have done) that there could be costs, especially to children and low-income folks, that result from our culture's uncritical, even celebratory, attitude toward celebrities' single-parent-having-a-baby or unmarried-couples-having-kids decisions and (b) ask what (if anything) "law" can do to push things in a better (for children, and low-income folks) direction. I suppose if one is predisposed to expecting sanctimony, self-congratulation, or other bad things from me, then one would be less likely to "hear" and engage (a) and (b). And, that's too bad. I'll close the comments now. Thanks all.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 18, 2012 12:45:25 PM