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THE WINDOW WAS BROKEN IN THE 1960s
by George Jonas
National Post
February 7, 2005

In a recent column, Barbara Kay extends the "broken window" theory of crime
to a discussion of
marriage. The concept, originally devised by social theorists James Q.
Wilson and George Kelling
-- and later popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 bestseller, The Tipping
Point -- looks at the
relationship between major crime and minor disorder. Breaking the window of
a seemingly
abandoned car turns it into a derelict, so that a vehicle no one touched
for weeks is stripped
clean within hours.

"Gay marriage is that broken window," writes Ms. Kay. "Continuing vandalism
will see marriage
abolished altogether."

Assuming that the Wilson-Kelling epidemic theory of crime can be usefully
stretched to cover
marriage, is gay marriage the broken window? I propose to argue it isn't.
The "window" was
smashed a long time ago, and the wreck has been vandalized ever since. The
doors, the seats, the
wheels and the engine were long gone before gay and lesbian couples started
eyeing the hood
ornament.

The Canadian state views marriage the way the Chinese state views the
meditational exercise
Falun Gong (except the Chinese state is more honest.) Marriage creates the
family, and the family
-- a quasi-autonomous institution, with its own ties, loyalties, and legal
immunities -- competes
with the state. Limited government can coexist with it, but the family is
always at risk in societies
of unlimited government. The 20th century brought unlimited -- or at least
intrusive or
interventionist -- government to many societies. As we entered an era of
statism, the family
became embattled.

Under crude forms of statism, such as Soviet-type systems, the institution
was emasculated by
edict. Church sacraments were discouraged. Spouses were pressured to
divorce politically
unsuitable mates. Children were conscripted to spy on their parents and
denounce them to the
authorities.

Under more sophisticated models, such as the welfare-statism of the West,
the family was decreed
anachronistic. The state supported trends that viewed marriage as stifling
and confining, and
particularly oppressive to women. Governments funded studies and lobby
groups to undermine
family values. Bureaucracies offered substitute services for functions
traditionally performed by
families. Statist theorists pitted Western virtues, such as individualism,
along with universal
vices, such as hedonism, against family obligations. Eventually the state
all but declared men to
be anti-social, and appointed itself as the protector of women and
children. This had the effect of
depriving the family of one of its main reasons for being.

The initial device used to destroy the family was probably divorce reform.
It was the state's call
for "civilized divorce" in the 1960s that served as the "broken window"
leading to the
vandalization of marriage.

My 1981 novel Final Decree tells the story of a "civilized" divorce, based
on developments in
family law during the previous 20 years, along with its consequences to the
family. I won't try to
summarize the book here (interested readers can find it in a library) but
it seemed to me then, as
it seems to me now, that meaningful marriage isn't merely the union of one
man and one woman,
but the lifelong union of one man and one woman: "Till death do us part."
There must be
exceptions for hard cases, needless to say, but divorce reform sought to
make exceptions the rule.

Societies can have civilized marriage or civilized divorce. Our society
opted for civilized divorce,
and we've been living with the consequences ever since. Forty-five per cent
of marriages end in
divorce within 15 years. In America, 20% of white and 50% of black children
are born out of
wedlock.

If divorce reform reduced marriage from something made in heaven to
something made on
Earth, it took the concept of "no-fault divorce" to remove all value from
it. When the law declared
that it couldn't judge matrimonial disputes and would henceforth treat
spouses who kept their
marriage vows the same as those who repudiated them, it put a
once-sacramental institution on
the legal footing of a gambling debt. Commercial contracts consider
performance; a marriage
contract considered only "need" and feminist ideology. The state that once
protected the family
against errant spouses was now protecting errant spouses against the
family.

Or so it seemed. In reality, the state was protecting itself from
competition. The coup-de-grace
was delivered by giving common-law unions virtually the same legal standing
as marriage. This,
in effect, abolished the institution. Where all couples are "married," no
couples are.

No sacrament or even contract anymore, marriage today continues as a
private arrangement (as James
Q. Wilson pointed out in another essay.) For some couples, the union draws
its strength from the natural instinct of pair-bonding. Others rely on
religion, tradition, children, economic interest, companionship, comfort,
even lassitude. Splitting up is too much trouble. But the family as a
sovereign construct is a thing
of the past. It has "evolved" out of existence.

It's interesting that people who raised few objections while the
institution was being dismantled
-- while the wheels and doors of the derelict car were being vandalized --
now rise to the defence
of the hood ornament. Analysts who let no-fault divorce pass without a
murmur, object to gay
marriage. Half of Canada's population does, in fact. Perhaps what makes
same-sex unions loom
so large is that they seem to add insult to injury.

It's difficult to be delicate about this. One person's sexual orientation
is often another person's
nausea. Though some gay activists cry "homophobia" at the drop of a hat,
homophobia does
exist. It bypasses religion or social philosophy. While not pretty, a
phobia doesn't deny "human"
or "minority" rights. Being nauseated is a human right itself. And in any
event, minority rights
don't include a right to define social institutions for majorities.

But this is by the by. Same-sex marriage isn't going to be the death of an
institution with a 45%
failure rate. When nearly every second wedding ends in divorce, the
institution is already buried.
The state has seen to it. Same-sex marriage, when it comes, will only be a
macabre dance on its
grave.

© National Post 2005


 

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