Alimony, audits and adoption: family issues heard during Utah interim meetings

During last week’s interim day meetings, the legislature heard three family issues.

The Judiciary Interim Committee listened to testimony about reforming alimony (brought to the Committee by Representative Fred Cox, R-West Valley City) which has been a Sutherland Institute priority. The proposal would allow courts to consider whether one spouse broke up a marriage in determining an award of support from one spouse to the other. This is a matter of basic justice: a person who did nothing to break up a marriage should not have to pay the spouse who did; a spouse should also not be put into a bad financial position by a spouse who destroys a marriage. The committee seemed open to the commonsense principle the reform would advance. Sutherland will continue working on this issue. Read more

Utah could take a lesson from Chris Christie on surrogacy

On Aug. 8, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did the right thing in vetoing a bill that would have allowed adults to contract with one another so that one would carry a child to term for money and then surrender the child to another individual or couple to raise. The governor’s veto message included this important point: “While some will applaud the freedom to explore these new, and sometimes necessary, arranged births, others will note the profound change in the traditional beginnings of the family that this bill will enact. I am not satisfied that these questions have been sufficiently studied by the Legislature at this time.”

The National Leadership Coalition Against Exploitation of Women by Use of Gestational Surrogacy Agreements, a very diverse group (including the National Organization for Women, the Eagle Forum and the New Jersey Family Policy Council, among other impressive participants) issued an excellent statement in response to the veto:

We believe it is not an overstatement to observe that if gestational surrogacy enabling laws were to be widely adopted, it would irreparably change human civilization. In order to embrace any form of surrogacy, our culture would have to adopt two radical assumptions as morally acceptable:

1. That we should go back to a time when women’s role in society is viewed as one
where they bear children for men and have no right to the custody of the
children they bear; and

2. Mothers provide nothing of particular value in the lives of the children to whom
they give birth.

Relevance to Utah? Utah law allows for surrogacy contracts for money with some significant exceptions. Gov. Christie’s suggestion that the matter needs serious study should be considered seriously here. The Utah law was enacted as part of adoption of a uniform parentage act in 2005. Much of that act was probably anodyne and it is difficult to tell from the legislative history whether there was much discussion of this provision, which reasonable people must have thought would be rarely invoked. Perhaps, taking our cue from a sister state to the east, it is time to look into this question again.

How sound marriage laws enhance liberty

A sincere question often raised in the debate over the definition of marriage is whether it is appropriate for government to be in the marriage business at all. For those of us who believe in the principle of limited government, it is a question that deserves serious thought. There is much to say about why it might be appropriate for government to have laws regarding marriage even in a limited government system. Here I will offer a few practical considerations.

First, the most contentious issue today regarding marriage is whether the jurisdiction of the government over marriage will be greatly expanded. Until very recently, the laws regarding the eligibility to marry were extremely simple and limited. They were based on natural relationships between men and women, the kind that have always been recognized as unique in all kinds of human societies because of their potential to provide a mother and father for children. In the United States, the state merely recognized these relationships and required that to have the legal status of marriage conferred upon them a couple need only not be married to someone else and have the ability to consent (including reaching a certain age, a common-sense requirement). Some states added an extraneous requirement related to race in order to hijack the social capital of marriage to promote an evil notion of racial supremacy. The U.S. Constitution was amended after the Civil War to make clear that our laws ought to be colorblind, though it took many decades for that principle to begin to be fully honored.

With same-sex marriage, the power of the state expands dramatically to encompass a new role: not merely recognizing as a legal matter what is true as a natural reality — that there are two sexes whose union is unique in type and effect— but creating an entirely new kind of institution meant to give the government’s stamp of approval to any kind of relationship favored by adults. As a corollary, the government would now begin to tamp down definitions of family such as the idea held by many religious people and others that marriage is inherently the union of a husband and wife.

On this matter, some erstwhile advocates of small government have nothing to say. Not only do they not oppose the takeover of the marriage institution, they favor it, adding merely that ideally the government will get out of the marriage business. It would make more sense to oppose government expansion in the marriage business and then gradual disentanglement of the state from other areas of social life, but most often what we hear is support for redefinition and the wish that after expanding its jurisdiction over marriage, the government will (magically?) decide to drop the whole business altogether. My grandmother often said, “If wishes were fishes we’d all have a fry.”

I have recently publicly proposed a thought experiment. In 1787, every state in the new union had strict divorce laws and a very, very limited tolerance of “family diversity.” In 2012, we have exceedingly loose divorce laws and an increasingly expansive legal recognition of new family forms. The question is: Are we freer now than we were then? It may be easier to get out of a marriage contract (on paper, though not in reality), but do we have more liberty when a broad swath of the adult population has to get court permission to schedule time with their children or faces collection proceedings from the state for child support?

These and similar questions merit pondering for those inclined to surrender on the redefinition of marriage in the hopes that someday the dream of a world without marriage law will come to pass. Sincerely considering them might lead to a different conclusion — that maintaining a basic, well-defined legal structure to house the social institution of marriage enhances, rather than threatens liberty.

How is Utah’s child welfare system doing?

As we have reported, the Utah Legislature is reviewing an audit of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.  The Foundation for Government Accountability has just released a report with state rankings based on 11 different child outcomes. The report’s aim is to assess the performance of state child welfare systems.

As the report states, “a top performing child welfare system should respond quickly to allegations of abuse, ensure that kids who are abused are transitioned to a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible (whether through successful reunification or adoption), guarantee that children in out-of-home placements are in safe and supportive home-like settings (foster care or kinship care) with as few placements as possible, and reduce the overall incidence of abuse and, subsequently, the number of children in need of foster care.”

There is good and bad news for Utah in the report.  Read more

Will California ‘split the child’?

The news is reporting on another troubling development from California, where the state Senate is considering a bill that would specifically allow the government to designate more than two “parents” for a child. Although radical, this idea is not entirely novel. A handful of state legislatures and courts have endorsed the idea of multiple parents for a child, usually in the context of disputes involving a mother, her partner and a sperm donor.

The reason these kinds of laws are disastrous are not difficult to see (though ideology seems to blind their advocates to them). Courts may presumptuously decide that three or more adults should get a say in a child’s upbringing, but a child’s time, educational opportunities, loyalty, etc., can’t always be divided without doing harm to the child. It is clear that children have additional challenges when they must navigate a world shaped by conflicts between their own mother and father during a divorce. Is there any doubt these problems will be compounded when there are even more adults demanding a say in a child’s life and making demands on the child?  Read more

Video: study shows children better off with father and mother

A new study shows there are significant differences among children raised by gay and lesbian parents when compared with children raised by intact biological families. Watch this video report to learn more from Bill Duncan, Sutherland Institute’s Director of the Center for Family and Society, and to hear a reaction to the study from Karrie Galloway, president of Planned Parenthood Utah.


Here’s the script of the video:  Read more

Groundbreaking Study on Alternative Families

This morning a reputable scholarly journal published two key studies that could unsettle some of the happy talk about alternative family forms. The studies have already been the subject of major stories in the Deseret News and Washington Times. Maggie Gallagher and Charlie Cooke have both made important comments at National Review Online.

In the first study, Dr. Loren Marks of Louisiana State University carefully critiques the research relied on by the American Psychological Association in its policy statement supporting parenting by same-sex couples. Dr. Marks effectively demonstrates that the methodology of the studies is poor enough that the conclusions drawn from them by the APA are unwarranted.

The second study, by Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, is even more startling. It examines a large national data set, randomly selected, and assesses the outcomes for children across a wide-range of variables.  Read more

Children of the revolution

In a book review in The Family in America, I proposed an analogy: “Today’s young adults are undeniably well-off and thriving materially. They enjoy opportunities and resources unheard of, even among their boomer parents. In terms of family and moral life, however, the appropriate analogy may be the packs of near-feral children who roamed about the countryside after the Communist revolution in Russia. Cut off from the hard-won lessons of tradition, they are emotionally (and sometimes physically) vulnerable not only to predators but also to the consequences of bad choices, consequences that still rear their ugly heads, even in the face of denial.”

The increase in children born to cohabiting couples is the most recent data point on the effects borne by children of the sexual revolution. A recent CDC study shows the percentage of children born to unwed mothers increased from 37.7 percent in 2002 to 45.5 percent in 2006-2010. Of these, the percentage born to women who were cohabiting grew from 12.4 percent to 23.6 percent.  Read more

Family and religion: a harmonious union

A Sutherland newsletter from last year noted the links between family and religion. It explained:

“Church and family are mutually supportive. Religious teachings about marriage, sexuality, obligations of spouses and parents, etc., bolster the natural affections of family life. Parents inculcate religious beliefs and religious morality in their children and family religious observance is at the center of the spiritual life for many people.”

There is plenty of empirical support for the proposition that religious practice strengthens family life. Dr. Patrick Fagan has collected some of the research for the Heritage Foundation here.

A very recent study notes that the beneficial influence of religion on family life holds true even in the most stressful family situations. The study of 1,134 single mothers found religious participation “was associated with greater involvement with children, reduced parenting stress, and a lower likelihood of engaging in corporal punishment.” The children of mothers who attend church frequently “were less likely to display problem behaviors.”

LDS readers will remember that these themes were mentioned in the most recent General Conference by Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder David S. Baxter.

Family issues in Utah Foundation survey raise more questions

The Utah Foundation recently released a helpful survey of voter and party delegate attitudes on a range of issues.

I’ve spent some time looking at the four questions related to family issues and have a couple of general observations.

First, question phrasing makes understanding of attitudes somewhat difficult. For instance, while only 22 percent of voters agree with the proposition “same gender marriage should be legalized,” it is not clear whether that amount would be even lower if the question accurately reflected the current state of the law. The statement in the poll suggests that same-sex marriage is illegal but, of course, anyone is free to participate in any kind of ceremonial marriage they choose. The question is rather whether our law of marriage (which reflect the near-unanimous consensus of civilization across culture and history) should be redefined to remove the element of sex difference.  Read more