Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

Kids Having Kids, Grannies Raising Kids; or Leapfrog Parenting in Our Future?

February 7, 2011

The River City Syndrome

“Friends, we got trouble
Right here in River City,
And that starts with T, and that rhymes with P
And that stands for….Pregnancy?”

Everybody talks about teen pregnancy, but nobody can figure out what to do about it. Newt Gingrich had it figured out 17 years ago or so—take the babies away from their mothers and raise them in orphanages. Then he looked at the price tag. Modern standards for what we now call group homes would turn his plan into a bigger entitlement program than Social Security or MediCare. Forget that.

They have it figured out in continental Europe. Teens there actually have more sex than American teens. But they are diligent about contraception, and have no problem resorting to abortion as a back-up if necessary. So their teen pregnancy rate is much lower than ours. This is not to be confused with their out-of-wedlock pregnancy rate, which is really high in Scandinavia, but not among teenagers. Middle-class American girls operate pretty much the same way.

They had it figured out in the 1950s in the US. I remember that system very well. It was the reason I didn’t go to the local public high school. The year before I would have started there, half the girls in the graduating class were pregnant. Most of them got married, very quietly, and then lied about the date. The young men involved all got the satisfaction of having done the honorable thing. The girls got the wedding ring. The babies got their legitimacy. There may have been a couple of girls whose partners did not do the honorable thing, so instead they took a six-month vacation with an aunt in some other state. Most of the girls in question hadn’t planned on college anyway.

The Maternity Dress with the Blue Collar

So far as I know, almost nobody operates that way any more. Blue-collar girls, regardless of race, creed, or color, just stay home (and stay in school as long as it isn’t too much trouble) and have the baby. What has made the difference? Two things, as nearly as I can tell. One is that nobody approves of “shotgun weddings” any more. Even the Catholic Church is reluctant to perform marriages where the bride is pregnant. The statistics on such marriages are discouraging. Both abuse and divorce are much more likely than in the general population of married couples. So the young man in question is under absolutely no pressure to marry the girl. It is no longer considered “the honorable thing.”

The second thing, counter-intuitively enough, is Roe v. Wade. Yes, I know blue-collar girls are very unlikely even to consider abortion. (This is not necessarily because of parental pressure. Indeed, sometimes it is despite parental pressure. When I worked at juvenile court, I once represented a girl whose father had thrown her out of the house for refusing to get an abortion.) But the fact that, in spite of the legality and availability of abortion, they don’t get one, marks them as “good girls,” in their own eyes and those of their peers, in spite of having gotten pregnant. It gives them some moral leverage they would not otherwise have. The Catholic Church recognizes, with a surprising degree of rationality, that anything that makes unmarried pregnancy more difficult makes abortion more likely. So Catholic schools go out of their way to make life easy for pregnant students. Public schools do too, though for different reasons—they just really want to keep the girls in school as long as possible. See A pregnant teen who finishes high school is in a much solider situation than one who drops out. Many of the bad things that happen to single mothers and their children are less likely to happen when the mother finishes high school, or better still, goes on to college, at least for a year or two.

All in the Family Way

Most of the pregnant teens who manage this do so only with the help of major parental (mostly maternal) support. If mother and daughter can remain on good terms for the duration (which is not always easy for either one), the baby will have the benefit of two adults caring for her, and often, of two incomes supporting her, just like the child of a properly married couple. I know of no source for statistics on the prevalence of split-ups between mother and daughter in this situation, compared with the stats on divorce after a shotgun marriage, but my guess is that it is somewhat less frequent.

According to AARP, one in every twelve children in the US is being raised in a household with one or more grandparents. These statistics do not distinguish between households in which the child’s mother is also residing and caring for the child, and households in which the mother is for some reason absent (death, incarceration, drug addiction, general flakiness, military service, or single-minded pursuit of education and career goals.) Nor do they provide any information on the increasing number of children being raised by their great-grandparents. But they do suggest a solution to some of the problems besetting the modern family.

The Murphy Brown Syndrome

In blue-collar families, pregnancy happens “too early”, all too often. By “too early,” we mean before socioeconomic maturity, often before finishing school, or even instead of finishing school. In white-collar families (regardless of race, by the way—professionally-educated African-American women have the lowest birth rate in the country), pregnancy often happens “too late.” By “too late”, we mean after socioeconomic maturity, after finishing one’s education and getting established in a career, and after the height of female fertility in the late teens and early twenties. Often, we mean after the precipitous decline of female fertility in the mid- or late thirties. In which case, “too late” may mean not at all. But even if it doesn’t, it often means having children who will be starting college just as the parents would otherwise be starting to think about retirement.

New Supporters of Early Marriage

Early marriage by choice rather than because of an unplanned pregnancy is occasionally discussed among religious groups that frown upon premarital sex (see, and presumed among others such as the Amish who discourage post-high school education anyway, as well as among some immigrant groups. For the rest of us, it seems to further complicate what is already the most complicated period of most people’s life, from age 12 through 25.

Alternative #1: Leapfrog Parenting

But there are a couple of alternatives worth considering. The obvious one, already discussed above, is for women to bear their children early, raise them with the assistance of their mothers, complete their education, start their careers, and then marry. This could even be organized so that grandmother, having finished raising her daughter’s children, would be able to retire just as the daughter is ready to start raising her daughter’s children. Think of it as “leapfrog parenting.” Biologically, we are told, the best age for women to conceive is from 18 to 25. Socioeconomically, the best age for a person, male or female, to raise children is from 35 to 55. The numbers point to one ideal conclusion: bear your own children at 18, and start raising your daughter’s children at 36.

Make Room for Daddy

What place does this scheme leave for the fathers of all these children? I am tempted to say, whatever place the particular man in question wants, since that seems to be what happens anyway. Not being forced (sometimes at gunpoint) to do “the honorable thing” is probably an improvement in our ideas about family life. Not knowing quite what to do when one’s girlfriend gets pregnant definitely isn’t. Fortunately, the country is rife these days with all kinds of projects and programs for, and studies of, teenage fathers. Lots of us are looking for answers to this question, and with any luck, we may find one. (more…)

Rude Awakening

December 3, 2010

I slept a little late this morning. What woke me was the news on the radio. Specifically, what woke me was the news, in two closely adjacent pieces, that Congress (1) would not extend the unemployment compensation benefits for the long-term jobless, and (2) that God’s Own Party does want to extend the Bush tax cuts, not only for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, but for those making more than $250K per year. They don’t want to extend unemployment benefits ( which would put a $65B dent in the budget) unless they can be “paid for” by cuts in some other area. They are not the least bit interested in demonstrating how the tax cuts for billionaires (roughly a $700B addition to the deficit) can be “paid for.” With great difficulty I restrained myself from leaping out of bed shouting “this is bullsh*t,” which would have painfully startled Mr. Wired and the cat out of their sound sleep.

Let’s break this down a bit. Those losing their unemployment compensation benefits number roughly 800,000 human beings, most of them with families. The average weekly benefit for each member of this unfortunate group is $300.00. That’s a total annual income of $15,000.00 per person, or more likely, per family. Keeping the Bush tax rates for all taxpayers would mean that the something like 225,000 households in the highest tax bracket (up in the $300,000s per year, or 20 times the average annual unemployment benefit) would be taxed at a maximum marginal rate of 35% instead of 38.6%. Crunch the numbers for yourself.

But, the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln tells us, the upper bracket tax cuts are different from the pittance we give unemployed workers. If we give the unemployed their weekly $300.00, they’ll just use it to buy food and pay rent and put gas in their cars so they can keep looking for jobs. If we give the rich more money, they will use it to create jobs. (I love the word “create” in this context. It well-nigh apotheosizes Big Business. One can see Donald Trump leaning out over the heavens, his fingertip outstretched to a Walmart sales clerk… Moro, can you draw this? Anybody else?)

Just as they have created jobs over the 9 years during which the Bush tax cuts have already been in effect, right? The nine years in which corporations have repeatedly demonstrated that they will do almost anything rather than hire American workers to work in the United States at full-time permanent jobs with health insurance and retirement benefits. If the Bush tax cuts had created jobs, there wouldn’t be 800,000 people out of work now for more than a year. Why should we expect the tax cuts to do now what they didn’t do last year or the year before?

And why, pray tell, do we accept the Republican double standard on deficit reduction? That standard dictates that all government spending for ordinary people and their families must be “paid for,” and paid for not by tax increases on anybody else, but by spending cuts on other government services to the same ordinary people. But it also dictates that tax cuts on the richest Americans do not need to be “paid for” at all, because they will by some magical process pay for themselves in jobs to be “created” from the same inanimate matter that used to create organic life in the theories of Aristotle. In short, they would have us keep two sets of books, one for the rich and one for everybody else. Each set must balance within itself, but the two need have no interaction whatever with each other, except across the celestial spark gap (see above) in which the superrich “create” jobs. My father the CPA would be aghast at this maneuver.

But there seems to be a bipartisan push to extend jobless benefits in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts for even the richest taxpayers, and to hell with the deficit for this week anyway. Republicans and Democrats, the pro-life corporate party and the pro-choice corporate party, shoulder to shoulder against financial sanity.

Well, I gotta go. The sovereign state of Illinois has just passed a bill legitimizing civil unions for same-sex couples. The Catholic Church says this is an assault on the sacred covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, and that means I probably ought to cook dinner for Mr. Wired before our marriage falls apart altogether.

Red Emma

Bigotry and Low Expectations

November 6, 2009

No, this isn’t about the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” I just did that to catch the eye. There is no heat in my office, my hands are cold, and the only way to keep myself typing is to start with something eye-grabbing. This is actually about the state of Maine (with which I have family connections) and the results of their referendum on same-sex marriage.

1) Why a referendum at all? Since when do we put constitutional rights to a popular vote? The fact that we have done it, in California and Maine, begs the question. Holding a referendum (regardless of its outcome) presumes that we don’t consider marriage a constitutional right, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the marvelously-named Loving vs. Virginia case 40 years ago. Foo.

2) Does that mean that those who voted to repeal same-sex marriage in those states were bigoted?

3) Or does it mean that the supporters of same-sex marriage in those states were bigoted when they called their opponents bigots? Or that they were interfering with their opponents’ First Amendment rights by advocating boycotts and other non-violent demonstrations of opposition to the repealers? Conservatives seem to consider being labeled as bigots to be a fate worse than, say, Matthew Shepard’s death. Whatever happened to “sticks and stones”?

The word “bigot,” BTW, is believed to come from some Germanic sort of root meaning “by God.” There is a literal equivalent in Spanish, referring to little old ladies in black crepe who spend most of their time in churches: pordiosera. For more etymological information, see the Wikipedia entry.

Now that we’ve explicated the word as well as one can these days, let’s scrap it. It’s not useful for this discussion. Let’s, instead, use “prejudice” and “discrimination.” Mr. Wired draws a very useful distinction between them. “Prejudice” is what everybody has a bunch of, just by virtue of having been born and raised in a particular context. Most of them we don’t even notice most of the time. They’re as close to original sin as I can allow myself to believe in. But as a practical matter they’re morally neutral. It is useful to be aware of one’s own prejudices, because that enables us to avoid discrimination.

Discrimination is not morally neutral. It involves acting on one’s prejudices, to the detriment of the well-being of others. It’s a real sin. Not serving people in restaurants. Not letting them hold certain jobs. Beating them up. Hate crimes.

Very often, the way we become aware of our prejudices is by somehow associating their object with our children. Desegregating schools unveiled a lot of parental bigotry after the promulgation of Brown vs. Board of Education. White people who were willing to work with, or even for, African-Americans, or to vote for them, or to recognize the legal authority of people who had been elected mainly by the Black vote, found themselves drawing the line at the schoolhouse door.

The campaign against same-sex marriage in Maine apparently owes its success to the claim that schoolchildren would have to be taught that same-sex marriage was no different from the usual kind. So far as anybody can tell, that claim was utter hogwash, but, as other bloggers have already pointed out, it served as a proxy for the Bigotry That Dares Not Speak Its Name, opposition to allowing our children to be aware of otherwise normal people being gay. How we want to raise our children (as opposed to how we live our own lives) is often an expression of both our highest values and our lowest prejudices.

Many otherwise very decent opponents of same-sex marriage are perfectly okay with civil unions. As a practical matter, that keeps them mostly on the right side of the prejudice-discrimination line. Most same-sex couples will not suffer unduly from having civil unions rather than marriages, given proper legal drafting. Until we think about why these decent anti-same-sex-marriage opponents want to take that position. It’s really the same reason that classical and medieval authorities required prostitutes, and Jews, to wear distinctive dress. Not because Those People were so utterly different from The Rest of Us, but precisely because they weren’t. Without the yellow hat or the blond wig or the six-pointed star, they could easily be mistaken for, and treated like, Real People. We wouldn’t know whom to discriminate against.

When one of my colleagues tells me he frequents gay bars because he is “husband-hunting” (and I respond, as gently as possible, by telling him that bars are not usually great places to meet spouses), the very normality of this exchange puts any eavesdropping adolescent at the risk of concluding that gay people are just like the rest of us. For that matter, what happens when your kid’s high school class does a field trip to the local court and hears the judge, in the course of jury selection, ask a member of the panel, “Are you married or do you have a domestic partner?” (Yes, here in Cook County, they do that.) We can’t have that, can we?

Many sincere and religious people believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. Most of them also believe that adultery is a sin (one which is usually condemned in the same biblical paragraphs as homosexuality, and sentenced to the same punishment, by the way.) Many of them even believe that remarriage after divorce is a sin. But they somehow survive their children interacting with, or at least becoming very aware of, the public adulterers and remarried divorcés around them. So apparently their religiously-based discomfort with those classes of sinners does not get translated into discrimination, maybe not even into prejudice. One has to conclude that homosexuality is different for reasons that have nothing to do with biblical morality. The yuck factor, as some religious bloggers have termed it.

So, okay, I’m willing not to call same-sex-marriage opponents bigots if they’re willing to allow civil unions (or, for that matter, religious marriages) with all of the privileges that go with civil marriage in this society—so long as they don’t treat people in civil unions, and gay people in general, any differently than they treat public adulterers and remarried divorcés. Which means allowing their kids to interact with and be aware of and be taught in school by all, or none, of these public sinners.


The Sexual Revolution Keeps Going Around

May 15, 2009

That Other Blog keeps harping on the evils of the Sexual Revolution and why Our Culture will wither up and die if we don’t reverse it. I guess it’s time for a review of the facts, at least from the point of view of a history major-turned-lawyer who has spent a lot of time in divorce court and juvenile court:

v The Sexual Revolution didn’t start in the 1960s. In fact, it wasn’t a one-time only event at all, except to the extent that technology played a role. The Romans had one, which Augustus Caesar deplored big-time, while of course, like almost every other opponent of his era’s sexual revolution, playing a major role in it. The French had several, one in the Middle Ages, one during the Second Empire, and one in the late 19th century. The Brits had at least one per century beginning in the late 1500s. And the good old USA had one in the early 1800s and one that began in the 1920s and is arguably still going on.

v As is obvious from the previous paragraph, no Sexual Revolution is irreversible.

v The current Sexual Revolution may be different from its predecessors because of the contribution of contraceptive technology. But even that doesn’t make it irreversible, since even in societies where contraception is readily available, not every sexually active person chooses to use it, or even considers it a matter of choice at all.

v The Good Old 1950s weren’t all that good. There was at least as much teenage sex as there is today, and somewhat more teenage pregnancies per capita. That phenomenon was cloaked by frequent resort to Shotgun Marriage.

v These days, even our most upstanding citizens (Bristol Palin, for instance) consider that an undesirable compromise. In fact, the Catholic Church ordinarily will not perform a marriage while the prospective bride is pregnant. Obviously they consider unwed motherhood preferable. Some personal anecdotal stats: in the year before I was due to start high school, half the girls in the graduating class of the public high school I would ordinarily have attended were pregnant. Including my cousin. Which undoubtedly had something to do with my spending the next four years at a convent boarding school. So far as I know, all of the young women in question got married well before their due date.

v But I suspect that the Sexual Revolution is responsible for the decrease in math skills of our younger generations. My classmates and I, all the way through high school and college, got to exercise those skills quite regularly calculating just how premarital our friends’ sexual activity was, by subtracting 9 months from the birth of the baby, and then subtracting that date from the wedding date. Probably none of the current younger generation could work that out even with a calculator.

v Not to mention, of course, the fact that today’s youth are a seriously lost generation, at least in terms of geography, since most of them can’t even find their own state on a map. Before Playboy, young men had no place to look at nekkid wimmen except National Geographic. Yes, we can blame that on the Sexual Revolution too.


v Back in the Good Old Days, when a young woman was found dead of non-natural causes, the first thing the coroner checked for was pregnancy. Because pregnancy was an equally plausible motive for either suicide or homicide.

v Those shotgun marriages ended in divorce far more often than marriages contracted under less precipitous circumstances.

v Even current data tells us that such marriages are more likely to involve abuse.

v That doesn’t even begin to deal with the issue of homosexuality as a cause of blackmail, homicide, and suicide (and divorce and infidelity.) Yes, that still happens today, but not nearly as much as back in the Good Old Days.

Yes, there are things I don’t like about post-1960 attitudes toward sex:

v The fact that young girls get pressured into it to please other people (boyfriends or girlfriends or occasionally even parents) and often get absolutely no pleasure or reward from it.

v The fact that most of those young girls cannot imagine using contraception, and in fact consider pregnancy a highly desirable outcome, at least in comparison to ordinary high school life.

v The dangerous intersect between drugs and sex (although not much different from the link between alcohol and sex in the Good Old Days.)

v The fact that the major cause of death among pregnant women these days is homicide (probably an unintended consequence of our more stringent enforcement of child support laws.)

v The child support laws themselves, which seem to expect happy young couples to include in their repertoire of pillow talk an inquiry into the male’s date of birth and Social Security Number.

v The declining prestige of marriage, except among lesbians and gay men. (It enjoyed a brief boom among Catholic priests and nuns, but that population has now aged beyond marriageability and dwindled almost beyond recovery.)

So the Sexual Revolution was neither an unmixed blessing nor a universal curse. Like many other social phenomena, it is both cause and effect of our culture as a whole. It has affected some people much more than others. And we still haven’t figured out all of those effects, or how to modulate them. We certainly haven’t figured out how to repeal it. I don’t dream of trying.

Red Emma

Two Rubies Plus Ten Percent

April 13, 2009

A Thought Experiment

Rosewood. Tulsa.  Native American treaty rights cash-outs.  The American internment camps for Japanese-Americans.  The German slave labor camps.  Four hundred years of African-American slavery.  Reparations are once again in the headlines.  Reparations have even been, or are now in the process of being, paid, to the victims of all but the last-listed category of injustice.  Randall Robinson has been trying to rouse public awareness of and interest in reparations to the descendants of African-American slaves for years, and he is once again gaining notice.

All of these campaigns that have resulted in payment plans have ultimately been worked out by lawyers, for better and for worse.  What lawyers typically worry about in such cases are two problems: calculating the damages, and identifying and locating the persons to be compensated.  The smaller the number of original victims, and the shorter and more recent the period over which damages were incurred, the easier the solutions.  So the consequences of the race riots in Rosewood, Florida, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, have been highly manageable.  The Japanese-American internees were not only a small group, but easily identified from records still available to the federal government.  The German slave labor camp inmates and their families have been a lot harder both to identify and to locate, and the calculation of damages has likewise been difficult, but a settlement has nevertheless been worked out.

That leaves the really hard cases.  Reparations for four hundred years of slavery, for instance.  How would the damages be calculated?  The easy way–the current value of forty acres and a mule, times the number of persons to be compensated? Or the hard way–the surplus value of 400 years of agricultural labor in an economy almost unimaginably different from our own, which has left only incomplete records, times some arbitrary rate of compound interest?  And to whom should these funds be paid?  All provable descendants of African slaves in North America, regardless of their current racial identification?  Most of the known descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s slave and alleged mistress Sally Hemmings today consider themselves “white.”  In all likelihood, that is also true of a significant proportion of the descendants of other slaves.  Are they still entitled to be compensated for the suffering of their ancestors in the generations before their family succeeded in “passing” as white?  Perhaps on a pro-rated basis in comparison to descendants of slaves who are still classified as “African-American”?  For that matter, what about the large proportion of today’s African-American community who have significant white ancestry?  Would this too require some pro-rating formula?  Or should compensation be paid only to those who are currently living as African-Americans, since they are the ones who bear the burdens created by slavery in the first place?  That depends on exactly what is being compensated in the first place–the labor stolen from generations of slaves, or the damage done by the residuals of slavery to the African-Americans now living.  Obviously, this is the kind of problem the lawyers will have to tackle after agreement is reached on the principal of paying any kind of compensation at all, to anyone.

Assuming we ever reach that point, that brings us to what may be the hardest case of all, one which has never been discussed anywhere by anyone, so far as I know–reparations for the stolen labor and lives of women.  Think about it–not a week of race rioting, not eight years of internment, not four hundred years of slavery, but at least the ten thousand years of known human history.  Not isolated ethnic or racial minorities, but 53% of all the human beings who have ever lived on this planet.

From the lawyer’s point of view, of course, that is precisely the problem.  The larger the projected sum of reparations, or the number of people eligible to receive it, the less likely it is that it will ever be paid, or even recognized as a moral obligation.  Reparations for ten thousand years of unpaid women’s labor could only take the form of a drastic transfer of wealth from men to women.

And, unless some very careful planning and preparation were done beforehand, much of that wealth would be transferred back to fathers, husbands, and pimps within the year (much the way many Native Americans who were paid for the transfer of treaty lands away from their tribe found themselves back in poverty again within a few months or years after the payment was made.)  The use of debt peonage, sharp dealing, and just plain intimidation would play the same role between men and women as they did between ex-slaveowners and ex-slaves in the post-bellum South.   Poverty often involves not only lack of resources, but lack of the power necessary to hold onto the resources one acquires.

The problem of designating recipients would be the easiest part of the settlement, for a change.  Everybody with the double-X chromosome.  Since everybody’s ancestry is 50% female, ancestry becomes useless as a criterion.  What about transsexuals? some would ask. On one hand, they have chosen their status, but on the other hand, once having chosen it, they are now subject to the same disadvantages as their double-X sisters.  Last week, an Iranian who had undergone gender reassignment from male to female some years before proclaimed that she wanted to change back, because of the social, political, and legal disabilities imposed on Iranian women by the religious establishment.  Clearly, she would be eligible for reparations.  Transgendered women are a small enough proportion of the population that their inclusion in the settlement would have little or no impact on anyone else’s benefits.

As a socioeconomic “thought experiment”, the idea is useful. It could certainly be used to impress upon the human race generally the magnitude of its debt to women.  It might also be useful as a way to figure out the point at which the effort to redress past injustices becomes the futile task of unscrambling eggs or putting the toothpaste back into the tube.   That point probably lies just beyond calculating and paying reparations for  four hundred years of African-American slavery.

Am I saying this is a futile enterprise?  On the contrary, I would love to see some serious number-crunching.  The short way?  That would be based on the biblical statement that a valiant woman’s worth is above rubies.  That means at least two rubies, plus.  Hence the title of this essay–the current value of two rubies plus an arbitrarily-chosen ten per cent, for each woman on the planet today.  The long way would involve something like the following:  figure out the total value in modern dollars for a thirty-hour week of domestic labor and child-care.  Multiply that by the average lifespan of human beings over the last ten thousand years, minus 6 years (the average length of unproductive childhood), times 53% of the number of human beings who have ever lived on the planet.  That takes care of housework and child care.  Then calculate an average figure for the uncompensated labor of women in agriculture, pastoral work, and other “family businesses,” and perform the same set of calculations with it.  Maybe figure in an additional 25% for “pain and suffering” resulting from domestic abuse (something, by the way, that could also reasonably be done in calculating reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves as well.)  Then divide the resulting total by the number of women currently alive.  The final figure could be used for all kinds of things, beginning with calculating alimony and personal injury awards for the incapacitation or wrongful death of women in Western countries, and calculating bride prices elsewhere.  Forget the “price above rubies”–let’s crunch some real numbers!


Marriage–A Mother & Father for Every Child

March 26, 2009

Last Monday, 200 same-sex marriage opponents showed up on the law of the Vermont State House with buttons proclaiming, “Marriage—A Mother and Father for Every Child.” This perturbs me a bit. The main cause of children not having both a mother and a father in the home isn’t gay marriage, it’s runaway men. Occasionally it’s runaway women. But what is the Religious Right doing, or even saying, about the all-too-frequently exercised right of fathers to walk away from their children? Not a whole lot. In most states, the statutes criminalizing desertion and nonsupport of home and family are either unenforced or have long since been repealed. I don’t know of anybody trying to get them back on the books.

And so far, medical science has not devised a way to prove a particular man is the father of a particular child without a DNA sample from both. I would support a Nobel Prize in medicine for any solution to this problem, or perhaps even a Peace Prize, given the social significance involved. Actually, in the interests of gender equity, what I’d really like to see is something that would cause every man who impregnates a woman to develop a facial rash and some other highly visible, bothersome but not dangerous symptoms that would last at least 9 months.

But obviously, if we can’t find runaway fathers, we can’t persecute them. As long as homosexuals were closeted, they had the same protection. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a basic moral principle in our culture. Which suggests very strongly that what most anti-same-sex-marriage advocates really object to isn’t what gay people do in the bedroom, but the fact that they have the nerve to talk about it in the public forum. Marriage is only the most public way to make homosexuality public. If they’d stop holding parades, and publishing books and periodicals and blogs, and forming organizations and support groups, they could **** and *********** to their hearts’ content.

Which is a constitutional issue. We don’t object to gay sex. We object to gay speech. Speech is protected by the First Amendment. Maybe that’s because the Framers knew how much people want to limit public speech, given half a chance. Sex—well, it depends which Supreme Court opinion you read and when and by whom it was written. A lot of the folks on the Warren Court seemed to consider sex protected by the First Amendment, but these days that argument doesn’t fly, even with the current court “liberals.” But it wouldn’t really have to fly, if people would just shut up about it. Even the most restrictive of conservative judges has never advocated setting up an entire corps of jackbooted thugs to randomly police bedrooms, because we would really rather not know what goes on in them.

Which, I suspect, is only a special case of a much larger issue. We Americans don’t want to hear about people who are different from ourselves. We particularly don’t want to hear about how oppressed they are, or how badly we behave toward them. We will allow each oppressed group, as part of the “liberal bargain,” a few days a year to air their grievances all over the mainstream media, coast to coast, in glorious Technicolor and stereophonic sound, while we tune out, turn off, and watch football. Our willingness to grant them that much proves what nice people we are. After the few properly licensed days of exposure, the issue, whatever it may be and regardless of what, if anything, has actually been done about it, becomes “dead,”. As in dead horse, comma, beating.

Indeed, the Religious Right seems to value most the right of its members not to be thought of as bigots for being mean to various oppressed minorities. Being called a bigot is apparently an existential threat to many conservatives. It is often the reason given for opposing not only same-sex marriage, but even public advocacy of same-sex marriage. “If we let you talk about it, you’ll call us bigots for not letting you do it.”

Enough already. I favor same-sex marriage because, as a divorce lawyer, I see so little of fidelity and mutuality and sharing in this world that I refuse to be picky about who practices them. I also favor it because any excuse for a good party is a significant contribution to the quality of life. Also, it’s good for the economy. Caterers, wedding planners, dressmakers and haberdashers, and the manufacturers of small appliances all need all the help they can get. If you don’t like same-sex weddings, don’t have one.

Red Emma

Some Advice on Divorce, or

January 11, 2009

When You’ve Given the Same Advice Three Times, It’s Time to Write It Down

I’ve been practicing family law in Chicago for thirty years now.  I find myself telling my new clients pretty much the same thing every time, and it occurs to me that it’s probably worth putting out in the public realm.  So:

1. You’re Going to Be Crazy for Two Years More or Less:  So will the rest of your family—your soon-to-be-ex, your kids, your in-laws, your close friends, and even your pets.  I had one client whose goldfish started acting like a piranha.  You will find yourself doing and saying things you could never have imagined before.  You will start checking out the Yellow Pages for convenient padded cells to book into.

But in fact, there is nothing permanently wrong with you.  In a couple of years, you and those around you will once again be normal people.  Not the same people you were before, probably, but normal.  In the meantime, you might want to get some kind of counseling or join a support group or talk to your pastor for help just getting through. If either you or your spouse has problems with alcohol or drugs, you might want to get everybody into various Twelve-Step programs.  Ala-Teen has gotten great reviews from kids I know.  Talk to your kids’ teachers and counselors in school, so they’ll know to watch out for problems.  There is help out there, and most of it is inexpensive or free: use it.

2. A Divorce Will Not Make Your Spouse Disappear: Not if you have kids under 21, anyway.  This process does not end by giving you a magic button that you can press and quietly, nonviolently make your ex vanish from the world, or even from your world.  It will not abolish your relationship with your ex.  It will just change that relationship.  Aside from all the legal and financial work you will be doing over the next couple of years, you will have to work on making that relationship with your kids’ other parent workable.  Above all, don’t ever force your kids to choose between you and their other parent.  Just keep your own door open to them.  There are therapists and mediators out there who may be able to help, although they’re usually expensive.

3. Cook County Illinois is the Largest Divorce Court Jurisdiction in the Country: It may even be the largest in the world—we don’t really have much data from China.  So everything takes longer.  Sometimes time is on your side; sometimes it works against you.  Either way, there will be a lot of it involved in this case.  Generally speaking, you can get the case over fast, or you can get what you want—not both. Try to be patient.  Sometimes your best advantage is the ability to outwait your spouse.


Marriage From the Other Side

January 1, 2009

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the analysis we’re seeing here.  Back in the days when marriage was about children, it was mainly about insuring that the children born to a man’s wife would be his children and not some other guy’s.  And, back before DNA was invented, the cheapest and most effective way to do that was to control the wife in question.  No doubt that was good for the family and good for the community.  But it wasn’t good for women.  It led to purdah, honor killings, and a lot of other bad stuff. As well as a bonanza for the textile industry, given how much more fabric it takes to veil a woman than to blindfold a man.


If, OTOH, marriage is just about sex, well, shoot, all that matters is that your partner has sex with you more or less when you’re in the mood. What s/he does the rest of the time is no big deal. 


Which is not how Mr. Wired and I live our lives, of course.  For 44 years, we have done the monogamy thing.  Which has been good for our families and our community, no doubt.  We have maintained a household which has provided care for a child and help for several other children, as well as for each other in illness and injury. 


But we made the choice to do so. It was about each of us as an individual. 


I’m of two minds (at least) about this.  Or maybe each of the Wired Sisters should speak in turn:


Red Emma—The communitarian nostalgiacs tell us that the family does, efficiently and at no cost, things for its members that the market economy and the state do only badly and at huge expense.  The family maximizes the range of choices for its members in ways that the market and the state cannot possibly do.  But, in the process, it discounts completely the value of female labor and loss of choices.  Yes, the result may well be a better society than what we have now, for men and male children.  Similarly, classical Athens was a wonderful place to live, if you were free and male.  Probably the ante-bellum Southern US was pretty good too, if you happened to own a plantation and the people who kept it running.  But any society which can maintain its advantages for some of its members only at the cost of some other members’ freedom does not deserve to survive. Whether we like it or not, if we cannot devise a good society, based on good families, without returning women to servitude, all we have a right to do is muddle along until we figure out how to.  Remember those family comedies in the ‘50s, in which Mama was called out of town for some emergency and the family suddenly had to survive without her and discover just how crucial her work really was, now that they didn’t have it?  Well, folks, that’s where we are right now. And just demanding that Mama come home won’t cut it any more.  She may not want to, and she may not even be able to.


Jane Grey—The family maximizes choices for its members in ways the market economy and the state cannot possibly match.  Barbara Ehrenreich refers to the family as a “socialism of two” (or, presumably, three or four or more.)  Within and because of the family, individuals can choose to take part in the market economy or not; to work for a corporation or run a small business or be an independent artisan.  The family can choose to support one or more of its members in the arts, countercultural politics, or community service.  Nobody else is going to pay people to do that.  If we allow the family to shrink and disappear, we will have nothing left to support individual choices except the market and the state, which have both, over the millennia, done a really poor job of it.


CynThesis—We may not even be able to make this discussion fruitful any more.  Whether we like it or not, the market has already come pretty close to destroying the family.  An increasing number of our families are formed when young people go away to college or the military, marry other young people they meet there, and then settle down in the first place they find jobs afterwards.  In the meantime, their respective parents move someplace else for their jobs, and then, ultimately, some other place for their respective retirements, until the families in question have one end in Florida, one end in Boston, and one end in Chicago, and, if they’re lucky, can make enough money between them all to see each other once a year at most.  If we can’t find a way to create families where people actually live, there just plain won’t be any.  It doesn’t matter whether a couple moves for her job or his job (or, for that matter, for her job or her job.)  The market will determine where and for how long they will sink roots, and who their neighbors will be.  If they cannot form a community with those neighbors, there will be no communities.


Sorry to be so gloomy. Happy New Year, and peace and light to you all.


The Wired Sisters



The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage

December 11, 2008

What does it say about this week’s news from my home state that I would rather write about same-sex marriage than Illinois politics? Okay, here we go, on this week’s favorite topic other than the soon-to-be-former Governor of Illinois: the Newsweek article on biblical endorsement of gay marriage. As a divorce lawyer, I figure there is little enough love and commitment in this world that we should enthusiastically welcome it wherever it turns up. And I say this even though same-sex marriage would probably be bad for my practice, which currently includes all kinds of devices for making nonstandard same-sex families look like standard-issue straight families, including cohabitation agreements, custody agreements, and separation agreements.

The first thing any serious student of the Bible should notice, upon reading what it says about homosexuality, is that, in almost any paragraph where homosexuality is mentioned, adultery is also mentioned, and subjected to precisely the same penalties. So any biblical literalist who is not willing to see adulterers stoned to death should probably rethink the whole thing.

`The next, admittedly more subtle, thing for a Bible-reader to notice, is that almost everything the Jewish Scriptures (that’s the Old Testament, to you gentiles) says in the abstract about sex has to do with proper relationships of power and property. All of the “forbidden relationships” enumerated in Leviticus 18 and 20, for instance. Almost all of these strictures are addressed only to men (grammatically this is unmistakable in the Hebrew), except for intercourse with animals. No, that’s not the result of any sexist presumption. It’s the result of the political reality of biblical times, that only men could take the sexual initiative.

Sex with women “belonging” to other men was an infringement of property rights. Sex with women “belonging” to one’s father were an infringement of his dominance in the family. Sex with women “belonging” to one’s sons or brothers—that is, lower-ranking males–was an abuse of dominance. In this context, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” suggests strongly that power is an issue here, too, and that what the Author is really talking about is male-on-male rape, of the sort that happens in prisons. Which I think is an abomination, too. (Although I do like the interpretation of a rabbinical friend of mine, that lying with a man as one lies with a woman means grabbing all the covers and snoring.)

The fact is, most of the abstract things the Jewish scriptures says about sex have absolutely nothing to do with love and companionship (as opposed to several narratives about particular people falling in love and getting married.) The only exception is directed at polygynists—if a man has two wives, and loves one and hates the other, he is not allowed to let that disparity influence his treatment of their children. Which, as a divorce lawyer, I still think is a good rule, but these days, of course, we apply it only to serial polygamy.

What about the New Testament and sex? Well, Jesus had absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality, not a single word. On the other hand, he objected pretty strongly to divorce, either forbidding it altogether or permitting it only where adultery was involved. This was consistent with one of the major schools of rabbinical thought of that era, the School of Shammai. Which is interesting, given that Jesus mostly followed the teachings of the other school, the School of Hillel. But I digress.

Paul wasn’t keen on sex of any kind, gay, straight, married or unmarried. But, as with his Jewish predecessors, where he talks about homosexuality at all, it is almost always in the same paragraph and under the same strictures as adultery.

I’m not willing to go as far as Lisa Miller in her Newsweek analysis; I don’t believe the Bible necessarily endorses same-sex marriage. But I do believe that it provides for regulating it, as it regulates heterosexual marriage, along with eating, drinking, earning and spending money, and all of the other activities of daily life. Thus, another rabbinical friend of mine who will bless same-sex marriages the same as straight marriages, but will not do interfaith marriages of either kind, is, I think, being perfectly consistent by her own lights and the Jewish Tradition. Similarly, I believe that the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, which forbids assault and battery between husband and wife, cohabitating man and woman, and domestic partners (along with a whole bunch of other people in current and former relationships), is on the right track.

I also strongly endorse the distinction, utterly unknown to the Bible, between civil and religious marriage. Some of my clients have entered into religious marriages and never registered them with the state, either because state recognition violated their anarchist principles, or because it penalizes them in receiving Social Security or other benefits. A lot of my clients have married civilly but not religiously, because they just didn’t want to do the church thing, or felt they couldn’t afford it. When the religiously-but-not-civilly-married bunch shuffle off this mortal coil, they will undoubtedly make work for some lawyer, possibly me, regardless of their gender mix. The civilly-but-not-religiously-married bunch may make work for some Roman Catholic canon lawyer, or some rabbi, but thank heaven, that’s not my problem. I figure Jefferson’s sublime insight that the state and religion should stay out of each other business is especially sensible where marriage is concerned, and there is no reason not to apply it to same-sex unions too.

The Proposition 8 gang should read up on what happened (early in Gandhi’s career) when the British colonial government decided to stop recognizing all non-Christian marriages in South Africa. The results were a major setback for the colonial administration by people who, as Gandhi eloquently expressed, saw their wives branded as whores and their children as bastards. This hits people, quite literally, where they live.

Okay, enough for now. The heat has gone off in my office and I’m going home. Peace, light, and warmth to you all.


Strangers in Egypt, Prop. 8, and Reynolds vs. U.S.

November 18, 2008

Okay, this is going to be esoteric. Reynolds vs. US was a Supreme Court case, decided in 1878, in which the justices (including John Marshall Harlan, whom I generally admire because later on, he dissented from the majority in Plessy vs. Ferguson) held that the religiously promulgated duty of male members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints to marry multiple wives did not exempt them from compliance with anti-bigamy laws, despite the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. I personally believe this decision was wrongly decided, and ought to be revisited. It probably won’t be, because the beneficiaries of any such review would be some fringy cult with very few votes behind it.

The official hierarchy of the Latter-Day Saints accepted this decision and were divinely inspired to scrap plural marriage, and most Mormons followed this ruling. As a result, Utah was declared a state in 1890, and we all sort of lived happily ever after. Well, sort of. Mitt Romney’s grandfather was one of a group of schismatic polygamist Mormons who moved to Mexico to avoid the law. (As a result, Mitt’s father George was born in Mexico, but the constitutionality of his candidacy for president was never ruled on.) There are still a fair number of polygamist Mormon groups out there, in varying degrees of closetedness.

The reason the Mormons ended up in Utah in the first place was that they had already been forcibly dislocated from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. They decided to try their luck in a territory where the locals might be less intolerant. This strategy worked well enough to establish them as the predominant social institution of Utah, but it delayed the admission of Utah as a state until the polygamy issue was resolved to the satisfaction of the federal government.

So it strikes me as ironic that, having endured so much harassment and persecution for the oddities of their family life, they now feel entitled, or even obliged, to subject other people to similar strictures.

I should, I suppose, not be surprised by this. After all, the ancestors of the white settlers in the Carolinas who encouraged Andrew Jackson to evict the Cherokees onto the Trail of Tears in the early 1800s had themselves been exiled from Scotland for participating in the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. There are undoubtedly lots of other equally esoteric and equally ironic instances lurking in human history, of the victims of persecution becoming persecutors in their turn.

Amazingly, this is something the Bible actually does say something about. Yes, gentle reader, Biblical morality actually forbids the victims of persecution to victimize others. Exodus 22:21 says “you shall not wrong a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt.”

But we are all accustomed to hearing the Bible thumped more often than it is read. I just thought it was time for a history refresher.

Jane Grey