After my article “Divorce means freedom? Not really. Nor is it free” (April 24 issue) came out, I’ve received quite a number of comments -- many nonsensical, a few quite interesting and raising relevant arguments. None, however, addressed the particular point I made about the nature of divorce drawing in greater (if not total) State control over ordinary families. The same could be said about the economic costs of divorce, both on the family and on the country in general.
Some of the comments came from foreigners (because they indicated themselves as such), saying that my Catholic views have no place in a public debate. Which is ridiculous for two reasons: First, because this is as meritorious as me saying foreigners have no right to comment on a Philippine issue; and, second, because my article never even referred to Catholic doctrine at all.
A few did say that they’ve gone through a divorce, and are quite happy now, financially secure, with children healthy and maturing well.
Well, good for them. But many studies would find they’re the exception rather than the rule. And one can’t simply make legislation overturning centuries of tradition and history for the exception.
In any event, the studies we do have indicate that only a small percentage of divorces in the United States involved conflicted or irreparably broken marriages. The greater number of divorces arose from such relatively mundane reasons as “falling out of love” or “burnout.” Better marriage preparation or counseling can resolve this.
As for really conflicted marriages, which I repeat is in the minority, they often involve drugs, alcoholism, physical abuse, or homosexuality and these are already covered by our laws on legal separation.
Incidentally, the one ground that local divorce advocates keep using to make their case is that of “domestic violence” (or physical abuse). In reality, this actually ranks quite low as a cause for divorce (at least in the US). In some surveys they don’t appear at all.
Which makes sense. Marriage is actually a good protection against physical abuse -- it’s the jumping from one relationship to another that increases the chance of coming across an individual prone to violence. And anecdotal evidence would show that instances of incestuous rape happen more often to children with separated parents, the rapist more likely to be the new “stepfather” or “step-relative” of the child.
Still, why not allow for the transition from legal separation (that doesn’t permit remarriage) to divorce (which does)? After all, shouldn’t people have a second shot at happiness in life? Related to this is the “fire escape/safety valve” argument in favor of divorce. These are pretty good arguments, frankly. But in the end, they have to be rejected.
There are several reasons: One fundamental, a number practical. One practical reason: Should society really allow the junkie, alcoholic or abuser to inflict his behavior on a new spouse?
Another is the effect that a law constructed for a minority (i.e., really conflicted marriages) may have on the majority (ordinary marriages with its normal ebb and flow). Studies show that divorce laws (particularly “no-fault divorce”) historically contribute in encouraging the breakup of marriages exponentially through time (with US studies indicating increases at 10% annually, with one giving a high rate of 88%).
But the fundamental reason is this: Marriage has a specific definition by its nature. A definition not constructed (but merely recognized) by the State. Nor is it a social construct. Rather, the definition comes from our logical understanding of human nature independent of our wills or passing emotions and borne out as true by history.
Robert George’s formulation is quite useful for the present discussion: “Marriage is a comprehensive union, made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, ordered to the all-encompassing goods of procreation and family life.”
As such, marriage has the following essential elements: heterosexual, monogamous, exclusive, and permanent. To eliminate an element is to cause a redefinition of marriage, which inevitably will present profound implications on our society.
In fact, it is this matter of redefinition that one sees the connection that the national debate on divorce has with the debate on according legal recognition for same-sex marriage.
To redefine marriage allowing for its non-permanence (i.e., divorce), one removes a principle that effectively excludes polygamous marriages. With divorce, there’s no difference between a serial and simultaneous polygamist. And yet, one must remember that marriages are also for the psychological and material welfare of children.
And since redefinition is possible, there is then no reason not to redefine marriage to include homosexual couplings -- thus removing a fundamental principle (that of marriage being directed to the procreation of and care for children) that excludes all other types of personal relationships (“throuples,” bestial, incestuous, social, etc.) that people’s fervid imaginations can care to create.
In which case, there is really no point then in having marriage at all.