CONSERVATIVE DIVIDE: It’s Deeper than Marriage

Published on August 7, 2014

by Jennifer Johnson
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

I believe that the divide between conservatives on the marriage issue runs deeper than marriage. Over on Ricochet, on Peter Robinson’s marriage thread, several times I asked a question that went something like this:

Does society have a duty to place a nature-based limitation on the number of legally recognized parents for children?

There is a specific reason I asked this question. When it comes to legally recognized parents for children, there is a divide between the socially conservative view and the libertarian view. In fact, I don’t believe there is a principled difference between the libertarian view and the extreme Left on this particular point. By “extreme Left” I am referring specifically to Melissa Harris Perry’s remarks that she made in about March or April of 2013:

…we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘these are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

Social conservatives can be proud of their stand for natural marriage for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that natural marriage places a nature-based limitation on the legally recognized number of parents for children. This number is two, and it’s enforced by law. When marriage is defined as between any two consenting adults (aka “SSM” [Same Sex Marriage]), the number “two” cannot be defended in principle. We see this already in California where, due to a SSM custody dispute, the number of parents that are legally recognized for children could be three or more. We see something similar in Florida because of a lesbian custody dispute.

These cases make it clear that the number “two” cannot be defended in principle apart from “one man plus one woman.” They also make it clear that once “two” is eliminated, there is no longer any principled way to enforce any limit-–notice California’s “three or more” innovation. Since the nature-based limitation of “two” was enforced by civil marriage, “getting the government out of marriage” does not solve this problem. In fact, in regards to this particular problem, “getting the government out of marriage” is no different, and it might even be worse.

I am not arguing that children will belong to whole communities tomorrow or even next year. But I am trying to drive the point home that without a legally enforced principle in place, and with the Left’s continued drive to eliminate the state’s recognition of the natural family, I don’t see much difference between libertarianism and the Left on this particular point.

So my questions for libertarians are:

— Does libertarianism inform your view on the number of legally recognized parents for children? If so, in what way?
— Does society have a duty to recognize the parenthood of children? If so, what is the least statist principle society should employ to do so?
— If a particular community freely decided that they wanted to follow Melissa Harris-Perry’s suggestion and have their children belong to the whole community, is that compatible with libertarianism?

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