August 27, 2020

On the Road to Polyamory

By Russell Shaw *
Credit: Hermin/Shutterstock.
Credit: Hermin/Shutterstock.

Under the heading “A fair chance for children” the New York Times editorial board recommends four measures to help low-income kids: create government-funded savings accounts for newborns, provide universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, “spend more” on educating poor children, and get rid of lead water pipes.

Getting rid of lead pipes, where that hasn’t been done, is clearly a good idea. The others may or may not be. My point here, though, is that all four boil down to the familiar formula of the third: “spend more.” Money is the answer.

The Times editorial board’s list says nothing – not a word – about the ongoing disaster reflected in the following numbers: In 2017, nearly 40% of all children born in the United States were born to unmarried mothers (whites – 28.4%, Hispanics – 52.1%, blacks – 69.4%). By comparison, the overall figure in 1970 was a – relatively speaking – puny 10.7%.

Should this upward trend in births out of wedlock simply be ignored?  Social science studies have repeatedly shown that children growing up without fathers are at risk of suffering an alarming array of economic, social, and psychological harms. Too bad the collective wisdom of the Times editorial board couldn’t find anything to say about giving kids in this situation “a fair chance.”

But let’s not single out the Times for criticism. How are marriage and the family faring in America generally these days?

Not very well, it seems, as shown by the announcement earlier this year that the U.S. marriage rate had fallen to its lowest level – 6.5 new unions per 1,000 people – since the government started tracking these numbers in 1867.

But not to worry. Somerville, Massachusetts has stepped up to save the day. In late June the city council in that community of 80,000 near Boston voted unanimously to recognize polyamorous groupings of three or more persons as domestic partnerships with the same rights as marriages. (In case “polyamory” and “polyamorous” aren’t part of your everyday vocabulary, the dictionary defines polyamorous as “practicing or being open to intimate relationships with more than one partner.”)

You can’t say nobody saw it coming. When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage five years ago, critics sounded the warning. In fact, no less than Chief Justice John Roberts, dissenting, wrote that an “immediate question” raised by the court majority’s ruling was the whether states that define marriage as a union of two people would be permitted to retain that definition.

Farfetched? Conceptually, Roberts pointed out, “the really big leap” is from marriage as a union of two persons of different sexes to marriage as a union of two persons of the same sex. The leap from there to marriage as a relationship of more than two persons is comparatively easy.  “If the majority is willing to take the big leap,” he wrote, “it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.”

Quite so. The city council of Somerville has shown the way. May we now expect the New York Times editorial board to take up the cudgels for polyamory?

But let’s not end on a down note. Patrick Fagan of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute is a social scientist who has studied and written about marriage and family for decades. In a recent short essay, Fagan said the “intact married family that worships God weekly” would be the “acknowledged core” of a new civilization destined to arise from the debris of the one that now appears to be rapidly disintegrating. Say a prayer he’s right.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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