Mark Hemingway: It's the children who suffer when parents don't marry 

Last week, the census reported some truly depressing news -- the percentage of married people in America has hit an all-time low. Only 52 percent of Americans over 18 are married, down almost 10 percent from a decade ago.

Not everyone seems to think this is a bad thing. Marriage, we're so often told, is an archaic religious institution designed to oppress women.

Less marriage means more freedom, allowing us all to have personal relationships that ebb and flow with the phases of our lives.

Of course, anyone who believes this is dooming huge swaths of America's children to lives of misery. Some 72 percent of black children in America are born out of wedlock.

Forty-five years ago, when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his infamous report first alerting Americans to the fact that black families were crumbling, the percentage of African-American kids born out of wedlock was only 26 percent.

Recently, black journalist and blogger Christelyn Karazin started an online campaign called "No Wedding, No Womb!" (NWNW) calling for "both MEN and WOMEN to put the needs of children first, and advocates that couples abstain from having children until they are emotionally, physically and financially able to care for them."

Karzin knows a thing or two about this particular problem: She got pregnant at age 24 by a man who did not want to get married. She's now happily married to another man.

While acknowledging that "marriage is the ideal," the campaign also makes the caveat that "if marriage is out of the question, NWNW parents are 'wedded' to their commitment to their children, providing daily emotional and physical nurturing."

This all sounds pretty reasonable, and not overly moralistic.

However, the blow back is as predictable as it is pathetic. "However noble the intentions behind 'No Wedding, No Womb' are, it's just slut shaming in the guise of empowering women," wrote Monica Potts at the Web site for the American Prospect. On Michael Eric Dyson's radio show, blogger Jamilah Lemieux summed up her objections to NWNW thus: "In a nutshell, it's unreasonable and unproductive to force middle-class values on people who don't have middle-class access."

Marriage is not some unnatural construct adopted by the privileged classes; it's been the foundation of civilization for thousands of years.

We can't just lower expectations and remove the social stigma from out-of-wedlock births and expect that children will be taken care of.

Black children are now more than three times as likely to be living in poverty than white kids. If the goal here is to have fewer people "slut shaming" unwed mothers, mission accomplished. But feminist moral victories don't feed kids -- committed fathers do.

None of this is to say we shouldn't do what we can to help single mothers. But it should lead you to the conclusion that the absence of marriage is big part of the reason why so many kids are suffering.

The simple solution for NWNW's critics is just to take kids out of the equation. "I'd have a bit more sympathy if 'No Wedding, No Womb' was the unfortunate title of a volunteer group taking condoms to community centers and volunteering to teach sex-ed classes," writes Potts.

Sure, we could all live in a world where everyone was well-educated about birth control methods and never had kids, making marriage less relevant. (Psst! Don't mention that black children are being aborted at record rates. It's unseemly.) But that's not realistic, is it?

Personally, I'd have more sympathy for the critics of NWNW if they thought a little harder about what happens to children in a country where marriage is in inexorable decline.

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at mhemingway@washingtonexaminer.com.

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