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Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2000/ 28 Shevat, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The demise of marriage -- Suite: Judy Blue Eyes! David Crosby is on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with his wife, Jan, and two children he fathered, although Jan is not their mother. But their birth mother, Julie Cypher, is in the photo as is rock singer Melissa Etheridge who is also in the family tree because she is the Crosby/Cypher children's father or second mother or, well, you continue the math, weary reader. Melissa and Julie wanted to be parents but not being fully biologically equipped used David Crosby as a sperm donor because Mrs. Crosby offered his services, er, donation with musical talent as a two-fer. What, Wayne Newton wasn't available?

The four parental units made an appearance on Larry King Live to answer questions such as whether Crosby's liver disorder could be passed along to his children, er, offspring. Slight smiles emerged but no one uttered the obvious, "Not unless they're stoned for a decade." Teach Your Children Well.

Ms. Etheridge said they went public because she kept getting questions. I am more curious about Japanese beetle migrations, but the self-centered believe the world has them as its axis. The public disclosure did, however, coincide with her new album (her first in three years for fathering/mothering does take its toll) and Mr. Crosby's new book.

The Larry King performance had a Beatles' All You Need is Love theme with the rest being just details. Never was heard a discouraging word from Larry or callers. Etheridge and Cypher (called Mama and Mamo respectively by their children) downplayed their daughter, Bailey, 3, asking, "Do I have a father?"

Marriage as an institution is on its last gasp. Its death will come from the charges of homophobia used to block meaningful public policy discourse. There are public policy issues aplenty when it comes to marriage and children, but they will be sacrificed at the altar of homophobia accusation we fear and worship by remaining mute.

Last month's 45-page decision by the Vermont Supreme Court mandating marital rights for gay couples makes Green Eggs and Ham look positively syllogistic. The Green Mountain state's supremes reason that if the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, Vermont's failure to withhold marital protections from those who never reproduce means gay couples are treated differently, and unconstitutionally so, from childless couples.

The justices have a point. Despite the threats of hari-kari from the zero population folks, the birth rate among married couples is so low that we are barely replenishing the population. And the institution of marriage has been so denigrated in practice that its covenants and unique legal status are easily questioned by justices and gay rights advocates. Nearly 1/3 of children are born to single women. The divorce rate puts couples at about a 50/50 shot.
Adultery is a private life issue we were unwilling to condemn even in presidents. Prenuptial agreements are wedding routines -- something old, something new, something legalistic, something fatalistic.

Marriage to many is little more than a designer dress, gifts and a few years' commitment. Given these sociological realities, what exactly is sacred about marriage?

That we have not lived up to the commitments and purposes of heterosexual marriage even the most primitive societies recognize as being anthropologically necessary for self-preservation does not justify its judicial elimination. Society's protection of heterosexual marriage is for the good-of-the-whole. How quickly utilitarian Marxists abandon principle and become freedom fighters on this one. Children are the vested interest. In an era that does everything from nuclear test ban treaties to Susan B. Anthony dollar coins "for the children," a child's need for a mother and a father, of different genders, is dismissed breezily. The work of Barbara Dafoe Whitehead documents without equivocation the damage to children raised otherwise. Unless heterosexual marriage retains its exclusive status and is honored by its participants' commitment, the hope of raising children who don't pack the emotional stability of a WWF regular as well as an Uzi by junior high wanes.

Just the logistics of failed marriage are indicative of its unique role. Deadbeat fathers are divorced fathers. Single mothers are generally in poverty because they abandoned their vows or never took them in the first place. Complexities of visitation, grandparents rights, step families and the general confusion that arise when marriages end are the fruits of disregard. If parenting sans biology is so easy, address the law's struggle with the cognitive dissonance of many adopted children. Adoption is society's most stable alternative parenting arrangement but even it has not yet fully grappled with the yearnings of these children to know their biological roots, an indication of the precious solace mother and father as creators offers.

The Crosby, Cypher, Etheridge and Mrs. Crosby combo plate portrait dizzies the brain with questions about legal rights, visitation, adoption and sheer confusion in those young children as they sort through the biological defiance and self-absorption of two women who don't understand that the first great test of parenthood is doing what's best for the child, not what you want. Whether coping with an ear infection at 2 AM or being a lesbian who wants children, parenting demands sacrifices.

Marriage is protected and limited because of the effects alternatives, in any form, gender and orientation, have on the young. This is not difficult to understand or discuss. But, then again, a Larry King caller during the Crosby fest blamed "corporate America" for the destruction of the family. That caller's reasoning skill is a perfect fit for the Vermont Supreme Court. When the Mama/Mamo children and those similarly situated are teens perhaps we could talk again to Larry King about only needing love.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings