Note: I greatly appreciate the work the National Marriage Project is doing, especially in putting out easy to read and meaningful data in their State Of Our Unions reports. In addition, their director W. Bradford Wilcox strikes me as a very sharp and stand up man, and he has very kindly assisted me in the past. This post isn’t a shot at the Marriage Project, but an attempt to demonstrate how ubiquitous our blind spot is regarding women’s accountability and the insidious way that child support has replaced marriage as our fundamental family model both legally and in the popular conception, even for those who consider themselves pro marriage.
In the 2012 State of Our Unions report they offer ten suggestions to strengthen the institution of marriage:
…we offer ten recommendations—for federal policy, state policy, and cultural change—for renewing marriage in Middle America.
Suggestion number four is to end “anonymous fatherhood”, with an emphasis on sending a cultural message that fathers matter (emphasis mine):
In the U.S. today we have a fundamental contradiction in our policy on fatherhood. If a woman gets pregnant after a one-night stand, the father can be held accountable financially for that child for eighteen years. An elaborate, nationwide child support enforcement apparatus has been erected in support of this goal. But if a woman buys anonymous sperm from a sperm bank, the anonymous man who provided his sperm walks away with no obligation. In the first case the state has decided that children have the right at the bare minimum to the financial support of two parents. In the second case, the state has decided that children have no such right.
While only a small (but possibly growing) minority of would-be parents use sperm donation or similar technologies to get pregnant, the cultural power of the idea that it’s acceptable deliberately to create a fatherless child and for biological fathers to walk away from their children is real. Further, studies reveal that majorities of adults who were conceived via sperm donation believe that anonymity should be ended. Therefore, we propose that the United States follow the model of other nations that have banned anonymity in sperm donation—such as Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, and Switzerland—and reinforce the consistent message that fathers matter.
Note how even when talking about women deliberately creating fatherless children in the most undeniable sense, the only moral judgment is on the man who donated the sperm. They aren’t objecting to the cultural idea that a woman would deliberately create a fatherless child, but to the cultural idea that the man should not have to pay her large sums of money as a reward for her making this awful choice. The inability to see women as responsible for their very deliberate choices regarding marriage and motherhood is a tremendous blind spot in our culture.
Also note that the solution to unwed motherhood isn’t to send a moral message that unwed motherhood deprives children of fathers. The solution is to bolster unwed motherhood by making sure our new family model is consistently followed. Morally marriage is no longer the solution, and this will remain the case so long as we wrongly embrace child support as something moral, instead something evil.
Anything which replaces marriage is evil, and this is exactly what child support is designed to do. The best defense of child support is that it may be in certain extreme circumstances a necessary evil. But even here, this is only a qualification of the fact, not a refutation of the evil nature of child support.
Edit: To reinforce the way that child support has become our fundamental model of the family, consider what the solution to the sperm bank problem would be if we instead had a marriage based family structure. In that case the solution would be obvious; bar unmarried women from using the services of sperm banks, and only permit married women to use them with the written consent of their husband (which would serve as formal adoption of the child on his part). But this solution is obvious only in a culture where marriage is the fundamental family structure.