A family-friendly agenda for the General Assembly
January 4, 2013 2 Comments
During the last legislative session, social conservatives passed some important legislation. First, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill requiring informed consent for elective abortion. And second, a constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot that would make gay marriage illegal in the state of North Carolina. Both of these were major achievements.
What should be the General Assembly’s priority for the new session on matters of importance to social conservatives?
I would argue that restoring the traditional nuclear family in the state of North Carolina is the most critical priority. This is true both for humanistic reasons and because of economic imperatives.
The single-parent family statistically is a major predictor of poverty for women and children. It is also associated with a host of social pathologies– crime, diminished educational attainment, decreased career formation. Single parent families also statistically result in much greater dependence on taxpayer-funded charity programs of various types. And profound psychiatric complications arise because of spousal and parental abandonment.
Conversely, the traditional nuclear family is the world’s best social program. It fights poverty; improves educational outcomes; reduces criminal behavior; helps guide young people toward careers that enable self-sufficiency; and reduces reliance on governmental charity programs. The emotional security provided by traditional family relationships helps avoid the desperate, prolonged psychiatric pain associated with abandonment.
When we have nearly 40 percent of children born out of wedlock, and nearly half of new marriages ending in divorce, this is a built-in economic crisis. We create huge numbers of individuals and family units incapable of pulling their own weight and fully contributing to society. We create more family units that are more likely to have enormously destructive impacts on society. We assure that huge numbers are going to require long-term charity courtesy of the taxpayer.
It is imperative that we figure out what we can do to prevent marriages from dissolving unnecessarily. And we need to make it much more likely that two-parent families will form in the first place. This is not just a matter of men and women fulfilling their obligations to each other, and to their children. It is also a matter of their fulfilling their obligations to society.
The state of North Carolina cannot unilaterally reverse all of the legal and cultural changes at the national level that created this mess. But it can take some important steps to change the environment within our own state. We need to promote family formation and prevent family dissolution within our own domain– to the extent that we can.
What can conservatives do in the state of North Carolina to restore the family?
1. Reform no-fault divorce.
Divorce law is written at the state level. We need to repeal no-fault divorce when dependent children are in the home. Instead, it should be replaced with mutual consent divorce– unless major fault exists. In addition, we should increase the waiting period for divorce to two years. Requiring counseling and education regarding reconciliation is also warranted.
2. Assure that the charity/benefit programs administered by state and local government do not promote the formation of single-parent families.
Set an arbitrary date in the future. And after that date, limit public benefit/charity programs in the state to children in two-parent families (to the extent allowable under federal law). We should stop incentivizing single-parent families with our governmental charity programs in North Carolina. We must assure that these programs do not penalize two-parent families.
3. Encourage adoption when out-of-wedlock pregnancies occur.
When a young woman becomes pregnant, and it becomes clear that she is not marrying the father of the child, the state should incentivize adoption. In addition, we should assure that adoptions in North Carolina are made to two-parent families.
4. Reform the tax code so that marriage is not penalized.
End any marriage penalties that might exist in the state tax code, especially for those with low income. Increase child tax credits for two-parent families with children. (The ability to use the state tax code for these purposes will be limited, however, if North Carolina repeals its state income tax.)
5. Provide numerous opportunities, in various contexts, for Marriage and Relationship Education; and for abstinence education.
The popular culture has become thoroughly corrupted; and continuously sends messages that undermine marriage and the family. We need to help citizens learn the value and necessity of marriage, and of functioning family units. We need to help them understand the skills and attitudes needed to form lasting marriages. Young people need to understand fully the potentially devastating consequences to women, children and society when out-of-wedlock births occur. And they need to be afforded the skills to remain abstinent until both biological parents are prepared to unite in marriage, and until they are both prepared to love and support any children they conceive. Public schools; public colleges and universities; various media; and offices of local and state government all should be used to provide this educational content.
6. Use the state prison system to educate young male prisoners regarding responsible manhood.
Provide education and training to build character in order to make the young men in the charge of the state’s prison system ultimately more suitable candidates for marriage; and to make them better fathers. In addition, enhance their ability to earn a living (for instance, by incentivizing apprenticeships for these young men).
Women and men both have a moral and ethical obligation to subjugate their own interests, and unite on behalf of any children they conceive together. And they have an obligation to each other to remain united. The state of North Carolina needs to rethink what it can do to help reverse the self-destructive spiral our society has taken.
None of us is required to accept the decimation of the two-parent nuclear family in our midst. We need to fight this nefarious trend, and reverse it. I think the state of North Carolina’s General Assembly can make a huge difference for its citizens– if it wills to do so.
Dr. Joe Guarino is a Guardian columnist.