The Corner

Contract Parenting

It’s a sign of the times that within days of the publication of Liza Mundy’s report on “arranged parenting” (see my post below), and within about a week of the Pennsylvania triple parenting decision, the New York Times has run an Op-Ed advocating a new, contractual conception of parenthood. Dalton Conley’s “Spread the Wealth of Spousal Rights,” advertises itself as an “end-run around the culture wars,” but in fact it’s yet another radical strategy for deconstructing marriage.

Conley would leave the name “marriage” to what gets ratified in church, while turning the associated legal rights of marriage into entities to be assigned, reassigned, divided, and contracted for among any number of persons, at will. For example, instead of saying that spouses can’t be forced to testify against one another in court, why not allow people to assign this right to any individual, spouse or not? Of course, this would quickly render the idea of marriage meaningless.

Conley invokes the radical “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” statement (which calls for recognition of triple/quadruple parenting and group marriage) saying that his plan is a better way to achieve the same end. Under Conley’s plan, instead of being married to more than two people, you can simply divide up what we used to call spousal rights and distribute different bundles of them to more than one individual. That would make it easy to turn triple-parenting arrangements, like the one in Pennsylvania, into de facto triple marriages.

Going back to Liza Mundy’s report on “arranged parenting,” it’s clear that, without being married, without having a sexual relationship, and without living under the same roof, Dalton’s plan would enable two IVF parents to bargain for certain “spousal rights” and set up a sort of “virtual marriage” into which a child would be born without key family advantages, but within which the parents would enjoy major benefits of marriage, from the start. In other words, Dalton’s plan would allow multiple adults to divvy up the erstwhile goods of marriage amongst themselves, while giving their kids the shaft. Mundy compared “arranged parenting” to “shared custody without the dating, marriage, sex, or divorce.” Add Conley’s plan, and it’s even worse: the kid gets born into a post-divorce-like world, while his parents get the benefits of marriage anyway (without the bother of actually having to live together).

If Conley’s Op-Ed had come out alone, some would try to dismiss it (although the NYT obviously takes it seriously). And if Mundy’s report on “arranged parenting” had come out alone, it could be downplayed as a novel, if disturbing, development with no clear legal implications. But the coincidence of both Conley and Mundy coming out together (and in close proximity to the Pennsylvania triple-parenting decision) points to a broader phenomenon. A confluence of mutually reinforcing social, technological, and legal developments are conspiring to radically deconstruct marriage. Last summer’s “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” statement is not an anomaly. (See here and here.) It’s part of a larger set of developments that aim to lever same-sex marriage into a still more radical deconstruction of the family. It’s early in the game, but a pattern is emerging.

Mundy’s on-the-ground realities, combined with precedents like the Pennsylvania triple-parenting decision, are going to build up pressure for incremental experiments with proposals like Conley’s. Over the long term, all this together will take us where the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” movement wants to go. Oh, and don’t forget the New York Times, which seems happy to provide a platform for mainstreaming any proposed deconstruction of the family, the more radical the better.