Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Law Defining Family

The best advice I received from a lawyer when I was considering whether to attend law school was, "don't do it!" Another wise lawyer, when I was later considering whether to enroll in a Family Law course, gave the same advice. But since I listened to neither, I found myself in my first Family Law class this morning. What a treat to study the "law" of "family" at a major secular institution from a Professor whom one student described in an old evaluation as "androgynous."

The first order of business, and I would guess this is the same in every Family Law course taught in the country, is to define what we mean by the word "family". This definition colors how we are prepared to justify or seek changes to laws about marriage, divorce, adoption, child rearing, etc.

The professor instructed the class to write three conclusions to this fragment: "A person or a group of people constitute a family when…" Good thing we didn't squeeze out a single person as "family" from our options for definitions.

Dictionary.com, to their credit, has a virtually identical definition of family today as their Random House progenitor had in my trusty 1962 edition (i.e., "parents and their children", and so on). On the other hand, it seems that the elite have attended to cleaning up American Heritage: "Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place." Under this definition, I would guess that Frat boys can adopt a baby Joe Sigma Tau... The old Black's Law Dictionary (1979) says the term "most commonly refers to group of persons consisting of parents and children." Today's Black's (8th ed. 2004) adds "A group of persons who live together and have a shared commitment to a domestic relationship." The circularity of this definition is evidenced by looking up domestic: "Of or relating to the family or the household".

So that's where the authorities stand. How did I thrice complete the above fragment?

A person or a group of people constitute a family when…” 1)...they vow before God to enter into a holy unity. 2) ...they are parents or children following and according to the sexual act’s implicit vow of unity. 3) I can't think of a third.

Then we were told to share our answers with the classmate (i.e., feminist) sitting next to us (Gasp!). Fortunately, my neighbor walked in late, so did not participate in this exercise. We ended by calling out what we thought were good answers for the board. The professor categorized everything under one of three headings (none of which would contain my first answer):

Biologically related, e.g., mother-daughter

State Recognition:
They are married
Parent-child adoption

Reliance on others for daily needs
Share holidays
Agreement, conscious, and consensual
Non-marital cohabitants
Authority/power structure

..."when they have an agreement, conscious and consensual" was the first answer given.

My point: a society of broken families is a broken society. Ours is losing its ability to even comprehend the order of Family instituted by our Creator. Not that I have it right, but these answers are almost all entirely wrong. Really though, how concerned should we be with how our State defines Family?


Principium unitatis said...


When the state is confused about the true nature of the family, then this leads to (i.e. contributes to) confusion among the citizens regarding the nature of the family. This confusion is in part a result of a rejection of natural law. For example, the word 'sex' (as a noun), which has always been understood as a quality of animals (i.e. male or female) has been replaced (since the 60s) with the word 'gender'. The word 'gender' referred to the masculine or feminine forms of words (el burro, vs. la mesa). Gender was imposed on words; sex, by contrast, was given by nature. We 'sexed' puppies by lifting their tail to determine whether they were *already* male or female. But now we use the word 'gender', because (according to the lie) there is no given. You decide your gender. You decide whether you are male or female (or however many other 'options' there are out there nowadays).

This same constructivism and rejection of natural law applies also the way the family is treated. It has nothing to do with what is given by nature; rather, it depends on how you see yourselves. Do you all see yourselves as a family? Then you're a family. And this is why if you want the baby, it is a baby with rights. If you don't want it, it is a fetus without rights. Constructivism. There is no given. We are gods, ubermensch; we make the world whatever we want it to be.

All this comes from the rejection of philosophy (in its classical sense, which included natural law). Without philosophy (and of course without theology), there is only science. But science (in its reductive form) cannot deduce any prescriptives from nature. It can tell you that you have XY chromosomes, but it cannot tell you that you have a soul and that your sexuality comes from your soul, not your chromosomes. Thus it cannot tell you whether you are in *essence* male or female, because it cannot deal with essences at all. The world is thus entirely fluid. Families are whatever we want them to be. And whatever we want them to be now is simply the next stage in the evolutionary development of the family.

So, yes, we should be concerned. But we can't stipulate to the state what families are. We have to retrain our citizens to see the world rightly, for what it is. One way (but not sufficient in itself) of teaching us to see the world rightly, is to have laws that are *not* confused about these things. Laws teach, either for good or for evil.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Cow Bike Rider (alias, Chris Sagsveen) said...

I agree with Bryon :)

Thos said...


Justice Scalia started his dissent in the landmark case, J.E.B. v. Ala. (holding that the Equal Protection clause prohibits discrimination in jury selection on the basis of gender), with this: "Today's opinion is an inspiring demonstration of how thoroughly up-to-date and right-thinking we Justices are in matters pertaining to the sexes (or as the Court would have it, the genders), and how sternly we disapprove the male chauvinist attitudes of our predecessors."

I was not familiar with the storied background of the perversion of the vernacular use of the word gender, but with Scalia's words ringing in my ears from last semester, I knew you were on track.

But that was just an example of yours...

Your point as I took it was that the State and its laws instruct and provide norms for our society. No argument here, and I realize that we should be concerned that "family" get redefined in a way differently than the natural law.

I admit to you that I feel apathy over the point though; perhaps I shouldn't. I believe the state has let so much go already, that it's a little late to try to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. To me, when homosexual cohabitants were allowed to adopt and raise infants, the battle was o'er. That fight should have *followed* and not *preceded* the one over whether such cohabitants deserve the title of marriage. But while we slept, the courts introduced infants into their arms.

And the meaning of family, as the state defines it, being thus emaciated, it's hard for me to get worked up over further encroachments. I would agree with you, I think, that I have a high duty to encourage individuals I encounter to a correct view of the natural law on this point. I don't know that I'll be putting political bumper stickers on my car though.

I doubt I'm right here, but trying to be open about why your truthful words only slightly resonate with me. I'd appreciate your input and, where by God's grace I can be open to receive it, correction.

Peace in Christ,

MHL said...

As a lawyer, let me second the suggestion not to go to law school, and if there, don't take family law. :) Assuming it's too late for that, my advice is to quit worrying about it and do what you need to do to get through the course. My advice to all law students is to take as much as you can in the way of practice oriented courses. Trial Advocacy courses, clinics, moot court, etc. Volunteer with a prosecutor's office or a public defender's office or legal aid service. I think in the long run this will make you a lot better lawyer when you get out. A good bar review course can get you ready for the bar exam.

I know this doesn't answer your question, but I just got out of a trial and I'm too tired to consider the greater philosophical points you raise. What year are you in law school?

Thos said...


It's funny how many lawyers I've encountered online considering (or already considered and completed) converting. I'm a 2L at Md. Law, attending on military orders (on active duty). I really would discourage anyone from going to law school, unless they had clearly believed God was placing them there.

I think I avoided the good advice I received on Family Law because I have a morbid curiosity that seems insatiable. Oh well.

I look forward to hearing more from you.

Peace in Christ,