Part III: Prof. Jennifer Roback Morse on Why Privatizing Marriage is Impossible


Today on Public Discourse, Jennifer Roback Morse argues that privatizing marriage would be unjust to children. This is the third and final installment of her series on the state and marriage:

The primary business of the state is justice. Because children cannot be autonomous, adult society has an obligation in justice to provide institutional structures that protect their most basic interests.

I was once a libertarian activist. I was on the platform committee of the national libertarian party twice in the late seventies. I used to give introductory talks about libertarianism in people's homes when I was a graduate student.

I would begin these talks by describing the problems that contracts between consenting adults could solve. Often someone would ask, "What about children?" I would always admit that children posed a tough problem for libertarianism, but that we would deal with it in a more advanced lesson. Somehow the time for that more advanced lesson never came.

It was only when I had children of my own that I came to see that something was deeply wrong with the way I had been avoiding the "tough questions" about children. In my personal experience of parenthood, I have had responsibility for profoundly neglected children. These children were permanently damaged by lack of relationship. I came to see that we libertarians have been starting our theorizing from the perspective of adults who are equipped to take care of themselves, make contracts, keep promises, defend their own property, and respect other people's property.

Read Part I of this story here.

Read Part II of this story here.

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