Cohabitation and the abuse of America's children

By W. Bradford Wilcox

Public Discourse

Published: Sunday, May 15 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

One reason that children do not tend to thrive in cohabiting households, besides the abuse factor, is that these homes are much more unstable than are married households. One recent University of Michigan study found that children born to cohabiting parents were 119 percent more likely to see their parents break up than children born to married parents. And, as anyone who has children can attest, children do not do well when they are exposed to changing routines, homes and, especially, caretakers.

This growing body of new research has been deliberately ignored by the ACLU, which has been engaged in a longstanding legal campaign to gut state laws designed to support and strengthen marriage as the preferred relationship for the bearing, rearing and adoption of children. This month in Arkansas, for instance, the ACLU convinced the Arkansas Supreme Court, in Cole v. Arkansas, to strike down a state law that prohibits cohabiting couples from adopting or fostering children.

The ACLU argued that the Arkansas law violated federal and state constitutional rights to privacy and served "no child welfare purpose at all." The Arkansas Supreme Court bought this argument, ruling that the Arkansas law, Act 1, violated cohabitors' "fundamental right to privacy … to engage in private, consensual, noncommercial intimacy in the privacy of their homes."

But what about the rights of the children in Arkansas to be raised in a safe and stable home? The state of Arkansas argued, rightly, that cohabiting homes are no place for children in need of safe and stable homes. Infants, toddlers and older children who have been given up by their parents, or who have been removed by the state from the custody of their parents, need safe and stable homes above all else.

And the latest federal study provides yet more evidence that households headed by cohabiting couples are not likely to supply good homes for such children. Apparently, none of this mattered to an Arkansas Supreme Court keen to put adults' desires ahead of children's needs.

Thankfully, the family news from the states has not been all bad this month. On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer approved a law that gives married parents preference in the adoption process in her state. Arizona thereby joins a number of other states — such as Mississippi, Utah and Virginia—that privilege married couples in the adoption process.

Let's just hope that the courts in Arizona and these other states do not fall prey to the ACLU's ongoing campaign to disconnect parenthood from marriage. Because — as study after study tells us — children are more likely to thrive and to simply survive when they are raised in an intact, married home. This is no small social fact, given that the primary purpose of family law is not to serve the desires of adults but rather the "best interests" of children.

W. Bradford Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. He is also an adoptive father. The original version of this article appeared in Public Discourse www.thepublicdiscourse.com an online journal of the Witherspoon Institute.

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