It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and studies have continually shown real benefits to children brought up in a household with both a mother and father present. Yet Oklahoma law does little to promote such a family dynamic.
State Rep. Sally Kern, who has recently become something of a 21st century Anita Bryant, recently commented in a June 24 Oklahoma Gazette commentary that, "Same-sex marriage will devalue marriage and weaken society." I take issue with Kern's comments in that marriage and family have already been devalued in Oklahoma without the help of any supposed homosexual agenda.
If Kern and the "family values" contingent in the Oklahoma Legislature were serious about promoting family values, they would create a legal structure that would reflect the seriousness of marriage and families in this state. They would create a legal structure that emphasizes this, discourages divorce, facilitates equality between parents, encourages adoption and discourages the state from intervening unnecessarily in the lives of families.
We have one of the highest divorce rates in the U.S., not because the gays are coming, but because a couple in Oklahoma without children can get divorced in less than two weeks for less than the cost of an iPhone. The law makes no requirement for any real basis for the divorce other than a desire to see it done. Such "no fault" divorce laws have done more harm to the institution of marriage than any one factor; and yet domestic abuse, which proponents argued would be curbed by such laws, continues to rise.
Furthermore, Oklahoma law does little to provide equality among parents raising children following divorce and encourages personal destruction between the parties in the process, all under the guise of what is in the "best interest of the children." Our Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that there is no provision in our law that requires good parents have equal access and responsibility for their children. At a time when our society cries out for fathers to do their job, too many good fathers desiring to help raise their children are left with little more than a financial obligation and a few visits each month. You want a 21st century civil rights debate, there's a place to start.
Please don't misinterpret this as the naïve musings of the frustrated sort. As a matter of disclosure, I may be a single, straight male who has never been married and has no children, but I make the bulk of my living representing parties in family law matters. I recognize the inadequacies of my personal experience on this topic; however, in dealing with the issue on a daily professional basis, I observe the failure in our laws to address the real needs. I worry marriage is quickly becoming the "peculiar institution" of the 21st century.
Our laws relating to families are broken in Oklahoma and are not in the best interest of children, parents and society as a whole. While our elected officials want to decry the breakdown of the American family, their efforts to do anything about it are wholly lacking.
Legislators need to spend less time looking for a boogeyman, and more time addressing the glaring needs right in front of them.
Smith is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.