Edmonton Journal

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Judge Chrumka's sentiment was right but his message was wrong

It's not the state's job to make moral judgments about our choices

Paula Simons
The Edmonton Journal

Poor Judge Chrumka.

He spoke the major words that brought the wrath of the city down upon him. He spoke the forbidden words that parents should stay together for the sake of the children.

What planet has the good judge been living on that he didn't realize that no one, least of all a public official, is allowed to voice such sentiments?

But dear Judge Chrumka, let me explain to you why everyone is so angry. It's not because what you said is wrong. It's because, deep down, everyone knows you're right.

Parents, when possible, should stay together for the sake of their children. Children, statistically speaking, are better off in stable, two-parent families. Two-parent families are better off financially -- they don't have to split their incomes to run two households and the parents can work together in the home and outside for the economic well-being of their children.

Parenting is hard work. It's easier when two people share the emotional, not to mention the physical, effort.

It's not politically safe to stress the point, but study after study of everything from teen drug abuse to teen pregnancy rates to school performance to future marital stability shows that children who grow up in two-parent families do better.

Kids whose parents make a good-faith effort to work together after divorce do just about as well. But when one parent is emotionally or physically absent, the odds of problems escalate.

But there's the rub: We're not aboard Noah's Ark. In the real world, marriages fail and human beings make mistakes. It's never healthy for anyone for a partner to stay with an abusive spouse, whether the abuse is physical or emotional.

And it takes two people to make a marriage work. You can be the best, most dedicated partner, intent on putting your children's needs first, but if your spouse ups and leaves, you have single-parenthood thrust upon you.

And sometimes people change and there's just no going back.

That said, there are plenty of people who split for selfish short-term reasons and plenty more who produce children casually without making a commitment to each other or to the offspring.

There are far too many good people who have been bamboozled by the myth perpetuated in thousands of expensive movies and cheap novels which say a marriage must be 'round-the-clock bliss, that our spouse should fulfil our every emotional need.

It's not true. Marriage is about hard work and commitment and patience, about the ebb and flow of love, about the taming of ego, about respect as well as passion, about faith and fidelity and the long view.

But here's where the argument of social conservatives breaks down. The state has no moral or legal power to coerce couples to stay together, and still less to prevent people from making wrong marital and sexual choices.

There are no pat answers for a Solomon on the bench to dispense here.

But let's not kill the messenger who reminds us of uncomfortable truths. We don't need official moral lectures. We need a subtle social and cultural revolution, one that revalidates marriage and family. One that takes the words "family values" back from the right wing and makes them universal again.

We won't get there by criticizing Judge Chrumka, but by thinking about why his remarks touched such a sensitive nerve.


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