Yesterday’s installment of Public Discourse features an intriguing essay by Professor Gerard Bradley on why marriage law depends upon the procreation of children. Bradley highlights from the outset the impossibility of neutrality by the government on this issue, a shot across the bow at Rawlsian theories of public policy.
Bradley then turns to the heart of his argument, which he states this way:
The most important moral truth about the family is the radical equality and mutuality at the heart of family relationships, which relationships have an unbreakable foundation in the way children come to be within marriage. When the spouses’ marital acts bear the fruit of children, the children are perceptively called (in law) “issue of the marriage.” For children embody in a unique way their parents’ union. Just as the married couple is often referred to as two-in-one-flesh, so too each of their children is the two-of-them-in-the-one-flesh. Each child just is their union, extended into time and space, and thus into human history and into the whole human community. The parents can see in each of their children an unsurpassable reflection of them as a unity, that is, of their identity not as Jack and Joan but as the two-of-them-as-one flesh—literally.
Bradley makes the opposite move of Professor George’s piece in the recent First Things by making children intrinsic to the meaning of marriage–at least from a legal standpoint. Bradley’s proposal pushes these relationships into the identity of the children, a move that is potentially problematic. Children grow up, it seems, to be something more than the image of their parents union and establish identities separate from those of their parents–at least currently. Bradley’s metaphysic perhaps offers support for the sort of localism that the Front Porcher’s (and Chesterton!) so love.
But Professor Bradley states that children just “are” the union and then goes on to call them an “unsurpassable reflection of [the parents] as a unity.” This gap between the reflection of the unity and the union itself distended through space and time is enormous, and while the latter concept softens the idea of the former, I wonder whether in doing so it gives away more than he intends.
I am curious, though, to hear responses by our readers on the essay, especially in light of the interesting discussion we have had in the comments on Professor George’s piece.