Sir James Munby. Credit: Brian Smith / Telegraph
People used to lament the advent of the nuclear family because it heralded the death of the extended family. Now, according to Britain’s top family court judge, we should applaud the death of the married mum, dad and kids family norm as it dies of neglect before our eyes.
Sir James Munby, president of the High Court’s family division, is very familiar with what he calls the “complexity” of family life these days. To simplify things, he told a university audience last week, we should forget about things like marital status or who exactly a child’s parents are, and welcome the new “reality” of people living together, married or unmarried, of opposite sexes or the same, monogamous or not.
We should not worry about whether children are raised by single parent, by two parents or even three; whether their parents are their natural parents or not. Some “may be children of parents with very different religious, ethnic or national backgrounds. They may be the children of polygamous marriages. Their siblings may be only half-siblings or step-siblings. Some children are brought up by two parents of the same sex. Some children are conceived by artificial donor insemination. Some are the result of surrogacy arrangements.”
None of that matters, says Sir James. What is important is for society to solve the financial, housing, health and other problems of an “almost infinite” variety of families, not to waste time on the type of relationships they choose for themselves or their children.
Given its associations with negative things like nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the demise of the so-called nuclear family might sound less troubling than the death of the traditional family. Still, the nuclear family’s supposed replacements – polygamy, being bought and sold in a surrogacy transaction that specifically excludes a father or a mother – sound even worse.
Moreover, Sir James fails to explain how anyone can have two parents of the same sex, or even three parents; or when polygamy was made legal in the UK — unless he eagerly anticipating the polygamous family as the inevitable outcome of bisexual rights.
But despite his claims, the traditional family is not dying – it is being killed off, with the enthusiastic support of leading figures like Sir James Munby, whose ideas would at one time have been seen as those of a crank.
A well-known supporter of no-fault divorce, reports the Telegraph, last year he ruled that laws which restricted the use of surrogacy to couples, excluding single people, were discriminatory, prompting the Government to change them; he has also called for cohabiting couples to get the same rights as married people.
Nonetheless, he also warned that too many children are being criminalised by Child Protection Services, and last year spoke out about funding for mental health services after finding that there was no secure place “anywhere in the country” for a suicidal teenage girl to go, warning that the country would have “blood on our hands” if she was released into the community and killed herself.
However, it is not “the country” that is to blame for rising child crime, disorder and mental illness, but so-called progressives who call for all the fences to be removed from the edge of the cliff and then call for more ambulances to pick up the pieces at the bottom.
Such is his enthusiasm for fragmenting the traditional family one might suspect Sir James has shares in IKEA; he has certainly invested a great deal of philosophical capital in the ideas that he champions, since despite seeing the dismal reality at close range in the courtroom he continues to champion family “reform”. His modernist approach could be likened to knocking down the walls of a house and calling it open plan, since removing the natural components of a family renders the word meaningless.
Such are the complexities of the relationships that he envisages, it may well be that in the future everyone will be as closely related to everyone else as an isolated community of Amazon Indians. This aligns with the school of progressive thought that insists that children should “belong to everyone.” However, as a judge he should know that everyone does not have children’s best interests at heart. A grass verge belonging to everyone is clearly identifiable by its state of dereliction; similarly, people can make their home anywhere if they are desperate enough; a park bench or a ditch can be home to some people, but we do not expect then to thrive there.
As an alumnus of Magdalen College School, Oxford, and Wadham College, perhaps Sir James feels guilty about his privileged background. If so he is perfectly free to share his material advantages with the less fortunate. Instead, he seems intent in taking away from the poor the best advantage they could enjoy – being brought up in a normal family, rather than being the product of someone else’s egoistic fantasy and/or consumer choice.
The dysfunctional social groupings he describes are unsustainable; far from signifying inevitable progress, they signal the fragmentation of the vital building block of society.
He is indeed a crank, but not a harmless one, having risen to a position of power and influence that he could have used to make life better for vulnerable children and struggling families; as things stand his retirement next month will be a cause for righteous jubilation.
Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).