Divorce: Tool of the devil?

The Idaho House of Representatives' family task force thinks so.


Catherine Price
November 9, 2007 11:54PM (UTC)

Ah, Idaho. This year its speaker of the House, the same Lawerence Denney who sponsored Idaho's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, convened a task force to figure out what the heck is going on with Idaho family values.

The chairman of the committee is Republican Steven Thayn, father of eight, who believes, according to the Idaho Statesman, that "more two-parent homes and fewer working mothers could be both a social and economic boon." He and his committee members are working to achieve that standard.

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I'd been tempted to accuse Thayn and his peers of trying to push America back toward 1950, but upon looking at the Legislature's description of the task force, I realized that they probably wouldn't take that as a criticism. Why? Because that's actually the committee's goal. As the Legislature's Web site puts it, the committee's purpose is "to study the magnitude of the decline of the family since 1950; the effects the decline has had on state social policies; the reasons for the decline, and ways to strengthen the family."

The Web site does not make it clear what the definition of a 1950 family is, exactly, or why it should be set as a goal -- though it's pretty clear it has something to do with women staying home with the kids and fewer people filing for divorce. (Just to be clear, the Statesman quotes Thayn as saying that the 1950s weren't totally perfect. "I don't think the family structure was really ideal at that time, either," he told the Statesman. "I don't think the family ever in the history of the world has reached its potential.") According to the Statesman, Thayn and his peers are considering solutions to the current family "crisis," including finding ways to encourage mothers to stay home with their kids and, wait for it, repealing no-fault divorce laws. You know, those pesky laws that make "not wanting to be married anymore" a valid reason for divorce?

I really don't even know where to begin on this one. The Statesman reports that in a task force meeting in September, speakers gave statistics supposedly proving that single-parent homes (often headed by women) were driving up drug use and crime rates. (The speakers claimed that cohabitation and divorce had the same effect.) It also says that Thayn believes that the state could save $200 million from the drop in crime that would result if there were fewer divorces. The article doesn't explain Thayn's logic -- how, exactly, would forcing people to stay in miserable marriages lower the crime rate? -- but I didn't even get a chance to dwell on that question before being hit by this quote from Republican Rep. Dick Hartwood. "Divorce is just terrible," he told the Statesman. "It's one of Satan's best tools to kill America."

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I'm showing my own bias here, but I think it sounds like committees like this one are one of the best tools to kill America. The committee has heard other speakers encourage things like strengthening day-care regulations and public support for early-childhood education, but those two ideas haven't been met by much enthusiasm. The task force's latest report doesn't endorse tightening regulations for day-care providers with fewer than 13 children (supporters of the idea say that mandatory background checks could help keep children safe from pedophiles) and doesn't even mention early-childhood education. Thayn himself is quoted as calling prekindergarten education a "free baby-sitting service" and, according to the Statesman, he suggests that such programs hurt families because they keep mothers away from home.

"It seems to be [proponents of such programs] just assume that mothers have to work, and they're not really asking the question, 'What can we do to help them stay home?'" he's quoted as saying.

Welcome to Idaho in 2007. Judging from comments like the ones quoted in this article, I don't really understand what Thayn and his buddies are getting so worked up about. The place already looks like 1950.

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Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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