Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

June Carbone: What We Owe Our Children

"In thinking about our images of the family, I find that the source of at least some of our apparent disagreement about 'family values,' ethics, and public policy stems from the location of these issues in the classically liberal divide between public and private," writes June Carbone in her introduction to the current issue of Santa Clara Law Review, featuring papers from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics conference, "Ethics, Public Policy, and the Future of the Family."

Carbone, associate professor of law at Santa Clara, was one of the organizers of the spring 1995 conference as well as the Center's reading group on the family. Her article analyzes the relationship between private values and state policy regarding marriage, sex and children, concluding, "To the extent that there is a remaining consensus about family matters, it is likely to be an insistence on the importance of and obligation to children."

Obligations to children are also the focus of her current research as a visiting scholar at the Stanford University Center for Research on Women and Gender. She has recently completed a chapter for the book Child Support: The Next Frontier (city, publisher, date TK). "Child support is on the cutting edge of the modern effort to impose ongoing family obligations on people who have split up," she says.

"In the old system," Carbone continues, "the stigma associated with divorce and the reality of shotgun marriages kept families together." Those norms have loosened to the point where 60 percent of U.S. children now spend part of their childhood in single-parent homes.

Carbone sees a number of responses to that reality. There are conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, who want a return to the old mores governing sexuality. There is also "a broader-based movement to try to enforce financial responsibility on parents, particularly through welfare reform and child support," she observes. "Then there is an additional group that sees the problem in terms of the need for a greater societal support for children across the board rather than a punitive attitude toward parents."

Currently, Carbone is outlining her own book on what's happening to the family. "As a scholar, I'm interested in the way these changes play out in the legal system," she says.

Carbone has served on the Center Steering Committee since 1992. Copies of the Santa Clara Law Review containing her article are available for $20 from the Center.