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The Plight of Single Mothers

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It's a glorious feeling to be an activist in the name of individual freedom, whether gay or straight. One always feels rewarded by the expressions of support. "I am what I am" is such an easy goal for a liberal mind, but there is a dark spot that bothers me immensely: the plight of single mothers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 13.7 million single parents in the United States in 2009, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26 percent of children under 21 in the U.S. today). Most of them are women. 2012 numbers will be much higher still.

In the E.U. single parents represented roughly 13 percent of households with children in 2009, and over a third of them lived below the risk of poverty threshold. The new figures for 2013 may very likely show a doubling of single mothers and an increase in poverty levels.

The numbers are growing rapidly in all Western countries. The dissolution of traditional families, less religious pressure, and economic factors all play a part. But the primary reason for the increase of single parents is not a "decline in morality spearheaded by gays," as many self-righteous bigots want us to believe.

Single parenthood is a result of urbanization. The fertile hunting grounds of big cities have brought enormous liberties for men. They make it easier for men, straight and gay, to remain single and independent. They allow a life focused on the fulfillment of personal aspirations, a commitment to causes (and urges) rather than commitments to other people. Big cities remove the constraints we experience in rural lives.

Technology also does its bit. We now select a mate not from our little village but from an effectively global mating pool. The selection is available in all big cities, and the menu is large; in comparison, marital commitment seems like eating at the same burger joint every day of your life.

If we are fighting for gay rights, we are also fighting for the rights of all men and women to live the lives they desire. For many men that means freedom from responsibility and commitment -- sowing their wild oats, don't you know. Even straight males often prefer male societies and male company, with its soothing companionship, free of responsibility for offspring. There seems to be a gene for the adventurer, the hunter, in all Y chromosomes that is detrimental to the well-being of those who possess two X chromosomes. Women are increasingly left with the burden of child rearing. That, then, is our dilemma: give freedom to men, and you force women into single parenthood -- a huge economic burden, especially with the average Eve earning less than the average Adam.

For me, religion is not the answer, although religious concepts of female subordination in exchange for commitment and protection, however flawed, have for centuries held families together and forced men to settle down and look after their progeny. If we do not want to backtrack on individual rights, we must seek the remedy elsewhere.

Solution number one is the state. If people are to be freer in their lifestyle choices, the state must be more caring. Institutions that share the workload of single parents must be created, expanded, and better funded. None of this is ultimately compatible with the U.S.-Republican ideal of small government, as personal liberties must be paid for by higher taxes, better care, and subsidized education.

Solution number two is a change in family concepts. Most countries today only allow adoptions by married, heterosexual couples. I am not aware of any statistics that prove that children reared by a man and a woman are in any way better off, smarter, or more moral than those raised by same-sex couples. State protection of families should not be limited to man+woman+offspring; humanity's tribal days are over. New forms of contracting companionship are necessary, including same-sex marriage and looser forms of cohabitation, removed from religious traditions. If the nomad men of big cities won't settle down in matrimony anymore, they must at least be obliged to care for their children in more effective ways than mere court-enforced alimony payments. Small groups caring for children are an option, as is a more flexible approach to guardianship. What's wrong with two brothers, two aunts, or three friends enjoying legal protection to raise a child?

Combine the two -- better care institutions and flexible families -- and you have a society that takes care of its children and allows people the freedom to choose different forms of lifestyle. The alternative, I fear, is the rigidly religious concept of the core family, which, in the technological society we live in, is an unsustainable anachronism.