Family law should help bridle the passions of society "that we may be filled with love," said Elder Bruce C. Hafen at the World Congress of Families March 22 in the Czech Republic.
Elder Hafen, a member of the Seventy who is a former law professor at BYU, described recent legal and social changes that "undermine family members' entire sense of commitment and belonging to each other."Quoting the prophet Alma of the Book of Mormon, he said, "Bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love." (Alma 38:12.)
Elder Hafen further explained: "Family law traditionally acted as a bridle on human passions, stating expectations, steering us toward long-term relationships of loving commitments. Without that bridle, both our passions and our principles run wild, harming both individuals and society."
Elder Hafen cited three examples of recent changes that remove this bridle.
The first example is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and has now been adopted by every democratic country but the United States. This declaration "introduces a new concept of children's rights to personal autonomy in standards affecting age limits, parental rights and children's rights to expression, privacy and religion."
Elder Hafen said that claiming young children are already autonomous may relieve parents of demanding responsibilities, but is actually a "profound form of child neglect, abandoning children to their rights."
Only when "our children submit to the demanding yoke of both intellectual and character education can we produce adults capable of sustaining a democratic society," he said.
The U.N. Childrens Rights Convention shows how "American activists who failed to persuade U.S. Courts and legislatures have turned to unsophisticated international forums on `rights,' trying to establish radical ideas as global norms."
The second example of "removing the bridle" of law would be same-sex marriages if legalized, "as is likely" in the state of Hawaii.
"Marriage was not traditionally a private contract, but a very public act involving three parties - a man, a woman and the society itself, represented by the state. Law historically gave marriage a preferred position . . . because it matters so much to society."
He said that "our laws have not only tolerated formal, heterosexual marriage, they have endorsed and sponsored it" so society could realize benefits that come from stable marriages.
Although society may tolerate homosexual behavior, the majority oppose same-sex marriage, he said. "Most people intuitively recognize that if the law endorses everything it tolerates, we will eventually tolerate everything and endorse nothing - except tolerance."
A third illustration of removing the legal bridle is today's divorce law, said Elder Hafen.
He said that U.S. laws now "grant more freedom to terminate a marriage than the laws of any other Western nation, with devastating effects on children."
Judges presiding over divorces in America, he said, "value the right to be left alone more than the right to be together."
Noting that 20 states are now considering legal reforms intended to help people take their marriages more seriously, Elder Hafen said law should "re-establish society's expectations about the commitments family members make to one another."
He said the public nature of marriage and society's great stake in children are what distinguish marriage from all other relationships and contracts.
"Law must unapologetically define the family, marriage, and child-parent ties in a familistic entity that expresses community interests as well as individual needs. . . . The long-term interests of both our children and our society depend on healthy child development."
He concluded: "Bridled love passionately nourishes families, while unbridled passion destroys families."