When I blogged yesterday about Noah's gay-marriage post I hadn't read all of the Stanley Kurtz article he was responding to (my bad) so I didn't think of another form of "polygamy" Kurtz suggested -- gay people who form families with surrogate mothers and inseminators and whatnot. Those families do exist, though again I can't imagine they'd be that common. And perhaps the larger point is, they already exist even without official sanction.
Anyway, as promised, on to no-fault divorce. Noah's objection to it stems from his fundamental vision of marriage:
Marriage is a covenant between two individuals and between those individuals and the society. It is a social institution that involves the entire community, and not just the individuals in question. As such, to allow it to be dissolved at will is a crime against the community.
The first question that sprang to my mind was: what community are we talking about here? Family and friends? Church? Town? State? Country? I ask this because both Noah and Kurtz want to enforce marital norms at a high level -- state or even federal government -- but I don't know if that does much of anything if the lower-level community isn't doing the same. In fact, I can tell you from my own background that some local communities have rather different norms.
Noah seems to think you can influence these subcultures by changing the law, but I doubt it. I would think that for people who see love and family as a private business, the idea that marrying would mean a pact with the government as well as the spouse would make them less likely to get married in the first place, and more likely to shack up. Indeed, the whole shacking-up trend seems to have started from a feeling that the institution of marriage is a sort of state imperialism upon private life. If the state acts too imperialistic, that might only drive more people away from it.
I suppose you could see this as a good thing for marriage, in that it would mean only the people who agree with the covenant model would do it. But I am assuming (though they don't exactly say so) that the societal interest both these guys are positing in marriage is the proper rearing of children, and in particular the prevention of broken and single-parent homes. And it's true that children from those homes are more likely to be trouble to society, whether through crime or welfare (though the latter is less true since 1996). But of course, if more people are cohabiting instead of marrying, that will mean more single parents, not fewer.
And really, the single-parent problem isn't with the affluent shacker-uppers I would know. The larger mass of single parents out there are poor. And with them it seems that the problem isn't so much divorce as failure to marry in the first place. So again, it's hard to see how changing divorce law would help.
It's not that I don't sympathize with how Noah feels. It's that the divorce-law approach is all stick and no carrot. For a lot of couples the local family-friends-church community isn't really there, or if it is there it's not very helpful. The dispute I personally have with the it's-all-private view of couplehood is that it yields a kind of Darwinian attitude towards love: if things go wrong, that's your problem. Sink or swim. To have the state then come along and say, things went wrong but you still can't split up, is not going to make these relationships any healthier.
So I think it's the change and dissolution of local community, not divorce law, that's pushing family toward the matrilineal model Noah indicated. The state is a blunt instrument, and can't really handle the delicate business of relationships. Without the support for good marriages at the intimate level, I fear the law would only trap people in bad ones.