America's experiment with no-fault divorce -- an experiment that could well mean the virtual abolition of marriage as an institution -- has produced a massive toll of cultural destruction and personal pain. Millions of marriages have been terminated, homes have been broken, and lives have been destroyed in the wake of easy divorce.

Jennifer Roback Morse, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, has been tracing the effects of no-fault divorce throughout the culture. In "Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society," she argues that the nation's high divorce rate is the direct cause or a major contributor to a vast array of social problems. Furthermore, she argues that "divorce is in the background of the same-sex marriage debate because same-sex marriage is the end of the trend that no-fault divorce began." As she makes clear, "The legal innovation of unilateral divorce began to reduce marriage to nothing but a temporary association of individuals. If marriage is merely a free association of individuals, there is no principled reason to exclude same-sex couples, or even larger groupings of sexual partners. The permanence of marriage was one of the key features that distinguished it from an ordinary contract."

Interestingly, Morse is out to prove that libertarians should oppose no-fault divorce. Yet, even as her argument is tilted especially toward those with a libertarian bent, her research and arguments concerning marriage should interest all Americans.

Her redefinition of no-fault divorce as "unilateral divorce" is a significant semantic game. The very fact that easy divorce, facilitated by law and virtually uncontestable in court, was labeled "no-fault" in the first place was a significant concession to the divorce culture. The revolution in America's divorce laws has produced a situation in which one spouse may demand and cause the breakup of the marriage, even if the other spouse is committed to maintaining the relationship.

Morse understands that the libertarian bent of contemporary America plays right into the hands of those who promoted no-fault divorce. "The 'leave us alone' posture has been one of the most successful rhetorical moves of the advocates of the deconstruction of marriage. I believe this is because minimum government has traditionally had deep roots in the American psyche and continues to have a deep hold on the American imagination. But the redefinition of marriage is part of the left's attempt to redefine freedom to mean a combination of having your own way and being completely unencumbered by human relationships."

She perceptively argues that many Americans want minimal government and absolute moral freedom. As she describes this pattern, many citizens want a society that is fiscally conservative and lifestyle liberal. "It sounds good on paper," she argues, "but in practice it simply is not possible."

Why does marriage emerge in virtually all civilizations and cultures? This is simply a fact of history, as the various cultures of the world have found their way toward the recognition of committed heterosexual couples as the privileged unit of society. In their own way, these cultures recognize and formalize these couplings through public ceremonies and an entire network of social, legal, and relational protections.

Most significant to Morse's argument is the fact that government is not needed in order for marriage to emerge. "Marriage is an organic, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society," she argues. Furthermore, the actual operation of marriage as an institution depends only to a very small extent upon government at all. "This culture around marriage may have some legal or governmental elements," she acknowledges. "But in most times and places, the greater part of that cultural machinery is more informal than legal and is based more on kinship than on law."