Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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USA Today

Remember love and marriage?

By Michael Medved

US Weekly 's cover just featured a softly lit close-up of two of the world's most admired movie stars, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, blissfully cuddling their 2-week-old son, Dylan.

Inside, under "Family Ties," the magazine provides more full-color photos showing the baby with his happy parents, as well as grandparents on both sides. An accompanying interview features 55-year-old Douglas enthusing over his 30-year-old companion.

"Love is something that's so rewarding ... it just makes you feel great to have something to cherish, something to protect, something to nurture," he purrs.

When asked about the values she wanted to instill in baby Dylan, Zeta-Jones replies: "I just want him to be a good, solid boy, knowing right from wrong. I'm already dreaming of when he's getting married. I'm having these vivid dreams of me and Michael standing in the church, and he's squeezing my hand."

Perhaps at some point before they participate in this touching scene, Michael Douglas might consider taking her into another church for another wedding ... their own.

Like many other contemporary celebrities, these two lovebirds < held up as the ultimate in romantic fulfillment for all of their adoring fans < never bothered to exchange vows before the birth of their baby. Despite the fact that Zeta-Jones assures the media that plans for some future wedding are "now back on course, " and might unfold as early as November, little Dylan's blessed birth classifies for that old-fashioned, unpleasant designation: illegitimate. Michael and Catherine say they want to give their baby boy everything in the world, but they denied him the greatest birthday gift of them all: two parents married to one another.

Considering our national epidemic of illegitimacy, this is no laughing matter. This past year, 33% of all U.S. babies were born to unmarried mothers, up from 26% in 1994. While the teenage birthrate has begun to register a notable and welcome decline, the overall percentage of out-of-wedlock births remains virtually unchanged because more female adults choose to bear children outside of marriage.

They are influenced, at least in part, by the dramatic decline in the social stigma that once applied to their circumstances and by the unprecedented aura of glamour and trendiness that Hollywood figures seem to associate with illegitimacy.

Unfortunately, such attitudes ignore the studies of out-of-wedlock birth showing that these children will face significantly greater risks of drug addiction, mental illness, failure in school, criminal activity and suicide. Privileged progeny such as Dylan Douglas may remain protected from such outcomes by the power of their parents, but millions of other children raised outside of marriage < particularly those in the inner city < won't be so fortunate.

Sociologists now recognize the devastating role played by illegitimacy in perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of poverty and despair, and rightly applaud reductions in the birthrate for unmarried teenage mothers. Yet if out-of-wedlock child rearing represents destructive behavior for the underclass, why then should it earn praise or admiration for spoiled, self-indulgent celebrities?

Unlike couples confronting dire poverty and the daily struggle for survival, these pop-culture potentates enjoy enough options to easily arrange some sort of wedding before the birth of their children.

The media provide adoring accounts of Madonna and her two illegitimate babies from two different fathers, and reports that even though she recently received a ring from one of them, she says, "We can't decide whether marriage is something that's necessary."

Richard Gere and his model girlfriend, Carey Lowell, tell Entertainment Tonight they're "totally devoted" to their newborn, but can't find time to think about marriage.

Al Pacino and his new "gal pal" Beverly D'Angelo also draw enthusiastic media coverage with their announcement of their "over the moon" delight at the fact that they are now expecting twins.

These and countless other luminaries led the way in severing the age-old connection between child bearing and the institution of marriage. For beloved public figures, this cannot remain a purely personal matter.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones received a reported fee of more than $1 million from a British tabloid for their first intimate baby pictures. They babbled proudly about breast-feeding, burping their child and cutting his umbilical cord. By the nature of the careers that they've chosen for themselves, normal standards of privacy hardly apply. Like it or not, they serve as role models.

Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush say they feel worried about the corrupting messages Hollywood imparts to our kids; but for most American parents such concerns go far beyond movie violence. When Gore honored Michael Douglas as one of the featured stars at his Radio City Music Hall fundraiser, did it ever occur to him that the actor's much-publicized illegitimate fatherhood sent a destructive message to kids? Has the institution of marriage become so passť, so irrelevant, that no one questions Douglas' status as an officially designated United Nations "ambassador of peace"?

Many Americans, with far fewer resources or options than Douglas and Zeta-Jones, manage to make the investment in time and money to go through a marriage ceremony. Brides may even be pregnant during the process, an age-old expedient representing a commitment to do the right thing for the future child at the risk of temporary embarrassment to his parents. Even Romeo and Juliet, in their brief, fictional and star-crossed lives, found time to tie the knot before their tragic demise.

With their example in mind and the consciousness of the vast social cost of out-of-wedlock birth, we ought to affirm the obvious truth that there is nothing romantic or glamorous about Hollywood's adolescent addiction to illegitimacy.

Film critic Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio talk show and is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

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