#LoveWins again:

A Long Island couple and a neighbor with whom they had a threesome have been granted “tri-custody” of their 10-year-old son in a groundbreaking ruling.

“No one told these three people to create this unique relationship,” Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge H. Patrick Leis III wrote in the ruling for the first-of-its-kind case in New York.

Bay Shore residents Dawn and Michael Marano, who wed in 1994, had a conventional marriage until they befriended downstairs neighbor Audria Garcia in 2001.

Garcia had been living with her boyfriend, but when they split up, she moved upstairs and “began to engage in intimate relations” with the Maranos, Leis’ ruling says.

Because Dawn Marano, 47, was infertile, Michael Marano, 50, fathered the boy, born on Jan. 25, 2007, with Garcia, 48, court papers say.

“It was agreed, before a child was conceived, that [the Maranos and Garcia] would all raise the child together as parents,” the judge said.

The story goes on to say that the judge is believed to have “acted in the child’s best interest” — this, because the kid was raised believing he had three parents.

So, did Love Win™ here? This story brings to mind the questions asked by an undergraduate at a Benedict Option talk I gave last month, which I paraphrase: “Why can’t we just love Jesus with all our hearts, and that be enough?”

The answer is because love, according to Thomas Aquinas, is “to will the good of another.” Love for another can never be simply an emotion, a desire. To be fully itself, it has to exist in relationship to an idea of the Good. The judge in this case has an idea of the Good for that child. But is it really the Good for him? Maybe it’s the best choice of a series of bad ones. Maybe this society agrees that it’s the Good. Maybe not. One point is that if we don’t have a shared idea of the Good, it will be increasingly difficult to govern ourselves. Another point is that if the judge’s decision is not based in the Good, if it is bad for the child, then it is not based in love.

Two things here: 1) practically speaking, the Good is always determined by social context; and, to the college student’s question, 2) we can only determine if the emotions we feel towards another constitute love by the object of those emotions. To use a stark example, if your teenager wants to use heroin, it is not loving to agree to that because you want to give the child you love whatever he wants. Love in that case requires you to do what is good for your child, even if it means saying no.

That’s an easy case, because everybody agrees that it is not loving for a parent to facilitate his child’s drug addiction. But the principle is important. Going back to the student’s question, Christians are supposed to love Jesus with all their hearts, but we can’t determine if the emotions we feel towards him are authentic unless we judge them by some external standard. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said (John 14:15). You cannot claim to love Jesus if you disobey him. None of us obey him perfectly, which is why the Benedictines vow to pursue “conversion of life” — that is, to spend the rest of their lives in active repentance and in pursuit of obedience to the Gospel. To love God perfectly is to have replaced your own will with His.

How do you know what God’s will is, though? I believe it was Alasdair MacIntyre — or if it wasn’t, it could have been — who said that we cannot know what we are supposed to do until we know of which story we are a part. But that’s an argument for another time. The point to take away from this story is that a society that has no strong concept of the Good other than granting individuals within it maximum liberty to live as they prefer to is not a society that has within in it the capacity to govern itself, or to endure. A religion that is only about formless “love” is a religion that worships emotion, and that ends up making an idol of the Self. Love, understood this way, cannot protect that child, because it can’t even understand what protecting the child would require.

As we are seeing. As we will continue to see. The decadence of this Long Island ménage is not just a story about Long Island.

UPDATE: David Mills has a helpful reminder that when you’re dealing with people, you cannot force everybody into abstract categories. There are times in which trying to enforce an ideal results in a greater injustice. This is why wisdom requires discernment, and why robots can’t be judges. It is possible that in this Long Island case, the judge’s decision is the most just one, given the alternatives.

UPDATE.2: Reader John Burzynski has a very personal take on it:

I am not sure that the law is always designed for the ‘good’ or to make everyone concerned in a case happy, rather in a case like this, the judge and law are there to settle a dispute within a framework of law and circumstance and hopefully use some shred of similar legal precedent. I think that likely the judge came up with the best possible solution, and I hope that he had a chance to speak with the child and with any appropriate specialists to get a sense of how this dynamic has so far had an effect on the child and might in the future effect him.

Strange days we live in, nothing is traditional anymore. Our 2 year old granddaughter spends part time living at our house (with our son, her dad, who moved back in after his relationship with granddaughter’s mom fell apart), and my wife and I are like a second set of parents to our granddaughter many times (our youngest son is 20 and in college so no young ones running around here lately prior to this). Granddaughter’s mom has a 4 year old son with another man from a first marriage, I simply couldn’t get my head around Christmas plans and who would be where and pick up who when. What is funny is that this scenario is NO LONGER UNIQUE, I know half a dozen grandparents going through similar circumstances raising in part or full their grandchildren. Our son does a fine job as a dad day to day and holds down a steady but not high enough paying job, but frankly is emotionally immature for his age (23) as far as managing money and such and thus this might be the best and most stable (although in my mind not traditionally ideal) of circumstances for our granddaughter at this point.

My point….nothing fits nicely in a legal framework anymore, let alone a traditional moral or familial framework, and I fear for these kids who have parents, grandparents as parents and step parents at some point, too. Someone told me that just means ‘more people to love the child’ to which I countered that I sometimes wonder who REALLY has a chance to fully love the child, who will provide stability? I pray for the strength everyday for my wife and I to continue to provide love and stability.

This is the real point: we are expecting our legal system to deal in an orderly fashion with a society that has cast aside order, and is now on auto-destruct.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I’m a socially liberal agnostic and longtime supporter of gay marriage.

I anticipated that legalizing gay marriage would raise these thorny issues of polygamous relationships, as the next stage in the argument. These cases are difficult and worrisome–particularly for the children involved–but truthfully, I doubt they will become so common that they are a major issue.

What I didn’t anticipate is that we would go directly to mainstreaming the insane idea that gender is just subjective or a social construct–and to claim otherwise is bigotry. That almost instantaneous progression completely broadsided me.

The notion that this will be taught to kids in their most vulnerable and confused periods of development frankly fills me with fear, including for my own young kids. I don’t have any scripture to tell me the limits of tolerance, but as someone just concerned with leaving a stable and decent society for my kids, I fear we’ve made a terrible wrong turn.

Well, quite a few of us saw this coming, and said so years ago. Too late now. Love™ is going to keep on winning. Good luck saving your kids from this culture.