Emory Report
October 22, 2007
Volume 60, Number 8

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October 22, 2007
Sears among marriage proponents to speak at CSLR conference

By kim urquhart

Leah Ward Sears ’80L, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and an Emory alumna, will be among the leading scholars discussing the future of law and religion at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion’s Silver Anniversary conference Oct. 24–26.

Sears, whose distinguished career includes being the first woman and the youngest person to sit on the Supreme Court of Georgia, will join Stephen Carter, Yale University; and Enola Aird, The Motherhood Project; to present “Law, Religion, and the Future of the African American Family” Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m, in the law school’s Tull Auditorium. Robert Franklin, president of Morehouse College and former Emory professor, will chair the session, which has been designated this year’s Decalogue Lecture. Morehouse, Spelman College and the Interdenominational Theological Center are co-sponsors. The event is free and open to the public, and registration is not required for this portion of the conference.

Sears will discuss “The Marriage Gap: A Case For Strengthening Marriage in the 21st Century.” She leads the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Advisory Committee on Healthy Marriage, which she formed to study the legal consequences associated with the growing fragmentation of American families and to make recommendations for addressing their root causes.

Sears shared her key points with Emory Report.

Emory Report: Today less than half of U.S. households are headed by married couples. Why do you call for a renewed focus on strengthening marriage?

Sears: There is a growing gap — socially, spiritually, emotionally, financially — between those kids who have married parents and those kids who do not. There is something intrinsic in a marriage bond that makes it better for children. Marriage is the best child welfare, crime prevention, anti-poverty program we have. We must, therefore, protect it.

Why should family law be concerned with building a healthy marriage culture in America?

Sears: The law is getting hit with criminal cases, divorces, child custody cases — we are dealing with the consequences of fragmented families every day. When I started as a superior court judge in the late 1980s, 20 percent of my cases would in some way have to do with failure of the family to come together and stay together. Now that figure is 65 percent.

How can law and public policy respond to the marriage gap?

Sears: Most of the solutions will not come through the law, but so many of the consequences are hitting our legal and judicial systems. That’s why I started the Supreme Court Commission on Children, Marriage, and Family Law that I hope will make a positive difference for Georgia families. This is the first commission of its kind in a court ever, so this is new ground and we are still assessing the issues.

What is needed is more public attention on the nature and purpose of marriage. I advocate for a body of family law that is, above all else, responsive to the changing needs of our time. Marriage has been found to be the best vehicle there is for children and the laws should be in place to support marriage, but not to the point where they discriminate against families that are constituted differently.