The Defense of Marriage Part II

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

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When looking at the issue of the government sanction of marriage, the first question to ask is: should government even get involved at all?  Why shouldn’t marriage simply be a private matter between those involved to arrange their relationships in whatever way they want to arrange them?  In short, why should government care in the first place?  This is essentially the Libertarian argument.  It’s a private matter and government should stay out of it all together. 

At first glance, this seems to be a good argument.  But the key words here are “first glance” and “seems.” As I pointed out last time, government does have a clear interest in self-preservation, and thus in the development of future citizens. 

More than this, there is a clear link (e.g.  Orr , Anderson, Medved, Gilder, Gallagher ) between the breakdown of the family structure and the rise of social problems, problems that not only cost government a great deal of money, but also cause a great deal of pain and suffering throughout society as a whole.  Nor should this be any surprise.

A key problem critics need to address is: If the family unit is so optional, so much a matter of personal choice, why has it been so universal?  Why has the basic family unit of a man and a woman been the norm for virtually every culture in every period of human history?  The closest runner up would be polygamy, but that has been more an option for rich and powerful men, than any norm.  As for same sex marriage that has been unknown.  Even in cultures that approved of, and even encouraged, homosexuality, such as ancient Greece, marriage was still between a man and a woman.  This would indicate that there is far more going on in marriage than just personal choice. 

Historically the family unit has been the bedrock of civilization.  The historian Will Durant wrote “The family has been the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history.  It was the economic and productive unit of society, tilling the land together; it was the political unit of society, with parental authority as the supporting microcosm of the State.  It was the cultural unit, transmitting letters and arts, rearing and teaching the young; and it was the moral unit, inculcating through cooperative work and discipline, those social dispositions which are the psychological basis and cement of civilized society” (Mansions of Philosophy)

If it truly plays such a key and foundational role, then if the foundation is weakened, one could reasonably expect the society to suffer; and it has.  As Gallagher wrote, “The overthrow of the marriage culture and its replacement by a postmarital culture is the driving force behind almost all the gravest problems facing America – crime, poverty, welfare dependence, homelessness, educational stagnation, even child abuse.” (p 4) For example:

The US Department of Health/Census reports that children from fatherless homes are 5 times more likely to commit suicide. The Center for Disease Control reports that they are 20 times more likely to show behavior disorders.

The statistics are really overwhelming.  Children who do not have a mother and a father in a loving stable relationship are at greater risk, often dramatically greater risk for: teen sexual activity, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, child abuse, emotional problems, depression, sleep disturbances, expulsion or suspension from school, antisocial behavior, impulsive behavior, violent behavior, mental illness, psychiatric hospital admission, and incarceration. 

Even if these problems were simply limited to the children themselves, there would be justification enough on humanitarian grounds for government to take an interest in marriage.  But these problems are not limited to the children.  These problems affect others and cost the government literally billions of dollars. 

So government does have an interests.  But that they have an interest does not automatically mean that they should get involved.  While at first this may seem to be a much harder question to answer, in reality it is a false question.  This is because it implies that government could still be neutral, and uninvolved.  Yet government is rarely, if ever, neutral as in fact true neutrality is very difficult to achieve.  More importantly government is already is involved, and as such any action will either support or detract from marriage. 

The evidence from the last few decades strongly demonstrates this.  Much of the last half of the last century could be seen as government reducing its support for marriage and becoming more neutral.  As a result a very good case can be made that government has not taken a strong enough role.  Back in the mid-nineties, long before same-sex marriage became a major issue, Maggie Gallagher wrote that “Over the past thirty years, quietly, and largely unremarked outside a narrow group of specialists, American family law has been rewritten to dilute both the rights and obligations of marriage.” (p 131)

As we have seen in the statistics cited above, the affects of this move to neutrality are also pretty clear, even if often ignored.  So it would appear that government, has a strong enough interest to play a role in marriage.  Yet government has for decades been abdicating its role, weakening and devaluing marriage, with serious and detrimental effects on children and society.  Based on this, what is needed is a strengthening of marriage, not a further weakening, which will lead to even more problems and suffering.

Jul 8th, 2009

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