Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Stakes: Why We Need Marriage

Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Stakes: Why We Need Marriage

Article excerpt


Ramesh Ponnuru (writing in the July 28, 2003 issue of National Review) is right about several things: We are poised to lose the gay-marriage battle badly. Arguments about a slippery slope to polygamy are not untrue, but ineffectual, signs of a profound weakness in our culture of marriage. Polygamy is not worse than gay marriage, it is better. At least polygamy, for all its ugly defects, is an attempt to secure stable mother-father families for children.

What is missing from this and many other analyses on this issue is a declaration of the stakes. Gay marriage is not some sideline issue, it is the marriage debate. Losing it (as John O'Sullivan makes abundantly clear in "Marriage-American Style," NRO, July 10) means losing marriage as a social institution, a shared public norm. Marriage will become (as it is in Sweden) a religious rite, with little public or social significance. As a legal institution, marriage will lose its coherence. By embracing gay marriage the legal establishment will have declared that the public purposes of marriage no longer include anything to do with making babies, or giving children mothers and fathers. Legitimating same-sex marriage amounts to an official declaration that, as Evan Wolfson put it in a debate with me in a justreleased book Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate: "What counts is not family structure, but the quality of dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice, and love in the household." Family structure does not count. Marriage in this view is merely expressive personal conduct, a declaration of love between two adults. As such there is no reason for the state to be involved in preferring marriage as a family form.

The question is not whether this is a battle we can win, but whether it is a battle we can afford to lose.

The fantasy of certain (not all) libertarians is that we can privatize marriage and the result will be a Utopia of religiously created social order. But if marriage is just a religious rite, then it cannot also be a key social institution in a secular, pluralist nation. We do not depend on faith communities to ensure the education of children or the maintenance of private property because we understand that society needs educated citizens and a stable realm of property in order to prosper. The question is: Do we also need marriage?

The answer to this question is, I think, abundantly clear from 40 years of experimentation both here and in Europe. The consequence of our current retreat from marriage is not a flourishing libertarian social order, but a gigantic expansion of state power and a vast increase in social disorder and human suffering. The results of the marriage retreat are not merely personal or religious. When men and women fail to form stable marriages, the first result is a vast expansion of government attempts to cope with the terrible social needs that result. There is scarcely a dollar that state and federal governments spend on social programs that is not driven in large part by family fragmentation: crime, poverty, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, school failure, mental and physical health problems. Even Medicare spending is inflated, as elderly singles spend more of their years in nursing homes.

The conservative project of limited government depends on recovering marriage as the normal, usual, and generally reliable way to raise children. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.