Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Looking for Marriage in all the Wrong Places"

David Goldman (aka, "Spengler") reviews and offers comments on the book: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson, and Robert P George. He writes, in part:
Two mutually incompatible arguments are advanced to defend gay marriage. The first states that marriage is a good thing provided by the state, such that gay people have the same right to it as anyone else. The second states that marriage is a bad thing, and that bringing gay people into the institution of marriage will destroy it from the inside.
... Professor George and his colleagues defend traditional marriage from the vantage point of natural law, a minority viewpoint in an era where the capricious definition of one’s identity is the focal point of culture. One may quibble with natural law as a concept or with the way that Professor George applies it, but there are some natural criteria which cannot be gainsaid. Here’s one: will our actions make us extinct? The natural definition of marriage advanced by George, Girgis and Anderson is consistent with the continued existence of the United States; the “whatever” definition supported by their opponents manifestly is not.

America’s fertility rate dipped to just 1.9 children per female in 2010 in the Census Bureau’s estimate, well below the 2.1 level required to maintain the present population. Two-fifths of the fewer American children born in 2010, moreover, were born out of marriage.

Marriage rates have fallen in parallel to the decline in fertility. Only 51% of Americans 18 and over were married in 2010, compared to 72% in 1960. The numbers are much worse for minorities, with just 31% of adult African-Americans married in 2010, versus 72% in 1960. 40% of American women never have married, a proportion that is much higher among minorities (55% of black women and 49% of Hispanic women). Women who marry do so at a much later age (27 years in 2010 versus 21 years in 1950).

Sociologist Charles Murray argues that the great divide is less a matter of race than social status. “In 1960,” he wrote last year, “just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education … were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among college-educated … less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.”

In the short run, the decline of the traditional family causes an increase in dependency. 35% of American families now receive some form of welfare, that is, means-tested government aid. “In 2007, single-parent families were nearly six times more likely to be poor than married-parent families,” notes Heather MacDonald.

In the long run, lower birth rates translate into an unsustainable proportion of elderly dependents. On the current trend, there will be only two workers to support every Social Security recipient, against five workers in 1960; if fertility continues to decline the situation will be much worse. And if more children are raised in single-parent households, fewer will be fit for employment.

Why should the state have an interest in intimate personal relationships? Nowhere do the authors suggest that consenting adults should be prevented from forming whatever intense emotional bonds they please. But it is a fallacy to conflate the issue of freedom of sexual expression with the institution of marriage. The state has an interest in children, first of all because it has a responsibility to promote their welfare, and secondly because the common institutions of society have an interest in our common future. Marriage, the authors write,
is a bond of a special kind. It unites spouses in body as well as mind and heart, and it is especially apt for, and enriched by, procreation and family life. In light of both these facts, it alone objectively calls for commitments of permanence and exclusivity. Spouses vow their whole selves for their whole lives. This comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.
That is the conjugal view of marriage, in the authors’ definition. It is permanent and comprehensive, as opposed to an intense emotional bond, which may dissolve as quickly as it was formed. That may be convenient for lovers but catastrophic for their children.

Only the union of a man and woman can be comprehensive, the authors argue. The issue isn’t dignity, which all human beings deserve. Instead, the issue is what a married man and woman can do that no other human arrangement can do: “Marriage is ordered to family life because the act by which spouses make love also makes new life; one and the same act both seals a marriage and brings forth children. That is why marriage alone is the loving union of mind and body fulfilled by the procreation – and rearing – of whole new human beings.”

Across the ideological spectrum, researchers agree that “the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poorer outcomes,” as the research institution Child Trends concluded. And as Professor Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded, “The core message…is that the wealth of nations depends in no small part on the health of the family.”

Adoption by gay parents does not do as well: The authors present a wide range of research showing that “compared to children of parents at least one of whom had a gay or lesbian relationship, those reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators”. Part of the reason that married biological parents do better may have to do with sexual exclusivity, which is virtually nonexistent in male homosexual relationships according to the standard research on the subject.

The state cannot help but take an interest, for it gets the bill for the damages when marriage breaks down. As George et al write, “Since a strong marriage culture is good for children, spouses, indeed our whole economy, and especially the poor, it also serves the cause of limited government. Most obviously, where marriages never form or easily break down, the state expands to fill the domestic vacuum by lawsuits to determine paternity, visitation rights, child support, and alimony.”

That is the fallacy of the libertarian argument in favor of absenting the state from all questions involving personal intimacy. Society can get along with a small government if it has strong private institutions: families, churches, charities, schools and volunteer associations. Among these the family has more weight than all the rest put together. The state, and above all a state that seeks self-limitation, needs the family to flourish.
 Read the whole thing.

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