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Part of our Special Section on Same-Sex Marriage:


Rationally Based

Social Science's Case for Traditional Marriage

By Carl Roberts

It is entirely understandable why the political and moral arguments about same sex marriage have been so draped in emotion. Marriage is, after all, one of the longest surviving institutions of our society, and a restructuring of its traditional constitution may signal no less than a profound social and political transformation, unprecedented in the history of civilization. Equally deeply held are sentiments about the legitimacy of homosexual love and concerns about the state entering the bedroom—comparing the efforts for equal recognition of same-sex unions to the Civil Rights Movement.

But with Judge Vaughn Walker's overturning of California's Proposition 8, we have been reminded of the central role of government in this debate; as it is only government that can sanction a redefinition of marriage by enacting it as law. Moreover, Judge Walker sought to transcend the sentimental battle being waged and use the power of the bench to promote a rational understanding of the debate. One of the primary claims of the Walker decision was that there exists no "rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."

Without getting into the prerequisites of the decision—whether marriage is a right, whether a rational basis test should be used—this article merely wishes to dissent from Judge Walker's conclusion that social science provides no basis for protecting traditional heterosexual marriage, laid out in, among other "evidence," Finding of Fact No. 55: "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages." Essentially, this is bunk. There is a rational, social scientific case to be made in favor of protecting traditional heterosexual marriage, and there too exists ample evidence to suggest that expanding the definition of marriage beyond procreative bounds and ignoring the important role gender plays in successful marriages could vastly weaken the network of social pressures that enable heterosexual marriage to be successful.

Because Judge Walker implicitly defined empirical-social science as the rational basis for lawmaking, this argument must be driven by the social scientific. It is driven by observational studies, quasi-experiments and complete experiments, and qualitative research as well. It is not a religiously-driven piece. There will be no appeals made to the Bible, natural law, or morality in general. I do not wish to evaluate the legitimacy of the claims of a "natural right to marriage," nor do I wish to analyze the myriad ways in which same-sex marriage violates Thomistic natural law; these tasks, though crucial to the debate over same-sex marriage and often wise, are not the intended domain over which this article is written.

Social science can prove three very important points in this regard: 1) Traditional marriage provides many positive social goods, and societies in which traditional marriage is weak tend to be substantially worse off socially and economically. 2) These benefits are themselves unique to heterosexual marriage and the childrearing orientation of said marriages. 3) Redefining marriage can have disastrous effects on the social desirability of heterosexual marriage, which can further weaken marital bonds amongst the marginal marriages in our society. This in turn can minimize the social prominence accorded to marriage and, in the end, hurt the poorest among us.


On the Benefits of Marriage to Individuals and Society

Marriage benefits everyone involved far more so than any perceived cost could and it is one of the simplest and most easily isolated positive variables in modern civil society. The societal benefits of high rates of successful marriages are simply staggering. By successful marriage, we mean marriages that do not end in divorce. One need only witness that single mothers represent the largest impoverished segment in American society to fully appreciate the chasm between married and single, never married in this country.

According to a study by Robert Rector, one of the intellectual heavyweights in the welfare reform debate, on the impact of fathers in reducing poverty, "even when married couples are compared to single parents with the same education level, the married poverty rate will still be about 70 percent lower." Rector also indicates that this differential cannot be accounted for simply through combining the two incomes. There is a multiplicative effect of marriage on the income earning potential of both spouses. Inequality is one of many negative social phenomena strengthened by our weakening marriages. Again, Robert Rector's study of marriage and poverty cannot be overstated: ending the "marriage gap" in America would help make great strides in eliminating the "wage gap" between most racial groups.

Traditional marriage, in fact, offers many great economic benefits to every person involved. A 2005 study of older married couples concluded that "[m]arried couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabiting couples. Marriage reduces poverty and material hardship for disadvantaged women and their children. Minorities benefit economically from marriage. Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories." Consider a 2003 study by esteemed political sociologist Robert Putnam on the disparities between regions with high rates of successful marriages versus regions with low rates: across the board, "[high marriage regions] have better schools, lower crime rates, high voter participation, and generally higher standards of living. Even controlling for income disparity, we see many of these same trends, and that these regions are simply of better social arrangements." For a variety of social and biological reasons, marriage makes people better earners.

Marriage also has a remarkable effect on our economic betterment and on our social-personal benefit. In a meta-analysis of the relevant social science research, 16 scholars associated with the Institute for American Values (including former policy advisor to President Clinton, Professor William Galston, PhD '73, and University of Chicago sociology professor Linda Waite) have declared that there are "[t]wenty [s]ix findings widely agreed upon about marriage." Among these findings is that traditional marriage "increases the likelihood that fathers and mothers have good relationships with their children." Other social arrangements, like cohabitation or single-parent households "[are] not the functional equivalent of traditional marriage." Similarly, a traditional marriage not only increases the likelihood of having good parental relations with the children as adults, it also increases probability that those children will themselves have a healthy marriage. Conversely, "[g]rowing up outside an intact marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents." The illegitimacy issue, far from correcting itself, self-perpetuates this culture of poverty. The study continues: marriage itself is not merely a historical curiosity, but is rather a "virtually universal human institution" that "has important biosocial consequences for adults and children." According to the study:

Marriage influences the biological functioning of adults and children in ways that can have important social consequences. For instance, marriage appears to drive down testosterone in men, with clear consequences for their propensity to aggression. Girls who grow up in non-intact families — especially girls who are exposed to unrelated males in their homes — are more likely to experience premature sexual development and, consequently, are more likely to have a teenage pregnancy.

The implications of this are essential to understanding why marriage is itself a social good. The "biosocial consequences" suggest something significant about the ways in which marriage has been traditionally constituted. Interestingly enough, marriage is also associated with better physical health as well. Things like infant mortality, life expectancy, quality of life, and myriad other demographic health statistics all are improved by being a part of a stable nuclear family.

Marriage also drastically reduces dangerous external behaviors, like having multiple anonymous sexual partners or substance abuse. This is actually a rather unremarkable observation insofar as one could simply think about the married couples one knows and reflect that, yes, they are less likely to have many sexual partners or get caught up in heroin or cocaine. It is still worth mention; the unremarkable are too often overlooked.

The above argument is intended to serve more than just the current debate about same sex marriage, but society overall. It appears that marriage is one of the more universal institutions that have always corresponded to the general welfare of society. The stronger the social desirability of marriage and the more stable these marriages, the more powerful the social pressures to behave prudently and justly in a society. Wherever marriage has been weakened institutionally, like the inner cities following the Great Society, higher levels of crime and poverty follow.

If we recognize marriage as the indirect cause of sundry improved states, then we should ask: What about marriage makes it such a solid social institution for improving the lots of those involved? For the sake of the same-sex marriage question, we have to ask if gender is among those factors.


The Inexorable Link between Gender and Marriage

Sociologically, we must establish that there is something unique about the social arrangement of traditional marriage: that it is indeed significant that marriage is made up of one man and one woman, and that gender is of specific importance in deriving any sort of social positive from marriage.

Let us begin, therefore such an examination with looking at the gendered nature of marriage. Emile Durkheim, who has been recognized as one of the founding fathers of sociology, believed that the physiological differences between men and women assure that the two "complement one another," thus achieving a "sexual division of labor which is the source of conjugal solidarity." In other words, the function of the different genders within the marriage system assists in maintaining its cohesion, and, in other words, its success. These particularities of the gender roles in marriage are not only beneficial, but seem to be more or less universal. In the words of esteemed French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss—certainly no conservative—"the family—based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children—appears to be a practically universal phenomenon, present in every type of society". Thus far from being an arbitrary creation of social convention, "[m]arriage is a social institution with a biological foundation." Sociologist Kingsley Davis described the "universal societal interest in marriage and definition" as being entirely derived from a "social recognition and approval of a couple engaging in sexual intercourse," which is rooted in the inherent benefits it provides in "rearing offspring."

The natural basis of marriage (and other similarly defined social institutions) is derived from the notion that society needs to perpetuate itself. There is an evolutionary aspect to the natural/traditional construction of marriage, which contributes to the general fitness of society. Remember, social fitness is not merely defined as the ability to have children, but instead the ability to raise children in such a way that they can thrive in the society they were born in. The traditional family structure socializes children in such a way as they can succeed post-nomadic society: the only places where serious alternative family structures exist are in pre-agricultural societies. The traditional family structure, of which marriage is the building block, is not something that arbitrarily developed, but emerged because it created the optimal relationship for the raising of children, a finding confirmed through the statistics on marriage and childrearing already mentioned.

Thus it becomes increasingly clear that the raison d'être for marriage, even among atypical marital arrangements, has always been progeny. To refute the procreative basis for traditional marriage, some will rightly point out that many heterosexual marriages are either unwilling or incapable of having children, and the law has never stated that such marriages are essentially illegitimate. However, although there are cases in which procreation is impossible for heterosexual couples, there are no cases in which it is possible for same-sex ones. The tiny exceptions to the norm, non-procreative heterosexual marriages, say nothing about the institution itself. The legalization of same-sex marriage counts for no less than a redefinition of marriage because it will for the first time in history define the procreative nature of marriage out of marriage itself.

Still, a list of quotes is not enough, and many today believe marriage's benefits are entirely (or even mostly) due to the importance of having to put another person either ahead of you, or at least on equal footing with you, regardless of the sexual composition of the marriage. This is the tactic favored by, for example, Jonathan Rauch, one of the more conservative advocates of same-sex marriage. In his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, Rauch defines marriage as essentially a legal contract defining terms of long-term relations and a pledge of mutual aid and support between two partners. Marriage, he says, "is putting one person ahead of all others." According to Rauch, "if marriage means anything at all," it is knowing "that there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line." Yet many of the benefits of traditional marriage are predicated on more than just the decentralization of one's own concerns: being married brings with it cultural expectations based on both sexes. According to a 1992 study by Shirley Glass in the Journal of Sex Research, "Women are less approving than men of…extramarital affairs," and see marriage as something far more permanent and serious then men. By only encompassing the mores of a single sex, the external benefits of marriage may be considerably less for same-sex marriages than it would be for traditional marriage.

But it goes beyond simply talking about the social mores of men in general: this has to be extended to the homosexual community writ large. One must take into account that the social mores in the gay community may be different than those in the straight community. Consider relative rates of infidelity between homosexual men in committed relationships versus those of heterosexual men. The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center's 1994 National Health and Social Life Survey—one of the most comprehensive and meticulous studies of American sexual practices—found that over 75 percent of heterosexual men and 90 percent of heterosexual women had been sexually faithful to their spouse. In a 2004 follow up, it was determined that homosexual men in "committed relationships" were found to be completely sexually faithful only 14.5 percent of the time, a significantly lower proportion.

Why is this significant? Because the cultural expectations that come with heterosexual marriage may simply not transfer over well to same-sex marriage: the social mores of the homosexual community, from what we can gather, are simply not as conducive to producing highly functional monogamous relationships.
What proponents of same-sex marriage often ignore is the gendered nature of the benefits received by each spouse within the marriage itself. As previously mentioned, marriage actually has a major effect on properly socializing men, both from a behavioral side and a physical side. Married men, when compared to others in their cohort, consistently have lower rates of delinquent and antisocial behavior. The aforementioned meta-study by the IAV goes as far as to state that:
"[m]arried men drink less, fight less, and are less likely to engage in criminal activity than their single peers. Married husbands and fathers are significantly more involved and affectionate with their wives and children than men in cohabiting relationships (with and without children)." The significance of this is not merely that it is marriage that civilizes men, but rather the social connectivity and dependency with one woman that causes men to restrain some of their more animal nature.

One of the reasons that this is a product not simply of any marriage-like social organization but of traditional marriage specifically is because of the known biological impact of marriage. Men in traditional marriages have both lower rates of testosterone and, more importantly, lack the great fluctuations in testosterone rates that often lead to violent, barbarous behavior. It is the constant physical and emotional presence of a woman that provides the key civilizing influence. So, at the most fundamental level, there does exist a biological basis for traditional marriage as well.

Thus, we must ask ourselves: by expanding the definition of marriage, are we not running the risk of (unintentionally) weakening the social prominence of these gendered and procreative roles? By decoupling marriage from childrearing, the social desirability of marriage changes, and becomes less circumstance-driven and more temporal. From this, marriage becomes a less important social relationship, and becomes simply one of many in the social fabric. The idea that we can simply will marriage to not be about procreation but instead about companionship or love simply ignores the reason marriage exists in the first place: if marriage really were merely the recognition of the love between two persons, then it never really follows why it is universally held in such deserved esteem.


Behavior at the Margins: A Look to Welfare to Understand Unintended Consequences

Let us now ask ourselves some fundamental questions: could altering the institution of marriage to include same sex couples really weaken it? On what basis could one claim that altering the definition would in any way endanger traditional marriage?

As would be expected, we do not fully comprehend the extent to which the broad network of incentives and disincentives move someone to get married or not. Nor can we completely grasp the fullest extent and the specific ways in which, each incentive impacts any given marginal actor. These actions fall at people at the margins, people, in this case, who are on the fence about getting or staying married. There may not be a huge percentage of the population in this subset, but it is a sizable enough number that it does greatly affect broader statistics. Yet it seems that providing even the tiniest change in government incentives, changes that would by their very nature seem imperceptible to most people, do in fact have wide-reaching and, often, unforeseen consequences. The law of unintended consequences is unconcerned with intentions and good will, and we test it at our peril.

Let us look for example at some of the more ambitious public policy initiatives in the last 60 years. Consider the case of welfare. Welfare is a very powerful comparison to draw to the same-sex marriage debate, if for no other reason than it too drastically altered the relationship between those involved in marriages and the social desirability of being married. Broadly speaking, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, welfare payments were traditionally limited to "widows and orphans" funds. The idea was that the state would step in and help when fate had dealt a person a particularly bad hand; especially considering the outcome was decidedly not the fault of the person receiving the payment. At first, this understanding, though stable, became far too limited for those who sought to raise the poor from poverty, and the basic intentions of the program, the basic logic of its existence, had to be radically altered.

As the century progressed, the idea of welfare began to encompass more and more people, and the provisions for widows and orphans became simply for single mothers. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was designed to give extra aid to all single mothers below the poverty line. The argument about single parenthood was mostly that it was unfairly stigmatized; that the only thing single mothers needed was more money, and that the role of the father could be approximated by a well-structured school and after-school environment. The idea that anyone would choose to be a single mother, that somehow making it slightly less terrible would be an attractive choice to anyone, seemed patently absurd.

And yet this was exactly what happened: marriage rates in the inner cities plummeted, the number of people on welfare skyrocketed, and the average time spent on welfare more than tripled. Charles Murray's groundbreaking study Losing Ground showed the ways in which these welfare payments had served to "subsidize the very pernicious behavior it was meant to remedy…illegitimacy and non-work soared because the total package of welfare benefits paid to women for having an out-of-wedlock child came to be greater than the take-home pay from a minimum-wage job. From an economic point of view, getting married [became] dumb."

What had happened was that, at first, there were only a few cases where mothers intentionally chose single-with-welfare over marriage. But as time went on these cases began to increase, and given the open-ended nature of the program, there was little incentive to ever get off welfare. To put it differently, the lifestyle provided for by welfare was far from perfect, but it was better than the alternatives. The stigma of being a single mother gradually decreased over time, to the point where in many poverty-stricken communities, it became not uncommon to hear teenage girls yearn to be mothers first and foremost and be completely apathetic (if not downright hostile) to the idea of marriage.

In their seminal book Promises I Can Keep, sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, PhD '98, after having interviewed hundreds of single mothers in some of the poorest neighborhoods in America, found that many of the girls in the program knew full well that their life was going to entail being a single mother, and yet they chose it nonetheless, because "[g]irls from poor neighborhoods often see motherhood as the one aspiration which they can achieve and at which they can excel. While their middle class counterparts assume that college and careers are in their future, poverty-stricken teenagers look for ways in which their lives in the inner city can be improved. Babies are often the answer." The young mothers often come from broken homes themselves, so the imperative to get married is simply non-existent; as a multitude of studies have shown: the single best predictor of the married state of an individual is the success or failure (or nonexistence) of their parents' marriage. This suggests that the valuation of marriage is largely dependent on what values were inculcated by the social state of their parents, and that the changing nature of stigma can have a multiplicative effect.

Women who wanted to get married had to compete, socially, for young men with women who had no problem having sex and bearing children without any commitments or demands on the man's responsibility. Socially, this made women who want to get married less desirable, and more burdensome. This also extended to the single mothers themselves; once they had decided to have children and not get married, their prospects for getting married declined greatly. For the most part, the idea of getting married to someone who already had a child with another man scared away most potential husbands. Thus the greatest social incentive was for the single mother to stay single; AFDC simply made it less costly to do so. In many ways, what had started as a program to promote greater freedom for young mothers, had in fact constrained the young girls' ability to choose in the first place.

Essentially, the network of costs taken into consideration when dealing with motherhood was far more complicated than proponents of expanding the welfare state ever considered. The fact that the social cost of being a single mother has declined drastically in the last forty years is probably the single greatest explanatory factor in dealing with the marriage issue. So the slightest change in the incentive structure for marriage, in this case the moderate increase in the availability of welfare to single mothers, drastically affected the social value of marriage.

The decline in marriage in the last 50 years is regrettable. It remains to be seen what can solve this problem. Culture, as far as we can both define and measure it, seems to play the largest part in the deterioration, although changing financial incentives and the expansion of the welfare state almost certainly played a crucial role as well. What we do know is that seemingly permanent institutions, like what marriage seemed to be up until 1965, are far from permanent, particularly if they are held together only through social convention.

Unsurprisingly, the dissolution of the urban family has had the most devastating effect on the poor minority communities. Consistent with our studies of the relationship between marriage and poverty, the poorest members of our society have been the most injured by the decline in marriage.

In 2002, 68 percent of African American children and 44 percent of Latino children were born out of wedlock, compared to just 29 percent of white children. And just as strong as the racial component in explaining differentials in marriage rates are class distinctions. In one of the more remarkable social consistencies, only 5 percent of college-educated mothers have children out of wedlock, a number largely unchanged from its 1950s counterpart. On the other hand, over 25 percent of mothers without a high school degree have children outside marriage; more than triple the rate of the 1950s.

Sociologist Brad Wilcox put it this way:

The nuclear family is alive and well in the white middle and upper classes, whose members, ironically enough, often style themselves as social liberals and continue to partake—at least until they marry—of many of the fruits of the counterculture. But "bourgeois bohemianism" has not taken hold in the Bronx. The poor have not been well served by the hedonistic drift of mainstream popular culture since the 1960s. For millions of children growing up in poor, minority communities in America, the conventional family has all but disappeared. And that spells trouble for them and for the nation.

In other words, the impoverished in America felt the brunt of liberal social policies of the 1960s, and the white middle and upper class has been largely unaffected. The social liberalism associated with the upper classes did not destroy families amongst the "bourgeois bohemians" but amongst the poorest of the urban poor. Like liberalizing what constituted proper sex, liberalizing the definition of marriage would primarily affect those marriages most at the margins: the urban, minority poor. The evolution of more liberal social mores, far from liberating the urban poor, has locked them in a destructive culture that simply perpetuates the stark inequality liberals had hoped to alleviate, a situation that would be furthered by further distancing marriage from procreation.

Granted, the welfare state was far from the only factor in destroying inner city marriage: contraception, working mothers, and no-fault divorce laws—all more-or-less good things in and of themselves—greatly weakened marriage as well. But to add to this list an additional financial incentive against marriage simply broke the proverbial dam, allowing the floodwaters of illegitimacy and immutable urban poverty to overtake the inner cities and ravage the nuclear black family. Because of the high monetary costs associated with marriage, which is partially why the average age of each spouse at the time of marriage has increased so much, the decreased social capital from marriage provides a tremendous disincentive towards marriage to those who are on the margins.

Therefore it appears that the network of causality vis-à-vis marriage is rather complicated and deals within a multilayered reality that does not lend itself to simple solutions. These many factors influence marriage in ways that go far beyond the simple accounting issues brought up by proponents of the welfare state. Whilst operating on purely well-intended motives, and moved by the economic plight of the single mother and the general unpleasantness of the social stigma associated with single parenthood, social reformers simply did not comprehend the extent to which marriage as an institution can be changed. They looked at all the cultural pressure to marry, and the social cost of not being married, and they presupposed that this institutional disincentive would counterbalance the new financial incentives for out-of-wedlock births. What they did not understand was that these social institutions are themselves extremely dynamic and dependent on forces beyond our control.

For every additional out-of-wedlock birth, the social stigma of having another out of wedlock birth decreased by a non-insignificant number. If, as previously stated, the single biggest predictor of illegitimacy is the marital status of the said person's parents, then it would be expected that the incidence of illegitimacy would climb higher and higher over time. The most troubling aspect, apart from the negative externalities associated with having a very high illegitimacy rate, is that, within the inner cities, the demographics are shifting towards single motherhood and away from stable family structures. Once you have the negative shock to the institution that eats away at its legitimacy, over time the weakening of the institution becomes perpetuating; as time goes on it becomes more and more acceptable to be a single mother. Financial considerations to the contrary are undermined by welfare.


Unraveling the Social Fabric and Expanding the Definition of Marriage

This is why broadening the definition of marriage to incorporate same sex marriages is a dangerous proposition for the health of marriage itself. The weakening of the traditional marriage, by a myriad of social policies and changes, is something that is impossible to ignore. Changing the definition of marriage to deal with non-procreative couples would alter the basic understanding of what the institution means. Like altering the very meaning of welfare did—transitioning from something for those who were in dire straights through no fault of their own (i.e. widows and orphans) to something that merely addressed poverty—changing the logic behind marriage itself can unravel the very social institution same-sex marriage proponents wish to partake in. The impact of changing the very nature of the institution could be grave, just as changing the incentives towards getting married could change the desirability of marriage; the extent to which this end is likely is hard to determine, but given our previous attempts at altering the very social definition of marriage, prudence may be the best course of all.

What supporters of reforms to traditional marriage often tend to ignore, is that these institutions are constituted in a specific way for a reason. It is almost certainly unwise to allow anyone to drastically alter the social arrangements, such as the way we treat unwed parenthood, if their only consideration for why an institution is the way it is, is that it was just "created that way". There is something of an evolutionary mechanism found in society: the features of any given institution may not be ideal, but they are selected to some degree of fitness.

The steadfast belief that traditional marriage, as it just happens to be constituted everywhere, is just "a mere historical coincidence" is a dangerously ill-conceived notion that is based upon unsound assertions. The fact that marriage serves a fundamental reproductive purpose, which by its very nature a same sex marriage cannot have, and that many of the mores around marriage seem to have reproduction in mind should make those attempting to completely overhaul the system a bit more cautious in their approach. The extent to which this is natural, and is not merely a social convention, is the level to which altering it is acceptable and not something that could bring with it dire social consequences.

Same sex marriage supporters need to be able to recognize our inability to fully know what the subtle results of big policy changes will be, particularly to social institutions. The claim that having government legitimize gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage for the worse because you are incapable of imagining it altering your own decision-making is extraordinarily arrogant. It presupposes not only a natural equality of rights, but, rather, a natural uniformity of preferences, means, and values. The fact that reformers themselves cannot imagine it affecting their decision-making does not mean that it will not affect the decisions made by others. In fact, the welfare example suggests that what affects upper middle-class social behavior has a rather different impact on poorer communities.

The extent to which research exists on this issue suggests that the "unimaginable" effects on marginal marriages—the effects on the desirability of marriage—tend to only affect members of the lowest social classes. The nature of marriage amongst those with high socioeconomic status is rather unchanged from what it was 50 years ago. Almost all of the deteriorations in the vitality of marriage, and the rise of the "single-never-married" category, are amongst the most affected by the cost of unsuccessful or non-existent marriages: the poor. Liberal social and economic policies, far from leading the poor out of poverty, have (unintentionally) trapped the poor in a rather vicious cycle of poverty. And, given the vital role marriage plays in poverty alleviation, one can only conclude that further weakening the institution of marriage will only serve to further the destructive cycle of poverty.

Same-sex marriage by definition contradicts the very logic of the institution of marriage. By dealing with solely non-procreative marriages, same-sex marriage advocates never elaborate why there is a governmental interest in recognizing other types of adult relationships.

The fact of the matter is that government has no real interest in promoting marriage if it is not inextricably linked to procreation. The promotion of loving relationships, while certainly not a bad thing in and of itself, has no obvious public good, and much of the public benefits of marriage are at least particularly predicated on its gendered nature. Which, of course, leads us to the more libertarian side of the arguments, that the government should not be in the marriage business at all, and that it is something that is best left up to private institutions to mediate.

The problem with that argument is that it too ignores the basic nature of marriage, and the ways in which the government has gone about validating said marriages since time immemorial. If we are to think of marriage as an entirely separate legal contract, one made between consenting adults and mediated by, say, a church, there would not exist a separate legal apparatus to deal with marriages. Furthermore, the laws on the nature of divorce—things like the no fault divorce laws from the 1960s—are such that actualizing a government disengagement from the marriage issue would simply be impossible. Although the bulk of the lawmaking on the marriage issue has been left up to the states, there have been many notable instances when the federal government has stepped in and made declarations on marriage. From the anti-bigamy laws of the 1860s, to the federal tax laws on married couples from the 1970s, the federal government has played a rather large role in dealing with the marriage issue. It is these family related tax issues, in fact, which provide those wishing to have government disengage from the current law the biggest obstacle: privatizing marriage would essentially have the effect of eliminating many tax benefits accorded to married couples, eliminating a tremendous incentive to get married.

Barring a constitutional amendment, separating government from the business of marriage is not something that has a feasible outcome. But those of us opposed to the expansion of the definition of marriage must take seriously the feelings of iniquity brought to the homosexual community over the absence of a serious relationship similar to marriage. A more than judicious outcome would be the expansion of civil unions to same sex couples, one that brings with it a lot of the benefits of marriage, but leaves aside the cultural implications marriage entails. The privileges afforded to civil unions could be very similar to the more intimate ones detailed in marriage: visitation rights, inheritance, etc.

It is even possible to conceive that the civil union alternative might actually strengthen traditional marriage. It would set aside a completely separate legal entity that was designed entirely to recognize an eternal loving bond, and keep marriage primarily about family. A strong civil union alternative would remind heterosexual couples that marriage means more than just being in love with each other; it must mean being prepared to raise children in the best environment possible. This very well could move us away from the idea that marriage is whatever we want it to be, and instead have it focus on what it has always been.

The central idea here is that there exists a sound case to be made against same-sex marriage that is based on neither religious belief nor bigotry. And those who do oppose same-sex marriage must be mindful of the immense personal case made by gays for what they do believe to be a civil rights issue.

The sanctity of marriage must remain above reproach here; it is a fundamental building block of all societies, one whose absence or weakness causes great social dislocation and disorder. The complex network of incentives and social pressure does suggest that altering anything about marriage can have unforeseen disastrous effects. It is absolutely crucial that we recognize that marriage is both a natural phenomenon, with a biological basis, and that altering this institution without fully thinking through the implications of marriage being a natural institution. If the idea of decoupling marriage from progeny leads to the further destigmatization of having children outside of marriage, then we have to ask if condemning these children to poverty was worth it?

Judge Walker's declarative predictions over how same-sex marriage could not affect heterosexual marriages is simply one that is not only unsubstantiatable, but contrary to what we do know about what happens when you do tamper with the foundation of the institution of marriage. Walker's decision, far from being based on the facts of the case, was driven by partisan analysis masquerading as objective analysis. There exists, whether Judge Walker wants to admit to it or not, a solid social scientific case to be made for having the state solely recognize traditional heterosexual marriage.

Tampering with the institution of marriage can have disastrous societal implications, even if these attempts are made with the best of intentions. It is therefore absolutely imperative, for best facilitation of the raising of children, and therefore the absolute betterment of society, that the United States government recognizes and therefore supports traditional heterosexual marriage as being something worth protecting and promoting.


Appendix:

Monogamous marriage isn't the only universal form of marriage. What about Polygamy?

Ross Douthat, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has in fact invoked this argument by stating that "[w]hat we think of as 'traditional marriage' is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children." Perhaps, but these societies often abandoned these practices once faced with social competition from societies built around the more stable and successful monogamy, and so one is left wondering why Douthat believes these societies are to be seen as a model for our own.

Moreover, one must remember that polygamy was a practice largely relegated to the upper crest of the aristocratic elite in a few societies, and furthermore, it was a practice that still had clearly gendered roles for the spouses; each woman would be responsible for raising the children they had with their husband. It was a fundamentally procreative marital relationship that, although not wholly optimal for the raising of children, still provided the natural gender relationships vis-à-vis the parents.

How can you assert that declining marriage causes societal decline? Isn't that confusing correlation with causation?

While it is dangerous to state that the decline in marriage is entirely the cause of societal breakdown in the inner cities, it usually is a leading indicator of the rise in crime, poverty, and general social discord. While it is true that crime rates have continued to decline in the face of the worsening state of marriage, what this fails to consider is the differential crime and marriage rates within specific communities themselves. Furthermore, when counterfactual situations have arisen, specifically poor neighborhoods with very high levels of familial stability, the murder rate, as an example, is much lower than the levels of poverty would predict. Granted, this will never be perfect: in a situation predicated on observational studies and quasi-experimentation, you can never get the same levels of epistemological certainty that you might in an ideal experiment.

So at some level, no, we cannot be sure for certain that the decline in marriage has caused much of the social dislocation and deterioration from the last 50 years. However, as a sociological phenomenon it is well agreed upon that the health of marriage in a society is strongly related to the well being of civic society.

Isn't marriage just a social construction—like slavery—that exists solely as a creation of man?

Although social convention certainly plays a large role in the modern conception of marriage, the biological elements of marriage—the unique bond between a man and a woman preparing to raise a family—suggests that there is something extra-conventional about marriage. Essentially, if marriage were completely a conscious creation of man, and nothing more, it would not be based on basic biosocial relations. Marriage, by virtue of contributing towards the better rearing of children, plays a natural role in basic human biological interaction.