By Paul Mero
If you believe that the “freedom to marry” includes any relationship outside of one man and one woman, you don’t understand the meaning of freedom. Most people are at liberty to do a great many things, but not all personal liberties lead to freedom. Liberty is not synonymous with freedom. In many churches, two men or two women are permitted to ceremonially marry even as the state they live in prohibits same-sex marriage – that’s because while society tolerates great personal liberties, as it should, it cannot tolerate public endorsements of private behaviors that serve to destroy freedom.
As American freedom is detailed in the Declaration of Independence, order precedes liberty. In other words, there is no liberty for any person without a social and governing order. Chaos is not liberty in a free society. People create order one way or another. Either order is created through unanimity or by authority. Because it’s difficult for any two people to agree about everything, authority is the tool we use to create order. The question then becomes, whose authority? And then, by what means is authority exercised and order established?
The world’s best minds have focused on these questions and America’s Founding Fathers answered them thusly: We, the people, are the authority – collectively, not individually. The means by which we exercise authority is multi-layered because our goal in a free society isn’t order; our goal is freedom. Free people establish order in the least intrusive, most effective way. That’s why freedom-loving people believe in limited government. And it’s also why freedom-loving people embrace the institutions of civil society in the private sector that provide effective order. In fact, there’s no limited government without the integration of these other private institutions. They’re hand in glove.
Marriage is a central part of order in a free society. Marriage is a private sacrament with very public benefits. Those public benefits are why a free society recognizes marriage. If those benefits didn’t exist, marriage would be irrelevant to the public square. It’s that simple.
Society doesn’t discriminate against other personal relationships when it chooses to recognize the public benefits of marriage; it simply says to the others, “Show us how you benefit society.”
The benefits of marriage for a free society fall into at least three main categories: child-bearing, child-rearing, and the complementarity between men and women.
While children are brought into this world outside of marriage, it just so happens that children born within marriage are on average healthier, happier, safer, more educated and more prosperous than children born outside of marriage. They tend to be better citizens in terms of self-reliance, personal responsibility, productivity, and fecundity (they continue a family culture). Child-bearing and child-rearing are huge benefits to a free society. Healthy civilizations need people and they need good people. A culture of marriage raises better people for a free society than any alternative.
For instance, a culture of divorce invites government into our homes, many for the first time. Likewise, same-sex marriage is characteristically government-driven. There’s no such thing as common law marriage within homosexuality because there’s no natural children or the complementarity between a man and a woman. Yet real marriage leading to stable and autonomous families is the locus of self-government, making it the enemy of outside government.
It’s no small irony that marriage, families and traditional values are the friends of freedom while our new diversity culture leads to bigger government. Just ask your friends in San Francisco.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.