Why marriage is so important to society

The Heritage Foundation has written an excellent post outlining why marriage matters. Here are the main points of the piece, written by Ryan T. Anderson, along with a few of my own thoughts:

  •  “[M]arriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary, on the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and on the social reality that children need a mother and a father. Marriage has public purposes that transcend its private purposes.”

If you want to have a relationship with someone, fine. You are free to do so. If you want to call your relationship a marriage, fine. If you want the government to officially recognize your marriage as equal to the union between man and woman, then you have the burden of proving how your definition of marriage benefits society. We are concerned with matters of public policy. What should the public policy of governments be with regards to marriage?

Does your marriage benefit society as much or more than the union of a man and woman that produces and raises children in a stable, healthy, nurturing environment benefitting from the complementary skills and attributes contributed by both a man and a woman? Marriage, as a committed relationship between one man and one woman, has led to the proliferation of the human race across all successful cultures, societies and nations. Can your preferred relationship make that claim? Can it produce those same results?

No human organization is perfect, including traditional marriage. But it is the proper role of government to promote an institution that has the best chance of helping the society that that government governs to flourish. Government should encourage and incentivize, in a limited, prudent way, the structure upon which the success or failure of the nation hinges.

  •  “Marriage predates government. It is the fundamental building block of all human civilization.”

Marriage existed long before government. Smart governments recognize that what marriage can do for society, government cannot do well or at all. They recognize that government must protect marriage so that it can help society thrive.

  •  Government recognition of marriage leads to smaller government:

“Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and take responsibility for their children. While respecting everyone’s liberty, government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childrearing.”

  •  A government policy of redefining marriage leads to bigger government and less effective, more harmful outcomes:

“Redefining marriage would further distance marriage from the needs of children. It would deny as a matter of policy the ideal that a child needs a mom and a dad. We know that children tend to do best when raised by a mother and a father. The confusion resulting from further delinking childbearing from marriage would force the state to intervene more often in family life and cause welfare programs to grow even more.”

  •  “Redefining marriage would put a new principle into the law—that marriage is whatever emotional bond the government says it is.”
  • “Redefining marriage to abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarity would also make other essential characteristics—such as monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency—optional. But marriage can’t do the work that society needs it to do if these norms are further weakened.”
  •  “Redefining marriage is a direct and demonstrated threat to religious freedom that marginalizes those who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman. We have already seen this in neighboring Canada and right here in places such as Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.”

This is why marriage matters.

For a good summary of research on the value of marriage, please see Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition.

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