Marriage and Family:
The Stabilizing Foundation of Civilizations

Having taught high school senior Government classes for nearly twenty years, it is apparent that the modern philosophies which are attempting to redefine marriage are having an effect on some of our rising generation. Having not experienced married life yet, they have not yet felt the happiness and joy from the first purpose of marriage – procreation and posterity. So going through the bodily changes and feelings of teen-age years, they are left to sort out attractive worldly sophistries they are constantly exposed to which ask, “What is wrong with loving whomever you want?” or “Don’t we all have the same civil rights to associate with or marry whomever we want?” or “Why should someone’s morality be forced onto someone else?” or “Why should the government set any rules for marriage? This is my private business?” Unless our young people are taught the historical human, moral, religious, social, and psychological reasons and foundations for the institution of marriage in any stable civilization, they can be swept up in the present whirlwind of confusing and nation-destroying movement which is marching headlong to redefine marriage and family.

America’s Founders knew the importance of marriage and family

Thomas Jefferson reflected his belief that the traditional family is the only source of lasting happiness when he wrote: “By a law of our nature, we cannot be happy without the endearing connections of a family.”

Benjamin Franklin urged a young friend to marry rather than take a mistress by writing:

"Marriage is the proper remedy. It is the most natural state of man, and therefore the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness. Your reasons against entering into it at present appear to me not well founded. The circumstantial advantages you have in view by postponing it are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the thing itself, the being married and settled [emphasis by Franklin]. It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being... Together they are more likely to succeed in the world... If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your industry in your profession, with her good economy, will be a fortune sufficient."

John Locke had already noticed that the law of God concerning marriage, families, and the equal status of husband and wife was given in scripture. He said the oft used phrase “paternal authority”:

"... seems so to place the power of parents over their children wholly in the father, as if the mother had no share in it; whereas if we consult reason or revelation, we shall find she has an equal title, which may give one reason to ask whether this might not be more properly called parental power? For whatever obligation Nature and the right of generation lays on children, it must certainly bind them equally to both the concurrent causes of it. And accordingly we see the positive law of God everywhere joins them together without distinction, when it commands the obedience of children: 'Honor thy father and thy mother' (Exodus 20:12); 'Whosoever curseth his father or his mother' (Leviticus 20:9); 'Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father' (Leviticus 19:3); 'Children, obey your parents' (Ephesians 6:1), etc., is the style of the Old and New Testament."

In the 1830s, Alexis De Tocqueville concluded that one of the main reasons American culture was so stable and free of the turmoil found in Europe was because of strong family life:

"There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life.… But when the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace. There his pleasures are simple and natural, his joys are innocent and calm; and as he finds that an orderly life is the surest path to happiness, he accustoms himself easily to moderate his opinions as well as his tastes. While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs."

The attempt to redefine marriage

In the introduction to their recent, timely book entitled, What is Marriage?, authors Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, (What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, 2012, Encounter Books), identify the current debates as not directly about homosexuality, but about the attempt to redefine marriage. They label the two views of marriage as the traditional or conjugal view and the revisionist view:

The conjugal view of marriage has long informed the law—along with the literature, art, philosophy, religion, and social practice—of our civilization. It is a vision of marriage as a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness, which is, like all love, effusive: flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity. In marriage, so understood, the world rests its hope and finds ultimate renewal.

A second, revisionist view has informed the marriage policy reforms of the last several decades. It is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they find it.

Our essential claims may be put succinctly. There is a distinct form of personal union and corresponding way of life, historically called marriage, whose basic features do not depend on the preferences of individuals or cultures. Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses’ preferences. It has long been and remains a personal and social reality, sought and prized by individuals, couples, and whole societies. But it is also a moral reality: a human good with an objective structure, which it is inherently good for us to live out.

Marriages have always been the main and most effective means of rearing healthy, happy, and well-integrated children. The health and order of society depend on the rearing of healthy, happy, and well-integrated children. That is why law, though it may take no notice of ordinary friendships, should recognize and support marriages.

Six specific harms to redefining marriage

There can thus be no right for nonmarital relationships to be recognized as marriages. There can indeed be much harm, if recognizing them would obscure the shape, and so weaken the special norms, of an institution on which social order depends. So it is not the conferral of benefits on same-sex relationships itself but redefining marriage in the public mind that bodes ill for the common good. Indeed, societies mindful of this fact need deprive no same-sex-attracted people of practical goods, social equality, or personal fulfillment. Here, then, is the heart of our argument against redefinition. If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage. They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life—but as essentially an emotional union. … they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it. Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do. That is, to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others. And this, besides making any remaining restrictions on marriage arbitrary, will damage the many cultural and political goods that get the state involved in marriage in the first place. We list them in summary form here to orient readers.” [Each point is discussed in subsequent chapters in the book.]

Real marital fulfillment

No one deliberates or acts in a vacuum. We all take cues from cultural norms, which are shaped by the law. To form a true marriage, one must freely choose it. And to choose marriage, one must have at least a rough, intuitive idea of what it is. The revisionist proposal would harm people (especially future generations) by warping their idea of what marriage is. It would teach that marriage is about emotional union and cohabitation, without any inherent connections to bodily union or family life. As people internalized this view, their ability to realize genuine marital union would diminish. This would be bad in itself, since marital union is good in itself. It would be the subtlest but also the primary harm of redefinition; other harms would be the effects of misconstruing marriage, and so not living it out and supporting it.

Spousal well-being

Marriage tends to make spouses healthier, happier, and wealthier than they would otherwise be. But what does this is marriage, especially through its distinctive norms of permanence, exclusivity, and orientation to family life. As the state’s redefinition of marriage makes these norms harder to understand, cherish, justify, and live by, spouses will benefit less from the psychological and material advantages of marital stability.

Child well-being

If same-sex relationships are recognized as marriages, not only will the norms that keep marriage stable be undermined, but the notion that men and women bring different gifts to parenting will not be reinforced by any civil institution. Redefining marriage would thus soften the social pressures and lower the incentives—already diminished these last few decades—for husbands to stay with their wives and children, or for men and women to marry before having children. All this would harm children’s development into happy, productive, upright adults.

Friendship

Misunderstandings about marriage will also speed our society’s drought of deep friendship, with special harm to the unmarried. The state will have defined marriage mainly by degree or intensity—as offering the most of what makes any relationship valuable: shared emotion and experience. It will thus become less acceptable to seek (and harder to find) emotional and spiritual intimacy in nonmarital friendships. These will come to be seen not as different from marriage (and thus distinctively appealing), but simply as less. Only the conjugal view gives marriage a definite orientation to bodily union and family life. Only the conjugal view preserves a richly populated horizon with space for many types of communion, each with its own scale of depth and specific forms of presence and care.

Religious liberty

As the conjugal view comes to be seen as irrational, people’s freedom to express and live by it will be curbed. Thus, for example, several states have forced Catholic Charities to give up its adoption services or place children with same-sex partners, against Catholic principles. Some conjugal marriage supporters have been fired for publicizing their views. If civil marriage is redefined, believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage—that it is a male-female union—will be seen increasingly as a malicious prejudice, to be driven to the margins of culture.

Limited government

The state is (or should be) a supporting actor in our lives, not a protagonist. It exists to create the conditions under which we and our freely formed communities can thrive. The most important free community, on which all others depend, is marriage; and the conditions for its thriving include both the accommodations for couples and the pressures on them to stay together that marriage law provides. Redefining civil marriage will further erode marital norms, thrusting the state even more deeply into leading roles for which it is poorly suited: parent and discipliner to the orphaned, provider to the neglected, and arbiter of disputes over custody, paternity, and visitations. As the family weakens, our welfare and correctional bureaucracies grow.”

Thus we conclude that our youth must be taught that redefining marriage moves the whole purpose of marriage onto a purely self-centered, emotional basis, leaving the whole culture and nation-strengthening purpose lost forever. Somehow, these concepts need to be made known in a way that our rising generation better sees the danger we are in by socially rejecting the wonderful institution of traditional marriage and family. As one of our Principles of Liberty declares: “The core unit which determines the strength of any society is the family, therefore the government should foster and protect its integrity.”

Earl Taylor, Jr.