The Best Argument for Marriage I’ve Ever Heard

By: Natalie Plumb

Testifying before the Indiana House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 13, Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, argued to a room full of policymakers:

“If the biggest social problem we face right now in the United States is absentee dads,” he paused, “How will we insist that dads are essential when the law redefines marriage to make fathers optional?”

Anderson’s argument — both available in video format and fully transcribed below — is single-handedly the best defense for marriage I have ever heard.

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His comments and those of others sparked a 3-hour heated debate for and against the committee’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.

Though the committee failed to take an action — whether to place the amendment on the state ballot and put it up to citizen vote — the chairman said he would schedule a committee vote for a later date.

 

You can watch video of this testimony here:

Here is Anderson’s full testimony transcribed, extracted from his blog post:

I will be speaking today from the perspective of political science and philosophy to answer the question “What Is Marriage?” I’ve co-authored a book and an article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy with a classmate of mine from Princeton, Sherif Girgis, and with a professor of ours, Robert George. Justice Samuel Alito cited our book twice in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case involving the Defense of Marriage Act.

The title of that book is “What Is Marriage?” An answer to that question is something we didn’t hear today from people on the other side. It’s interesting that we’ve had a three-hour conversation about marriage without much by way of answering that question.

Everyone in this room is in favor of marriage equality. We all want the law to treat all marriages equally. But the only way we can know whether any state law is treating marriages equally is if we know what a marriage is. Every state law will draw lines between what is a marriage and what isn’t a marriage. If those lines are to be drawn on principle, if those lines are to reflect the truth, we have to know what sort of relationship is marital, as contrasted with other forms of consenting adult relationships.

married-hand-holding1

So, in the time I have today, I’ll answer three questions: what is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what are the consequences of redefining marriage?

Marriage exists to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife to then be equipped to be mother and father to any children that that union produces. It’s based on the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary. It’s based on the biological fact that reproduction requires a man and a woman. It’s based on the sociological reality that children deserve a mother and a father.

Whenever a child is born, a mother will always be close by. That’s a fact of biology. The question for culture and the question for law is whether a father will be close by. And if so, for how long? Marriage is the institution that different cultures and societies across time and place developed to maximize the likelihood that that man would commit to that woman and then the two of them would take responsibility to raise that child.

Part of this is based on the reality that there’s no such thing as parenting in the abstract: there’s mothering, and there’s fathering. Men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise. Rutgers sociologist Professor David Popenoe writes, “the burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender-differentiated parenting is important for human development and the contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable.” He then concludes:

We should disavow the notion that mommies can make good daddies, just as we should the popular notion that daddies can make good mommies. The two sexes are different to the core and each is necessary—culturally and biologically—for the optimal development of a human being.

This is why so many states continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, many doing so by amending their constitutions.

So why does marriage matter for public policy? Perhaps there is no better way to analyze this than by looking to our own president, President Barack Obama. Allow me to quote him:

We know the statistics: that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

There is a host of social science evidence. We go through the litany and cite the studies in our book, but President Obama sums it up pretty well. We’ve seen in the past fifty years, since the war on poverty began, that the family has collapsed. At one point in America, virtually every child was given the gift of a married mother and father. Today, 40 percent of all Americans, 50 percent of Hispanics, and 70 percent of African Americans are born to single moms—and the consequences for those children are quite serious.

MrMrsThe state’s interest in marriage is not that it cares about my love life, or your love life, or anyone’s love life just for the sake of romance. The state’s interest in marriage is ensuring that those kids have fathers who are involved in their lives.

But when this doesn’t happen, social costs run high. As the marriage culture collapses, child poverty rises. Crime rises. Social mobility decreases. And welfare spending—which bankrupts so many states and the federal government—takes off.

If you care about social justice and limited government, if you care about freedom and the poor, then you have to care about marriage. All of these ends are better served by having the state define marriage correctly rather than the state trying to pick up the pieces of a broken marriage culture. The state can encourage men and women to commit to each other and take responsibility for their children while leaving other consenting adults free to live and to love as they choose, all without redefining the fundamental institution of marriage.

On that note, we’ve heard concerns about hospital visitation rights (which the federal government has already addressed) and with inheritance laws. Every individual has those concerns. I am not married. When I get sick, I need somebody to visit me in the hospital. When I die, I need someone to inherit my wealth. That situation is not unique to a same-sex couple. That is a situation that matters for all of us. So we need not redefine marriage to craft policy that will serve all citizens.

Lastly, I’ll close with three ways in which redefining marriage will undermine the institution of marriage. We hear this question: “how does redefining marriage hurt you or your marriage?” I’ll just mention three in the remaining time that I have.

First, it fundamentally reorients the institution of marriage away from the needs of children toward the desires of adults. It no longer makes marriage about ensuring the type of family life that is ideal for kids; it makes it more about adult romance. If one of the biggest social problems we face right now in the United States is absentee dads, how will we insist that fathers are essential when the law redefines marriage to make fathers optional?

Much of the testimony we have heard today was special interest pleading from big business claiming that defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman would make it hard for them to appeal to the elite college graduates from the East and the West coasts. We heard no discussion about the common good of the citizens of Indiana—the children who need fathers involved in their lives. Redefining marriage will make it much harder for the law to teach that those fathers are essential.

Second, if you redefine marriage, so as to say that the male-female aspect is irrational and arbitrary, what principle for policy and for law will retain the other three historic components of marriage? In the United States, it’s always been a monogamous union, a sexually exclusive union, and a permanent union. We’ve already seen new words created to challenge each and every one of those items.

Throuple” is a three-person couple. New York Magazine reports about it. Here’s the question: if I were to sue and say that I demand marriage equality for my throuple, what principle would deny marriage equality to the throuple once you say that the male-female aspect of marriage is irrational and arbitrary? The way that we got to monogamy is that it’s one man and one woman who can unite in the type of action that can create new life and who can provide that new life with one mom and one dad. Once you say that the male-female aspect is irrational and arbitrary, you will have no principled reason to retain the number two.

Likewise, the term “wedlease” was introduced in the Washington Post in 2013. A wedlease is a play on the term wedlock. It’s for a temporary marriage. If marriage is primarily about adult romance, and romance can come, and it can go, why should the law presume it to be permanent? Why not issue expressly temporary marriage licenses?

babyAnd lastly, the term “monogamish.” Monogamish was introduced in the New York Times in 2011. The term suggests we should retain the number two, but that spouses should be free to have sexually open relationships. That it should be two people getting married, but they should be free to have sex outside of that marriage, provided there’s no coercion or deceit.

Now, whatever you think about group marriage, whatever you think about temporary marriage, whatever you think about sexually open marriage, as far as adults living and loving how they choose, think about the social consequences if that’s the future direction in which marriage redefinition would go. For every additional sexual partner a man has and the shorter-lived those relationships are, the greater the chances that a man creates children with multiple women without commitment either to those women or to those kids. It increases the likelihood of creating fragmented families, and then big government will step in to pick up the pieces with a host of welfare programs that truly drain the economic prospects of all of our states.

Finally, I’ll mention liberty concerns, religious liberty concerns in particular. After Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, DC, either passed a civil union law or redefined marriage, Christian adoption agencies were forced to stop serving some of the neediest children in America: orphans. These agencies said they had no problem with same-sex couples adopting from other agencies, but that they wanted to place the children in their care with a married mom and dad. They had a religious liberty interest, and they had social science evidence that suggests that children do best with a married mom and dad. And yet in all three jurisdictions, they were told they could not do that.

We’ve also seen in different jurisdictions instances of photographers, bakers, florists, and innkeepers, people acting in the commercial sphere, saying we don’t want to be coerced. And that’s what redefining marriage would do. Redefining marriage would say that every institution has to treat two people of the same sex as if they’re married, even if those institutions don’t believe that they’re married. So the coercion works in the exact opposite direction of what we have heard.

Everyone right now is free to live and to love how they want. Two people of the same sex can work for a business that will give them marriage benefits, if the business chooses to. They can go to a liberal house of worship and have a marriage ceremony, if the house of worship chooses to. What is at stake with redefining marriage is whether the law would now coerce others into treating a same-sex relationship as if it’s a marriage, even when doing so violates the conscience and rights of those individuals and those institutions.

So, for all of these reasons, this state and all states have an interest in preserving the definition of marriage as the union—permanent and exclusive—of one man and one woman.

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the Editor of Public Discourse. He is co-author, with Sherif Girgis and Robert George, of the book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, and is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Notre Dame.

15 thoughts on “The Best Argument for Marriage I’ve Ever Heard

  1. This is one of the most cogent explanations of why same sex marriage is harmful I’ve seen. It should be posted in every parish bulletin.

  2. Although I am now an old man, every day I am thankful for the understanding I received from having a female mother and a male father. Both of them taught me many special lessons that have enabled me to understand and deal with life from separate view points. Many, many times their guidance has enabled me to now celebrate more than 55 years with my little bride, as well as two sons, one daughter, and six grandchildren.

  3. There is NO “anthropological truth” that men and women are distinct and complementary. In fact anthropogical reaearch shows that a number of cultures define more than “woman” and “man.” And for the record the American Anthropological Association has taken a position that marriage should not be limited to just a woman and man because other definitions of marriage exist and are perfectly functional. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Supreme Court justice is citing a publication that is founded on misstatements of the research of other fields.

    • I just did a quick Google Scholar search of recent anthropological studies. I typed in “men women anthropology” into the search bar. After scanning the results for the first 4 pages I think it’s pretty evident that “men and women are distinct and complementary.”

      Sure, there are cultural studies where there are in-between states, and cultures that have views on gender roles that contrast with traditional Western conceptions, but none of that changes that there are men and there are women and their roles in society, historically speaking, are different and complementary.

  4. This entire argument is founded on a false premise: that gay marriage will somehow impact straight men to leave their wives and children. What do absentee fathers have to do with gay men and women?

    • Yeah, but that’s what he’s saying that marriage is; that marriage is an institution designed to uphold the family. As much as anyone, including myself, hates to admit, marriage is not about your romantic life. It’s a union between two people who pledge to love and care for one another until death, as well as create new life. And you can do all those things without our societal definition of love. Don’t get me wrong, romance is great. It adds so much to a marriage. But it isn’t the backbone of marriage.

  5. Excellent article. We’re living in a world where religious morality is no longer a reason for law. It’s important that we think in terms of sociological arguments rather than faith based arguments when dealing with those with different moral values than us.

  6. Gender roles have been established by society. We are not born with society’s views of gender roles. “Complementary traits” and “gender” are not synonymous with each other. For more on this, read Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” .

    The personality of the parent is what matters when having children. Does the parent provide unconditional love, acceptance, stability, safety, encouragement, etc.

    “Marriage exists to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife to then be equipped to be mother and father to any children that that union produces.”

    -What about husbands and wives who cant conceive children. Should they be allowed to marry? Sterile couples? Or couples who are beyond child bearing years? What about asexual individuals who don’t have a sex drive. Should they be denied marriage simply because they have no desire to have sex?
    What about intersex individuals? If I am born with both male and female genitalia, will I be allowed to marry another person even if I can get myself pregnant?

    -This author needs to Wiki “Marriage”, so he can see the definition of “marriage”. Certain religions have tried to redefine marriage as being between 1 man and 1 woman. This definition is NOT what marriage started out as.
    (Also, using a religious book to define “marriage” is invalid.) See comments below about why Mr. Anderson is probably using a religious book to define marriage.)

    “Whenever a child is born, a mother will always be close by. That’s a fact of biology. The question for culture and the question for law is whether a father will be close by. And if so, for how long? Marriage is the institution that different cultures and societies across time and place developed to maximize the likelihood that that man would commit to that woman and then the two of them would take responsibility to raise that child.”

    -Invalid argument. I worked in child support enforcement for 5 years. I had 950 cases and so did all my co-workers. Many of those cases involved an “absent” mother or involved both parents as being ” absent parents”. The children often lived with a relative. Biology doesn’t determine whether or not the father or the mother will always be close by. Marriage doesn’t maximize the likelihood that a man will sick around. As we see, 50% of marriages end in divorce. Therefore, marriage gives no guarantee that couples will stay together whether there are children or not. Just look back at how many child support cases I had. Fathers and mothers divorce for many reasons. If one of the parents is abusive, do I want them around the child? No. IS it always possible to find another partner who can help raise your child if you need to seperate yourself and your child from a biological parent? No.
    Can adoptive parents offer the same kind of positive uo bringing as biological parents? absolutely.
    This argument is invalid.

    “Responsibility in raising a child” With the costs of having children, we see that it is actually another person who does the majority of child-rearing when both parents are working to financially provide for the child.
    There is a difference between “raising” and “financially providing” for children.
    “Raising” is a general term. Therefore, you have to ask: Who is actually “raising” the children? Well, the day care provider, relatives, teachers, and the parents. Most of the time, if both parents are working, the parents actually spend less time with the children during the weekdays, Since children often go to bed soon after the parents come home from work. So, children actually spend more time being “raised” by their teachers, day care providers, teachers and relatives.

    “The two sexes are different to the core and each is necessary—culturally and biologically.” -Professor David Popenoe.

    -Sorry Professor, you need to go back to Grad school and take some more sociology and biology classes. While you are at it, take some classes on gender. Why do we often hear these statement, “That woman has masculine traits” or “That is a feminine man.” ? Society has imposed these “feminine” and “masculine” qualities on us. For example, every day, I subscribe to society’s definitions of what is feminine or masculine. I do this with choosing how I wear my hair, what clothes I wear, and how I walk and talk.
    What is considered “male” and “female” behavior is something that our society has defined. We are each born with a unique personality, sexuality, and other physical and mental traits. We are not born knowing how to be “feminine” or “masculine.” That’s a learned characteristic.

    Either sex can provide a child with the qualities that we, as a society thinks is acceptable or necessary for proper development.
    Child development depends on what the society wants the child to develop into. This will change according to which society the child lives in. Not all humans live in a western society. Indigenous tribes are societies too. They have their own ideas/rules and expectations about how children should develop.

    “The state’s interest in marriage is not that it cares about my love life, or your love life, or anyone’s love life just for the sake of romance. The state’s interest in marriage is ensuring that those kids have fathers who are involved in their lives.

    But when this doesn’t happen, social costs run high. As the marriage culture collapses, child poverty rises. Crime rises.”

    Crime and poverty isn’t rising because of single parent homes or same sex parents. Sure, we’ve seen some coincidences, We see them ,publish them and remind people about those examples. There are so many successful, law- abiding citizens who came from single parent homes.

    Crime and poverty is rising because of A) Either the lack of education or the lack of good quality education B) Greediness and focus on self instead of community. C) rising cost of living (housing, transportation, services, and goods).

    These can all be fixed just by helping children to get a good, low cost, quality education, a greater need to improve our community as a whole, and unselfishness. These qualities can be taught by anyone. A relative, any parent- single or not, same sex couple or not.

    “If you care about social justice and limited government, if you care about freedom and the poor, then you have to care about marriage. ”

    Social justice, poverty and freedom don’ have anything to do with marriage.
    We are afforded the same rights under the constitution whether we get married or not.

    Social justice is about treating all human beings with dignity and respect and making sure all individual have the same human rights.
    When the civil rights movement of the 1960’s happened, many fought for social justice of African Americans. The same thing with the ERA. The arguments that were made against social justice for African Americans and women, as the same arguments being made against same sex marriage now.

    “Freedom” is a broad term and I’m unsure why this author included it.

    This author is a Doctoral candidate at Notre Dame. Notre Dame is an independent Catholic University. I don’t know if Mr. Anderson is Catholic. However, I assume that any article he writes may reflect the values of Notre Dame. As Notre Dame is a Catholic University, it is safe to say, the university’s values are probably in line with Catholic doctrine. Catholic doctrine uses the Bible as their main religious text. If you do a basic Google search on the issues of the Bible, you can see for yourself, the many problems that exist when saying that the Bible is a credible religious text source. However, that’s a separate issue.

    The arguments that Mr. Anderson makes do coincide with the doctrine taught by several religions.

    Our society should not be basing laws on any religious doctrine, no matter what the religion is.
    .
    Therefore, his arguments are invalid in our western society (in the U.S.), since the U.S. was founded on freedom from theocracy.

  7. Perhaps someone should ask “Becky” why females don’t compete in the same Olympic games as males? I mean after all, men and women are exactly the same right?

    As a father of 4 wonderful daughters who can do anything they set their minds to, I can say that any village idiot understands that there ARE differences between the sexes and that’s a good thing not a bad thing.

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