July 09, 2004,
As the United States Senate debates the wisdom of a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman and protects against judicially-mandated same-sex unions, it is important to keep in mind the costs that we face as a society if we fail to protect traditional marriage.
Proponents of same-sex unions have pointed to a recent study showing federal revenues increasing by upwards of $1 billion a year as a result of redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships. Ironically, most of the increased revenue would result from the still-existing marriage penalty in the tax code, which taxes married couples at higher rates than individuals. Pro-family groups have been trying to eliminate the marriage penalty for years.
Some supporters of homosexual marriage have even cited a projected boon to the wedding industry as an argument for the economic benefits of mandating same-sex marriage.
But these shortsighted arguments miss the point entirely. The costs to our society should rogue federal judges force the states to recognize the legal equivalence of same-sex unions would be significant even devastating when measured in terms of the effects on our central social institution, the family.
Social science on this matter is conclusive: Children need both a mom and a dad. Study after study has shown that children do best in a home with a married, biological mother and father. And the government has a special responsibility to safeguard the needs of children; the social costs of not doing so are tremendous. As Child Trends, a mainstream child-welfare organization, has noted, "research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes... There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents."
If the experience of the last 40 years tells us anything, it is that the consequences of weakening the institution of marriage are tragic for society at large. The movement away from traditional moral conventions left us with soaring divorce and out-of-wedlock birthrates, family breakdown on an unprecedented scale, and devastating consequences for children. Social science tells us that child poverty, child abuse, and child developmental problems increase with the decline of marriage. It also tells us that the children of intact, traditional marriages are much healthier in body, spirit, and mind, more successful in school and life, and much less likely to use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, or engage in crime than are children from homes without a mother and a father. This is not to say that good children cannot be raised in other family settings. Many healthy children are raised in difficult circumstances and many single parents struggle heroically to raise good children. Still, the social science is clear. The best place for a child is with a mom and a dad. Both are needed.
Traditional marriage is a social good because it dramatically reduces the social costs associated with dysfunctional behavior: Supporting and strengthening marriage significantly diminishes public expenditure on welfare, raises government revenues, and produces a more engaged, responsible citizenry.
The experience of other nations demonstrates that the imposition of same-sex "marriage" and civil unions leads to a weakening of marriage. As scholar Stanley Kurtz has shown, in Scandinavia, the system of marriage-like same-sex registered partnerships established in the late 1980s has contributed significantly to the ongoing decline of marriage in that region. In the Netherlands, same-sex marriage has increased the cultural separation of marriage from parenthood, resulting in a soaring out-of-wedlock birthrate. Kurtz warns that same-sex "marriage" could widen the separation between marriage and parenthood here in the United States, and perhaps undo the progress we have made in arresting the once seemingly inexorable trend towards higher rates of illegitimacy among some communities in the United States.
If the movement for civil unions and same-sex marriage succeeds, we may well be dealing a fatal blow to an already vulnerable institution. It is possible to lose the institution of marriage in America. And that is precisely the hidden agenda of many in this cultural battle: To do away entirely with the traditional definition of the family. An influential organization of lawyers and judges, the American Law Institute, has already recommended sweeping changes in family law that would equalize marriage and cohabitation, extending rights and benefits now reserved for married couples to cohabiting domestic partners, both heterosexual and homosexual.
Once the process of "defining marriage down" begins, it is but a short step to the dissolution of marriage as a vital institution.
The Honorable Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.