March 26, 2013
By Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D.
We’re having a robust national debate over whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex relationships. It’s an important debate. And in many ways — despite what some activists say — it’s only beginning.
Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the only thing that’s inevitable is this: Americans will keep talking about marriage well into the future — and with good reason.
The nine justices are considering challenges to state and federal laws defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The two cases before it provide an important opportunity for Americans to reflect on three questions: What is marriage? Why does it matter for public policy? And what are the consequences of redefining marriage?
Appeals to “marriage equality” make for good sloganeering, but sloppy reasoning. Every law makes distinctions; equality before the law protects citizens from arbitrary ones. Marriage equality demands knowing what marriage is.
Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. Marriage is based 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 predates government. It is the fundamental building block of human civilization. All Americans — not just conservatives — should respect this crucial institution of civil society. Indeed, 41 states affirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
Government recognizes marriage because it 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 — after all, nothing is made illegal by marriage laws — government rightly recognizes, protects and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childrearing.
But, redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships 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.
Decades of social science show that children tend to do best when raised by a married mother and father. The confusion resulting from further delinking childbearing from marriage would force the state to intervene more often in family life, prompting welfare programs to grow even more.
In recent years, marriage has been weakened by a revisionist view that is more about adults’ desires than children’s needs. Americans increasingly are tempted to think that marriage is simply whatever sort of relationship consenting adults — be they two or ten in number — want it to be: sexual or platonic, sexually exclusive or “open,” temporary or permanent.
Redefining marriage would put a new principle into law — that marriage is whatever emotional bond the government says it is. No principled reason could be offered for why an emotional union should be permanent. Or limited to two persons. Or exclusive.
But marriage can’t do the work that society needs it to do for generations to come if the norms are weakened further. All of us who care about a thriving civil society — with institutions capable of limiting the state and its power — should be alarmed.
All Americans have the freedom to live as they choose. No one, though, has the right to redefine marriage for all of us.
-Author Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He is co-author with Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George of the book “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” (Encounter, 2012).
First appeared in Medium.com.
Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2015, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973