The Fundamental Institutions: President Bush on Marriage, the Family, and Faith

Report Marriage and Family

The Fundamental Institutions: President Bush on Marriage, the Family, and Faith

January 21, 2004 4 min read

Authors: Jennifer Marshall, Joe Loconte and Matthew Spalding

The character of a domestic policy agenda is perhaps best understood by what it does not seek to do. President Bush, in his third State of the Union address, recognized that the strength of this nation rests on certain fundamental "pillars of civilization"-marriage, the family, and religious congregations-that government cannot replicate or replace. The President's social policy agenda acknowledges and aims to reinforce these pillars.



Marriage is the fundamental social institution, deeply rooted in all societies. The President's speech clearly emphasized the need to uphold and defend the institution of marriage in the law as the union of one man and one woman.

He correctly highlighted the current judicial threat to this institution. Activist judges threaten marriage when they make sweeping policy decisions without properly considering the vast and often unknown societal implications. Policymaking decisions of this kind should be made through the lawmaking process in a way that reflects settled public opinion, informed by long-established traditions and the principles of social order.

The president also made clear that steps must be taken to remedy this assault on marriage by the courts. All responsible options, including the possibility of a constitutional amendment, should and must be carefully considered. What is beyond dispute is that judicial decisions that threaten marriage cannot stand unchallenged.

Related Resources:

In Defense of Marriage by Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., and Joseph Loconte

The Positive Effects of Marriage: A Book of Charts by Patrick F. Fagan, Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and America Peterson


The Family

Marriage is the cornerstone of family. Children are safest and have the best life prospects when they are born and raised in a household with a married mother and father. The president's speech reinforced the significance of the family, as well as the importance of preparing young people to make healthy decisions about their sexual behavior and family formation.

Early sexual activity has many harmful effects on the health and psychological wellbeing of teens. Teenage women who engage in sexual activity at early ages are far more likely to become pregnant and give birth outside marriage and to undermine their ability to form stable marriages as adults. Abstinence education programs, which seek to encourage a delay in sexual activity until marriage, have been shown to substantially reduce teen sexual activity.

The President's FY 2005 budget is expected to double federal funding for abstinence education programs, to a total of $270 million annually. The initiative would include the development of research-based standards for model abstinence curricula and a public education campaign to help parents talk with their children about the health risks associated with early sexual activity. The proposal also calls for a review of all federal programs addressing teen pregnancy prevention, family planning, and STD and HIV/AIDS prevention, in order to ensure that the significant funding for such programs is promoting the right message to America's teens.

The President's proposal is welcome news in light of the alarming disparity that currently exists between government funding of programs that promote abstinence and those promoting contraception. In 2002, the government spent only $1 on abstinence education programs for every $12 spent on programs that promote the use of contraception.

Related Resources:

Government Spends $12 on Safe Sex and Contraceptives for Every $1 Spent on Abstinence  by Melissa G. Pardue, Robert E. Rector, and Shannan Martin

The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Lauren R. Noyes, Shannan Martin

Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes

Faith-Based Initiative

The social significance of religious faith and practice has not been lost on President Bush. In this his third State of the Union Address, the President once again highlighted his faith-based initiative, calling on Congress to codify the policies he has issued through executive order to level the playing field for religious organizations seeking to participate in social service programs.

Meanwhile, the President issued a new challenge to the faith-based community: to help reintegrate former prisoners into civil society. The state prison population nearly doubled from 1990 to 2002, and shows no signs of slowing its growth. Moreover, today's prison system is failing to rehabilitate most offenders. Recidivism rates-the rates at which ex-inmates violate parole, are rearrested, or sent back to prison over a given period-have been stagnant for thirty years. Nearly 95 percent of all offenders will someday be released, and about half of them will be rearrested and convicted for another felony offense within three years.

The Administration's plan recognizes a simple fact: The typical offender leaves prison with little education, no job skills, no housing, a drug or alcohol problem, little self-discipline, and no reliable support group. Research data suggest that inmates involved with comprehensive after-prison programs have lower recidivism rates than those who aren't. Most government re-entry programs, however, couldn't be called comprehensive: They focus on one or two of the many problems facing ex-offenders.

Faith-based groups, however, take a different approach: They get at the root of the problems afflicting many ex-offenders. Though offering practical help with literacy, job training, and parenting issues, religious organizations view spiritual transformation as the key to reforming lives and reducing recidivism. The president's faith-based initiative is an attempt to extend the role and reach of these approaches to solving America's social problems.

Related Resources:

Churches, Charity and Children: How Religious Organizations Are Reaching At-Risk Kids by Joseph Loconte and Lia Fantuzzo


Jennifer A. Marshall
Jennifer Marshall

Former Senior Visiting Fellow

Joe Loconte

Senior Policy Analyst

Matthew Spalding

Vice President of American Studies