The Wheatley Institution

Why is Marriage Important And What Are The Consequences of Redefining It?

Ryan T. Anderson
October 20, 2014

Related Videos

Helen Alvaré

Equal Partners: The Salience of Roles in Marriage and Family
Helen Alvaré

November 14, 2013

Ryan T. Anderson

Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage & Religious Freedom
Ryan T. Anderson

March 24, 2016

Ryan T. Anderson

What Does the Future Hold for Marriage and Religious Freedom?: A Conversation with Ryan T. Anderson
Ryan T. Anderson

March 24, 2016

Click here to view the transcript
Click here to hide the transcript

I'm going to talk about the practical implications for the view that we sketch in our book. Because you could have followed everything Sherif said, that you know, you're right. There is this comprehensive good called marriage. And we engage in it by a comprehensive act that unites a man and a woman as husband and wife and then leads towards the comprehensive good of marriage: the creation and the raising of new life. It calls for comprehensive norms, monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency. But why should we care? And more specifically, why should we care for public policy? Why should we care for the law? Why should the state of Utah care? Why is Utah in the marriage business in the first place? So in the time that I have I want to answer that question: why does marriage matter for public policy purposes?  Then I'll close with a couple insertions of what the consequences of redefining marriage will be. I'll make some predictions. What will happen as a result of those states that are being forced to redefine marriage because of the courts?

Now, one interesting thing is that the state's not in the baptism or bar mitzvah business. So the state i's not in the marriage business because of its sacred character. The state is not in the marriage business because it's a covenant or a sacrament or something like that. So why is the state in the marriage business? We argue that the government cares about marriage because it's the institution that brings together a man and woman as husband and wife, to then be mother and father and any children that they might produce. It's understood that marriage is based on an anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary; it's based on a biological fact that reproduction requires both a man and a woman; and it's based on a social reality that children deserve both a mother and a father. Whenever a child is born, a mother is always close by. Normally, she'll be in the same room. That's a fact of biology. The question for law the question for culture is: will a father be close by, and if so, for how long? And the reason that societies all across the globe and all throughout human history have recognized marriage as a union of a man and a woman is precisely to maximize the likelihood that that man commits to that woman and then the two of them, committed to each other, take responsibility for raising that child. One of the reasons why this matters is that when this doesn't happen, when spouses fail to commit to each other before having children or they fail to live out that commitment for the long haul, social consequences run high. If you want to look at the social science marriage has a public significance, and it impacts the public common good in a way that other types of friendships and relationships simply do not.

Part of this argument is that there's no such thing as parenting. There's no such thing as parenting in the abstract; there's mothering and there's fathering. Mothers and fathers bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise. I'll read you one quote to illustrate this, and then I'll do some thought experiments with you just to see how much this is now common-sense knowledge. David Popenoe recently passed away, the sociologist at Rutgers University, and he did a literature review on what we knew about parenting, back when the big social crisis in America was absentee fathers. And he was doing his research with children growing up without fathers; he wrote a book, Life Without Father, and here's some of what he concluded. He said, "The burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender different parenting is important for human development and the contribution to fathers to child rearing is unique and irreplaceable."  And concluded: "We should disavow the notion that mommies can make good daddies, just as we should disavow 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 the human being."

Now, what does he mean by this? Here we can do a simple thought experiment. If I tell you it's Saturday morning and a five-year-old boy is in the living room wrestling with one of his parents. And this parent is teaching the boy to be masculine and aggressive, but not to be violent. That it's okay to put people in headlocks, but it's not okay to bite or to pull hair or to gauge out eyes. Which parent is most likely in the living room? The laughter gives it away that you know it's the father. And this isn't because we've engaged in gender stereotypes in which only fathers can wrestle with five-year-old boys—it's that this is what tends to come naturally to dads. This is how dads enjoy interacting with their five-year-old sons. In the same way, it's typically the father who throws the newborn baby up in the air and it's the mother who says, "Honey, not so high." That's a behavior; it's not that we've engaged in gender stereotypes that say only the mother can say, "Not so high." That's what comes naturally to moms. They tend to be more protective, more nurturing. Maybe it's a result of having carried the child in the womb for nine months; there's a hard-wired connection to be more concerned about physical safety and things like that. Whereas for fathers there's a tendency towards what the sociologists call "rough and tumble play." And so what the father does for the five-year-old boy in the living room, wrestling, teaching, headlocks are good, but gauging out eyes not good. What the father does with the ten-year-old boy, perhaps throwing around the football in the backyard. What the father does with the 15-year-old boy, preparing him for his first high school dance. All of those things are helping that young man develop into a law-abiding, productive member of society, channeling distinctively masculine tendencies in a constructive rather than a destructive fashion. And so when we step back from the anecdote, it's an anecdotal piece of evidence when I asked you about the five-year-old in the living room, we look at all the social science, the social scientists tell us that boys who grow up without their fathers are more likely to commit crime, less likely to graduate from school, more likely to end up in jail, less likely to be employed. And what's taking place in the living room at age five and the backyard at age ten upstairs in the bedroom at age 15 getting ready for the dance, those are all ways in which fathers are shaping their boys into productive members of society.

Dads do something complementary for their daughters. Fathers, on average and for the most part, are larger than mothers. Fathers, on average and for the most part, have deeper voices than mothers. Fathers, on average and for the most part, were once young boys themselves. (You have to say on average and for the most part because of the transgender issue.) All of those things give fathers a unique capacity and a unique interest in what sort of young man is pursuing their daughter, what sort of boy is taking their daughter on dates. And so that ability, that deeper voice, that larger body structure, the fact that he was once himself a young boy makes him more sensitive to whether the right sort of guy is taking his daughter out. A father who is married to his child's mother also models what a good marital relationship looks like. He models what a good male-female relationship looks like, and therefore what a daughter should be looking for in a husband. So then when you take a step back from the anecdote, the social scientists tell us that girls who grow up without their fathers are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier, more likely to have pregnancy outside of marriage. There are these broader consequences once you step back. But don't take my word for this—let me read you a quote and then I'll ask you who the speaker is.

We know the statistics. 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 20 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.

Who's the speaker of that quote? Barrack Obama—before he evolved. President Obama has spoken several times in very movingly-phrased statementsabout the importance of fathers, and a couple of times he's explained why. When he gave the commencement address at Morehouse College (Morehouse College is an all-male college), he addressed the all-male graduating class. And he said, "I have tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle." That quote highlights why government is in the marriage business, why the state of Utah is in the marriage business. It's not because the government is a sucker for romance. It's not because the government cares about your love life or my love life, because it's really concerned about the butterflies that we get in our stomachs when we fall in love. If that was all that marriage was about, the state could not take any sort of cognizance of it; the state could be out of the bedroom. But the reason the government is in the marriage business is that that sexual union of a man and a woman can produce a child, and that child deserves the best shot of having a mother and a father raise them to maturity. And when this doesn't happen, all of those statistics that Obama recited for us about crime, about drug use, about prisons, about not graduating from school, about not being employed, about out-of-wedlock pregnancy—in turn the cycle that then perpetuates follows in the wake.

What we've seen is that if you care about social mobility and you care about limited government, if you care about freedom, and you care about the poor, if you care about social justice and you care about civil society—all of these things are much better served by a healthy marriage culture, by a healthy civil society that does what it's supposed to do rather than a big government solution that tries to pick up the pieces either in the form of a welfare state or in the form of a police state. How do you fill in for that absentee dad? A welfare state to provide a check and a police state to provide discipline. And they don't produce good outcomes; they cost a lot of money. What we've seen in the past 50 years, we've had the breakdown of the American family, as Richard mentioned. None of the people who have been doing work on the marriage issue got into this primarily because of same-sex marriage; they got into this because of marriage. And the concern was that 50 years ago something started to change. Fifty years ago, births to single mothers were in the single digits. Today, 40% of all Americans, 50% of all Hispanics, and 70% of all African Americans are born to single moms—and the challenges for those children and for those families and for those communities are significant. Now, we don't want to overstate what those challenges are; obviously President Obama has turned out fairly well. He's doing pretty well for himself in the White House. But he and his mom would be some of the first people to tell you that it was an uphill struggle. And that's why he's spoken out on the importance of mothers and fathers for children.

But that then leads to what I'll close with: what are the consequences of redefining marriage? Because you could be saying, "I'm following what you and Sherif are saying, I'm following Sherif's presentation that marriage is a comprehensive union of sexually complementary spouses and the act that unites spouses also creates new life. I'm following what you're staying that the state's really in the marriage business because this new human life needs a mom and a dad, and we have to have an institution that encourages men and women to commit as husband and wife to then being mother and father. But how does redefining marriage in any way impact that?" What's the harm? is the shorthand way that people sometimes pose that question. Let me identify three consequences of redefining marriage. All three fall under the general rubric of "ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences." As Sherif mentioned, they're two different visions of what marriage is: there's the consenting adult love vision of marriage, where marriage is about your number one person and an intense emotional relationship, and then there's the comprehensive union vision of marriage. The state will promote one of the other of these two visions of marriage. And the law will teach that one or the other is the truth about marriage. The law will then shape our culture; the culture in which we and our children and our grandchildren live will then shape our beliefs, and then our beliefs will shape our actions. So all three of these consequences follow from that general framework. Let me spell them out one by one.

The first consequence is that if you're redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution, there's no institution of civil society, there's no institution of public life left that upholds even as an ideal that every child has a right to a mother and a father. What redefining marriage does is that it makes marriage more about the desires of the adults than the needs or the rights of children. Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution sends the signal that men and woman are interchangeable, and therefore mothers and fathers are replaceable. And if you doubt that the law has this capacity to teach, the thought experiment that I would offer you, or the case study that I would offer you is the case of no-fault divorce. Prior to the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in the United States, if you were to file for divorce, you would cite one of the three a's from the common law tradition. The three a's are just a handy way of summarizing these. The three a's were abuse, abandonment, and adultery. Serious reasons for saying that a relationship that was expected to be permanent now had to be declared over by a court of law. My spouse is abusing me; my spouse has abandoned me; my spouse has committed adultery. Serious reasons for terminating what would otherwise have been a permanent relationship. But with no-fault divorce, you could now abandon your spouse for any reason, even for no reason at all. You didn't have to cite grounds for divorce, that's what the no-fault part of no-fault divorce indicates. Some scholars refer to it as "unilateral no-fault divorce" because you also don't have to have your spouse's consent. So you could abandon your spouse for any reason, or no reason at all, without their consent. Some legal scholars have said that in many jurisdictions you have a greater legal obligation to your roofer or your plumber than you have to your spouse. There's no such thing as unilateral no-fault get out of your roofing contract. Either your roofer has to consent or you have to cite fault for why you're reneging on that plumbing or that roofing contract. Not so with the marriage contract. Over time, this taught something. This taught that marriage need not even aspire to being a permanent relationship, that marriage can be gotten out of for frivolous reasons. And it oriented people's attitudes towards looking to that exit, looking to the way out or a marriage rather than working to salvage a marriage. What we saw was that divorce rates more than doubled as a result during the first 20 years after the introduction of no-fault divorce laws.

Not all of this change in marital behavior is a result of the law. The law shapes culture, but also the culture shapes the law in the first place. As Sherif mentioned, one of the popular mantras from the 60s was that "marriage should last as long as the love lasts." It was that vision of what marriage is that then gave rise to bad marriage laws, which in turn then gave rise to even worse marital practice. Our understanding of marriage and the law will mutually reinforce each other, either for the good or for ill. Now, the same thing will take place with redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. I mentioned that right now 40% of all Americans, 50% of all Hispanics, and over 70% of African Americans are born to single mothers. This is what has inspired Obama to speak out about the importance of fathers. But how will we as a society insist that those fathers are essential when the law has redefined marriage to make fathers optional? That's the first consequence of redefining marriage.

The second consequence is that redefining marriage won't stop here. Sherif began his presentation by pointing to the logical realities of what the revisionist account of marriage entails: that if you really think marriage is just about the person you love, why would any of the three traditional Western marital norms be retained? Not only is that a logical truth, a philosophical truth, we're now seeing that there are activists who are challenging those three marital norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency. There's a certain logic to what they're doing. So I want to introduce you to three words, one of which Sherif mentioned, stealing some of my thunder. But we'll forgive Sherif. I want to introduce you to three words that publications, the New York Times New York Magazine and the Washington Post—three mainstream cutting-edge but not really far-out liberal publications—have introduced about where they would like to see subsequent marriage redefinitions go. And what's mainstream today in New York City and California will one day be imposed on you in Utah and in Texas and in Alabama; that's how many of these social changes take place. It was only a decade ago that the courts in Massachusetts redefined marriage there, and 11 years later a court did it to you in Utah. So it's good to be aware of what's that cutting edge.

The first is the term throuple. A throuple is a three person couple. Take the word couple, chop off the c and then add a thr. This is the word that Sherif mentioned was in New York Magazine and it was a profile of a three person relationship. This is called polyamory. It's different from polygamy. Polyamory is the entire ensemble is married to each other. Here's the case of three men who lived with each other and they loved each other and took care of each other. And they wanted to have joint bank accounts and they wanted to co-own their property, and they wanted to have all three be on the deed to the car, this that and the other thing. The basic argument was that if marriage is just about an intense emotional, romantic, caregiving relationship, why can't they be married? If you go before the Supreme Court and you say, "We demand marriage equality for the same sex couple," why not marriage equality for the same sex throuple or the opposite sex quartet? Because the way that we arrived at monogamy in Western law and cultures is that it's one man and one woman who can unite in the act that can produce new life, and every new life has one mother and one father. Marriage is about uniting those people in a stable, exclusive, permanent relationship. But once you say the male-female aspect of the relationship is irrational and arbitrary and bigoted, what's magical about the number two? What's our principle basis for retaining marriage as the union of couples rather than of throuples or quartets, once you've said male-female is irrational, arbitrary, and bigoted?

So that was the term throuple. Let me mention the next term. This was in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, which is probably the most prominent publication in American public life. It was a profile of the gay rights activist Dan Savage. And Dan Savage introduced me to the word monogamish. So monogamish is the word monogamous, but chop off the ending and add an ish. It's kind of monogamous. He wants to retain the number two. He thinks marriage should be the union of two people—he just doesn't think we should be so uptight about infidelity. His argument here is that it's unrealistic to think that all of your sexual needs can be met by one spouse for the rest of your life; this is a holdover from and out-of-date Judeo-Christian moral tradition that we need to leave behind. His argument is that many marriages actually fail because the couples are expecting sexual fidelity, sexual exclusivity, and when that doesn't happen it tears them apart. One thing that opposite-sex relationships could learn from same-sex relationships is the virtue of the open relationship, which he termed the monogamish relationship. He argues that, provided there's no coercion and there's no deceit, married couples should be free to seek out sexual relationships with people other than their spouse. The marriage could actually be enhanced if marriage was understood as their romantic relationship their caregiving relationship—if they weren't also seeking all of their sexual fulfillment only from their spouse. This would be a good further revision, further redefinition of marriage. What used to be the vice of infidelity would now be the virtue of a monogamish relationship.

The last term is just now slightly over a year old. It was in the Washington Post one year ago last July or August, so it was right after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Very convenient timing. It was written by a lawyer and he introduced me and my coauthors to the word wedlease. Wedlease is a play on the word wedlock. If wedlock denotes something that's strong and sturdy and permanent, wedlease was meant to denote the exact opposite. So just like you could lease a car or lease a house, this lawyer was proposing that you should be able to lease your spouse, that we should have expressly temporary marriage license. One of the problems with the way marriage is practiced in the United States is that we have this holdover out-of-date Judeo-Christian tradition that says marriage should be permanent. And he was saying,  "No, maybe we should keep the monogamy part, maybe we should even keep the exclusivity part—but you shouldn't think that you can live and love one person till death do you part. That's unrealistic. That's inhumane." The problem with divorce was that you had this unreal expectation that you would live and love one person for the rest of your life. When that inevitably falls apart, because you can't really live that out, that's what causes all of the heartache and all of the pain and suffering of divorce. But if you only signed up for a wedlease in the first place, if you only signed up for a five- or a ten-year marriage license, if it was going well at the end of the term you could renew it, just like you could renew the lease on your apartment or on your car. But if it wasn't going well it would just automatically dissolve. You didn't sign up for wedlock; you signed up for wedlease. As a result, you wouldn't have your emotions hurt; nothing wrong would happen to your family. Interestingly enough, not once did he mention children in his op-ed for the Washington Post.  

All three further redefinitions, the throuple, the monogamish relationship, the wedlease—regardless of what you might think of the morality of sexually open, multi-partnered, temporary relationships, whatever you might think of the theology of such relationships— I just want to focus on the public policy implications. If you remember, I started my talk by saying that the state's in the marriage business to get a man and a woman to commit to each other permanently and exclusively so that any children they create have the love and the care of a mother and a father. But the wedlease and the throuple and the monogamous relationship all directly undercut that purpose of marriage. Because the throuple, the wedlease, the monogamish relationship—they increase the number of sexual partners men and women have, and they decrease the amount of commitment that they have to each other. They increase the likelihood of creating fragmented families and fatherless children, and they decrease the odds of permanency, stability, monogamy. And yet all three of those revisions follow as night follows on day once you get rid of the male-female procreative aspect part of marriage. Once you say that Sherif's explanation of the conjugal comprehensive union view of marriage is irrational and arbitrary, what's principled about monogamy, exclusisvity, and permanacy? Why not throuploes, monogamish relationships, and wedleases, if marriage is just about consenting adult love. The problem here is that we think the redefinition of marriage will ultimately lead towards the dissolvement of marriage. The logic of redefining marriage is simple a dissolvent. It dissolves marriage into consent and consent can come in as many different sizes and shapes as is imaginable. Consent can be between two, three, four, or more; consent can be for a permanent or a temporary commitment; it can be an exclusive or an open commitment. You can put up a red equals sign on your Facebook page and say all of those relationships demand marriage equality as well, and it doesn't get you anywhere, just as Sherif said. Yet all of these already have activists agitating for them, and as a logical matter why would an impartial court stop it?

Lastly, the third consequence that I'll mention is the consequence for religious liberty. This is the consequence that we're living with, I think, most immediately. I mention it last because I think it's least important for the marriage culture itself. I want to highlight that redefining marriage has consequences for marriage, first and foremost, which is why I lead with the first two consequences. But the one that we will experience first and foremost is whether or not we even have the freedom to live out and witness to the truth about marriage. Because the law will teach something about marriage. And the law will either teach that people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman are rational, reasonable, good citizens; or the law will teach people and institutions who believe that marriage is a unit of a man and a woman are irrational haters who deserved to be marginalized from society and who deserve to be treated like we treat bigots. And we're already seeing this playing out. Shortly after the Massachusetts court forced that state to redefine marriage, we saw that Catholic Charities was forced out of the adoption space. It's happened in Massachusetts; it's happened in Illinois; it's happened in Washington D.C. Christian-run adoption agencies that wanted to find homes for orphans with married moms and dads were told that's discrimination. They were told specifically in Massachusetts that we won't give you a license to run the adoption agency unless you place children with same-sex marriage couples on an equal basis as you do with married mothers and fathers. And the charity said, "We have social science that show that mothers and fathers aren't the same thing, and that children do best with a mom and a dad. We also have the First Amendment that protects our religious liberty to run our charities in accordance with our beliefs." But the states and D.C. said, "No, you're violating our non-discrimination ordinance; if you don't treat the same sex couple in the same way as the opposite sex couple, we won't give you the license." And it's illegal to run an adoption agency without an adoption license, so they were forced to close. What's worth highlighting about this is that shutting down adoption agencies does absolutely nothing to help children find homes. None of those children who were looking for adoptive families were helped by shutting down the Catholic adoption agency. Adopting a child is not like getting your oil change or renewing your driver's license at the DMV. It's a very kind of intimate, personal experience, where you may want a faith tradition to guide you along the way of welcoming a new human being into your family. Catholic Charities had a long track record: they were taking care of orphans long before the state was taking care of orphans. And yet they were told, "Unless you do it our way, we're going to shut you down." It does nothing to help those children; it does nothing to help prospective families get connected to children. All it does is score a point for political correctness. It sends the message that those who believe marriage is a male-female relationship and that children deserve a mom and a dad are on the wrong side of history, and we will force them to get with the movement.

Since then, we've seen cases that involve bakers and florists and photographers. Most recently a case in New York state that involved farmers, and now a case just this past weekend in Idaho that involves ordained ministers who run a wedding chapel. In all of these cases they were told, "You have to help celebrate the same-sex wedding, otherwise you're running afoul of our non-discriminatory statute." If you're not the wedding photographer for the same-sex wedding, if you don't bake the wedding cake, if you don't do the floral arrangements, in the case of New York state, if you don't have the same-sex wedding in your home. The farmers lived on the second and third floor of their barn; they rented out the first floor of their barn about a dozen times a year for weddings. They were approached by a same-sex couple, they said, "We're sorry, we can't have a same-sex wedding in our home. It violates our beliefs about what marriage is." They were sued and they were then fined $13,000 they had to pay $10,000 to the state of New York and $1,500 to both of the women for their pain and suffering. The case going on right now in Idahowith a married couple, ordained ministers in the church of the Four Square Gospel, a large evangelical church. They run a wedding chapel, and they were told that now that the court had redefined marriage in the state of Idaho, they had to celebrate same-sex weddings in their wedding chapel, or else they would be running afoul of the city's non-discrimination ordinance. In the case of Elane Photography, the most famous one, she's an evangelical photographer in New Mexico. She was asked to be the wedding photographer for a same-sex commitment ceremony. She politely declined. She was then sued, she had to pay $7,000. They litigated this all the way up to the state supreme court, and in the state supreme court one of the judges in his concurring opinion said, "The price of citizenship is that Elaine has to take these pictures." Elaine has to set aside her religious beliefs and take these pictures. The interesting thing is that Elaine wasn't trying to prevent some other photographer from doing the same-sex wedding photos. Catholic Charities wasn't preventing same-sex couples from adopting kids from the government-run agency or from the secular humanist agency. All of these people simply asked for the freedom to be left alone. They simply wanted to run their business in accordance with their beliefs about marriage; they weren't imposing their values on anyone; they weren't preventing other people from having a wedding celebration from having someone else do the wedding cake—and yet in all these cases they lost. Their loss signals that those who believe this about marriage are not welcomed as full members of our community. What's particularly interesting about this is that none of the cases that we know of have the evangelicals, Catholics, whoever at hand, had a monopoly on the service. In the state of New Mexico there are plenty of other photographers, many of whom support same-sex marriage, all of whom are interested in making money. So it would have been fine to say, rather than the price of citizenship, is that Elaine has to take these pictures, the price of citizenship should be just go to a different photographer. In the case of Idaho, this wedding chapel is directly across the chapel from the county clerk's office. Just get your marriage license from the county clerk. Why force the evangelical ministers to perform your wedding in their chapel? But again, that's one of the consequences based on the idea of the law teaching bad ideas having bad consequences. What's being taught there, the left on this issue is hijacking the language of the civil rights movement, and they're saying that if you are against same-sex marriage it's the same thing as being against interracial marriage. Even though for all of the reasons that Sherif laid out, those two cases have nothing to do whatsoever historically, philosophically, or theologically. It's a very convenient club to use to beat up on people.

Click here to hide the transcript