10 Principles on Marriage and the Public Good

WitherspoonCommentary abounds in the wake of New York’s move to legalize gay marriage. Just today, I saw David Frum’s column at in which he recants his former opposition to same-sex marriage. Frum says he was wrong to argue in public that same-sex marriage would weaken traditional marriage or have other deleterious effects on the public good. Frum says that over the last 14 years, “the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality” and has come up short. So he and a host of other Republicans are either silent about the issue or are outright endorsing gay marriage.

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that I disagree profoundly with Frum. The case for traditional marriage is as strong as it has ever been, even though former supporters may be peeling-off. On this blog, I have advocated countless times for what the Bible teaches about the purposes of human sexuality and marriage. Today, I want to alert readers to a resource that comes at the issue from a different direction.

In 2008, the Witherspoon Institute published a document titled “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles.” This document is

The result of scholarly discussions that began in December 2004 at a meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute. This conference brought together scholars from economics, history, law, philosophy, psychiatry, and sociology to share with each other the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as the permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.

A consensus emerged on a range of issues, and the authors explain:

The purpose of this document is to make a substantial new contribution to the public debate over marriage. Too often the rational case for marriage is not made at all or not made very well. As scholars, we are persuaded that the case for marriage can be made and won at the level of reason (p. 1).

The authors identify four developments that have weakened marriage and have resulted in negative consequences for society as a whole: divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage. Then they offer 10 principles that summarize the value of marriage in the face of these challenges.

1. Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.

2. Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.

3. Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.

4. Marriage protects and promotes the well-being of children.

5. Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.

6. Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.

7. When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.

8. A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.

9. The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

10. “Civil marriage” and “religious marriage” cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

The document concludes with five concrete public policy recommendations that ought to be pursued in order to strengthen marriage and to promote the public good:

1. Protect the public understanding of marriage as the union of one man with one woman as husband and wife.

a. Resist legislative attempts to create same-sex marriage; use legislative mechanisms to protect the institution of marriage as a union of a male and a female as sexually complementary spouses.

b. End the court-created drive to create and impose same-sex marriage.

c. Refuse to extend marital legal status to cohabiting couples.

2. Investigate divorce law reforms.

a. Extend waiting periods for unilateral no-fault divorce.

b. Permit the creation of prenuptial covenants that restrict divorce for couples who seek more extensive marriage commitments than current law allows.

c. Expand court-connected divorce education programs to include divorce interventions that help facilitate reconciliations as well as reducing acrimony and litigation.

d. Apply standards of fault to the distribution of property, where consistent with the best interests of children.

e. Create pilot programs on marriage education and divorce interventions in high-risk communities, using both faith-based and secular programs; track program effectiveness to establish “best practices” that could be replicated elsewhere.

3. End marriage penalties for low-income Americans.

4. Protect and expand pro-child and pro-family provisions in our tax code.

5. Protect the interests of children from the fertility industry.

a. Ban the use of anonymous sperm and egg donation for all adults. Children have a right to know their biological origins. Adults have no right to strip children of this knowledge to satisfy their own desires for a family.

b. Consider restricting reproductive technologies to married couples.

c. Refuse to create legally fatherless children. Require men who are sperm donors (and/or clinics as their surrogates) to retain legal and financial responsibility for any children they create who lack a legal father.

There’s still a case to be made for marriage. I hope and pray people will hear it. Download and read the rest here.

One Comment

  • Cromwell

    as deplorable as Frum is, his position on this is nowhere near as bad as Ron Paul and the anarcho-capitalist. See Ron Paul’s latest book, “Liberty Defined” and read the chapter on marriage to see just how he’s ‘defining’ Liberty.

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