Margaret Sims of the Urban Institute (also quoted in Badger’s article) reduces the benefit of marriage to mere economics saying, "It’s clear that married-couple families are better off economically, because there are potentially two workers in the family." But marriage isn’t important only because it provides two potential income earners for a household. If this were true, children of married couples where only one parent worked would demonstrate similar high school dropout and criminal behavior rates as those children raised by single parents. But they do not.
What many people purporting to solve the problems of urban America are reluctant to admit is that traditional marriage works because it places healthy boundaries on sexual behavior and brings out the best in both mothers and fathers. But this is precisely the reason the institution has been attacked since the latter part of the twentieth century.
During my decades of pastoring, I have observed firsthand the devastating effect of the decline of marriage, particularly in the black community. I have preached and written often about how redefining marriage to include homosexual relationships is weakening the institution as a whole. But I will also freely admit that it was not homosexual activists who started American marriage on its road to decline.
Marriage began to weaken as soon as it became socially acceptable to separate sex from a life-long commitment. 1960’s icon Gloria Steinem famously declared, “A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.” What Steinem and the many others preaching the same message didn’t mention was how many “liberated women” who opted to have sex before marriage would end up never get married at all.
Of course promoting marriage was never predicated on the notion that increasing the number of marriage ceremonies among the poor would magically raise their standard of living. Instead, we need to encourage all our young people to prepare for marriage, both by exercising control over their sexual desires and by developing the life skills needed to have a permanent and successful relationship. This is primarily the work of families and institutions of faith, although it is vital that our public policies cease punishing marriage by subsidizing single parenthood.
Marriage matters. And it’s time people across the ideological divide recognized its importance and began working together to make it stronger. I’m glad my wife and I chose to use difficult times to strengthen our marriage and I pray for those who are stretched thin in these economic times to choose the same!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.