NOTE: This is the fifth column in a series of columns related to National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, 2013. The fourth column is available here.
Many of us will recall the song from Sesame Street that begins, “One of these things is not like the other.” The song conveyed to viewers that not everything, or every relationship, is the same; we have different capabilities and purposes.
The government routinely sings this song as it recognizes and seeks to support certain relationships based on their uniqueness, their distinctive purpose, or their benefit to society.
One such relationship that is unlike any other is marriage.
Marriage is the unique relationship between a man and a woman—a relationship recognized throughout human history and by diverse cultures and faiths. Marriage distinguishes itself from any other because it unites the distinct and uniquely wonderful differences of men and women to bring forth and nurture society’s next generation.
While many relationships exist, the union of a man and a woman is unlike any other as no other relationship joins its participants as one united whole to create a new person. No other relationship is similarly situated in this special way.
To define the marital relationship as just like any other would be to deny its specific purpose: creating, nurturing, and raising children with their mom and dad.
Because of this purpose, society seeks to safeguard marriage. Simply put, the government has an interest in marriage because it has an interest in children. Indeed, in the words of the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell, a self-described atheist: “But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex.” “[I]t is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.”
Recognizing the good of marriage in no way implies an animus toward other types of relationships. On the contrary, the government’s interest in protecting and enhancing marriage simply recognizes the natural reality that children result from sexual relationships between men and women and that children benefit from knowing both their mother and father in a stable home.
Safeguarding marriage furthers every child’s natural desire to know who they are and where they came from. It encourages the natural attachment of a mother and father to their child, emphasizing the vital role of both parents.
Interweaving the vibrant diversity of both men and women into each marital relationship animates and fortifies that union. Men and women are necessarily and refreshingly different, and these differences complement and make the other better. Just as both persons’ unique biological functions are necessary to create a child, so too are both persons’ characteristics and abilities as a male and a female essential to the other person, to the well-being of their child, and to society as a whole.
And while not every couple has a biological child, every child has a mother and a father. It is this powerful fact that defines what marriage is all about.
Even childless marriages further the government’s interest in marriage. The state is concerned with not only joining together mothers and fathers for the good of their children, but also with preventing situations where children are raised without their mother or father. When a man and a woman commit to marry, even if their relationship does not produce children, their presumed sexual exclusivity limits the odds that either of them will bring a child into this world that is raised without his mother or father.
Admittedly, we live in an imperfect society, and we have all witnessed or experienced the devastating and painful impact that divorce, infidelity, and out-of-wedlock births have wreaked on our marriages and families. But if marriage is weak, we should support, enhance, and strengthen it, not change it. Redefining marriage to include relationships incongruous to its very purpose will not rescue and fortify its purpose.
This is why we promote policies and enact laws that encourage what has been proven as best for society and for children, not laws that jeopardize those critical interests. We do not forsake the ideal in the face of the imperfect.
Hopefully, before it’s too late, we will recognize marriage—the union of a man and a woman—as essential to the common good and a relationship unlike any other.