There seems to be a rising chorus—even among some on the right—that marriage is over and we need to give up on the civil institution of marriage. I’m reminded of the blonde starlet, Mae West. This Hollywood celebrity was asked why she didn’t marry one of the handsome young men who always followed her around. “Marriage is a great institution,” said Mae, “but I’m not ready for an institution.”
Married or not, Mae West understood marriage better than some federal judges and some policy analysts.
When we hear them say “let’s privatize marriage,” what they are really saying is let’s abandon the children. And let’s abandon America’s future.
One of the most poignant and powerful stories from the Civil War era tells us that freedmen and women walked to Tennessee in 1866 to have their slave marriages recorded and recognized in law. Many of these ex-slaves were illiterate—kept so by unjust enactments. Many of them had to walk barefoot. But so great was their yearning for marriage that they made that great sacrifice.
The pages of history Former HHS official Wade Horn tells us that as late as 1941—the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor—fully 89% of black children in this country were born to mothers and fathers who were married.
A quarter century after that, however, the great sociologist and later U.S. diplomat and senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised an alarm. He saw an out-of-wedlock birthrate of 22% in the black community and knew that trouble was coming.
Today, that out-of-wedlock birthrate in some urban communities is greater than 70%. Do we think this is not a problem?
We know that poverty is the lot of many children born out-of-wedlock. Dr. Patrick Fagan worked with Dr. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation in a classic study. These respected analysts “married” the parents of the four million children living in poverty. Fagan and Rector did this by computer. If their parents were married, only 750,000 of those children would still live in poverty.
Even the liberal Brookings Institution concurs to this extent: If a young couple will finish high school, avoid having children out-of-wedlock, and then marry, the chances are only 4% that their children will live in poverty.
Are we concerned about crime? The National Fatherhood Initiative informs us that three-quarters of the teen rapists and two-thirds of the teen murderers in our prisons are fatherless young men.