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Dumbing Down Marriage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Being able to buy a $500,000 house on fabricated and blown up income figures with no money down....... a perversion of the American dream of homeownership.

Getting paid $15MM for employment that helped cause failure at major financial institutions.....a perversion of the American work ethic.

Assaulting the institution of marriage so as to eviscerate it of any meaning whatsoever..... a perversion of the American social fabric.

And assaulting the very idea of marriage is exactly what is occurring at every turn. Consider just four examples from the past week:

1) New data shows more than 40% of American babies were born out of wedlock. This staggering figure continues a twenty-year growth trend in children starting life from the outset in incomplete families.

2) Most, if not all, dictionaries, now provide multiple definitions for “marriage.” Their stated goal is to reflect cultural usage rather than to create it.

3) The same-sex marriage battle continues in California in spite of the passage of Proposition 8 in November. Gay activists have already begun mobilizing for another referendum if the state's Supreme Court allows Proposition 8 to stand.

4) Two Pepperdine University law professors published an article in Time this week, arguing that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.

These four examples join what has become a siege on the very notions of family and marriage in America. Much like Vicksburg in 1863, where residents dug tunnels to survive the daily bombardment from Union cannons and hid food to try to outlast the severed supply lines, marriage and family today live in a fixed state of defense and survival, clinging to what little sustenance they can find in a culture almost exclusively hostile to them. From the defective idea of “same-sex marriage,” to the increasing disregard for marriage as the birthplace for children, and to a malformed desire to make marriage contractual and disposable at will, family and marriage stand battered and bruised by a ceaseless bombardment of attack.

Sadly, in the not too distant future, we will experience the painful chaos borne by those in our nation who claim to “broaden” our understanding of marriage. In fact, these folks dumb down the very concept of marriage so as to gut it of meaning altogether. The resulting chaos, if the trend continues, will wreak havoc on children who will consistently find themselves unable to give and receive love in appropriate ways, unable to form deep bonds of intimacy and long-term commitments, and unable to provide a stable setting for future generations. This chaos comes from the increasing pressure in our culture to define the ideas of marriage and family by purely individual desires rather than by socially meaningful and viable ones.

Such positions fail to recognize that our culture has a huge interest in encouraging and supporting healthy marriages, much moreso than it ever did to encourage or support home-ownership. The nuclear family provides the basic building block of stability for the culture, doing so in an almost unseen way. The family structure holds our society together much like the threads holding the individual squares comprising a quilt. Without those threads, we become a mere collection of squares, chaotically strewn across the landscape. That collection may be many things, but it is not a cohesive whole; nor is it a quilt.

As Helen Alvare has shown, the family is a place of love, a place where attentive, secure, and sacrificial love can develop. Through that love, marriage is characterized by an openness to life and bringing new life into the world. As such, marriage becomes a family where children learn to give and receive love. If that kind of love is not experienced as a child in a family, it becomes increasingly difficult to develop those abilities as one matures. Moreover, a family provides the long-term commitment necessary to raise slow-maturing human lives. Government clearly should encourage that behavior. Healthy citizens are made and raised in marriages and families, and economically stable citizens live in those same marriages over the long haul.

The evidence uniformly demonstrates that children who do not benefit from a two-parent home face greater odds in life's most basic tasks. They are more likely to develop substance abuse issues, more likely to land in the criminal justice system, and less likely to complete their education. The social costs of government's endorsing merely tolerable, as opposed to encouraging best, marriage and family behaviors are enormous. With good reason, family advocates remind us that if a person gets three things right in life (finish high school, get married after the age of 20, and wait to have babies until married), there is an 8% chance of their living in poverty sometime during their life. Get one or more of those wrong, and there is a 79% chance of your living in poverty at some point in your life.

Moreover, the government has a large, vested interest in encouraging what is best for children rather than merely blessing what is tolerable or what is accepted as the lowest common denominator. To fail to encourage settings which are best for children invites further cultural chaos and deterioration. For example, the ever-rising tide of out-of-wedlock births will likely have a continuing snowball effect as each successive generation becomes less able than the one before it to provide stability and security for its own children.

Marriage is a gift, something to be cherished and nurtured. Marriage and family are among God's greatest gifts to us. Marriage provides a bedrock for our society, an underlying foundation of stability for children. However, marriage is not a right, something to which each of us is entitled, any more than home-ownership is a right. Not everyone is designed for marriage. Marriage may be a gift, but it is not the only gift, nor is it a gift absolutely intended for everyone.

The total union, commitment, and fidelity of a marriage between a man and a woman is a beautiful thing when done well. Is it always done well? Of course not. But that does not mean that the government or our society should therefore dumb down the definition of marriage to bless any configuration an individual might desire. Nor should we continue to stand and applaud the trend toward incomplete homes and fatherless children in the name of feminism and women's rights. The stakes simply are too high, for all of us.

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