In the wake of the Ninth Circuit’s overturning Prop 8 yesterday as unconstitutional, it is important to take a step back from the overheated rhetoric in the debate on state recognition of same-sex marriage — a debate which alas has offered more heat than light — and attempt to offer that light, to illuminate the real meaning of marriage.
Few people do that better than Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn, one “a gay man who has written a book in favor of gay marriage. The other is a straight man who has written a book opposing gay marriage.” In a piece they penned together last November, Rauch addressed an issue more fundamental than state recognition (what he calls “legal right”). What seems most important to him
. . is getting marriage right, for all people. Winning the legal right is important for same- sex couples, but it’s hardly the end. Over the long run, will same-sex marriage shore up marriage’s privileged social status, or diminish it? Gay Americans and their communities all have an interest in establishing that their right to marry can support and perhaps even strengthen American commitment to the institution that is now open to them.
Indeed. They both agree, for example,
. . . that getting married before having children is an important, and embattled, cultural value, which society as a whole should do more to embrace. Similarly, we can agree that the growing phenomenon of “single parents by choice,” whatever its meaning or value in particular situations, is a harmful social trend. Many, probably most, children of single parents do fine. But a large body of scholarly evidence shows that single parenting increases risks for children.
“Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions From the Social Sciences,” a recent summary of evidence from 18 diverse family scholars, concludes that solo parenting “increases poverty for both children and mothers,” is associated with higher levels of psychological problems for children and mothers, and “appears to increase children’s risk of school failure.”
Read the whole thing.
Marriage is a fundamental institution for our society, indeed, for nearly every society in recorded human history. Until recently, it has always been defined by sexual difference.
Now that has been changing. And as that definition evolves, we can’t lose sight — as have all too many in this debate — of the institution’s purpose.
It’s not just a trophy in the cultural wars. Nor are same-sex couples incapable of fulfilling its obligations or meriting its benefits.
Let’s follow the lead of Rauch and Blankenhorn and talk about why we should all strive for the ideal of marriage and why the institution matters.