Debating Marriage: 10 Principles

Scholar Says the Real Arguments Are Just Beginning

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PRINCETON, New Jersey, JUNE 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Divorce, illegitimacy and cohabitation have seriously weakened the vital institution of marriage, even beyond the looming threat of the imposition of same-sex marriage by American judges.



That is the contention of 60 prominent signatories who, under auspices of the Witherspoon Institute, have issued a new document, "Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles."

The document bills itself as seeking to add a "substantial new contribution to the public debate over marriage." The signatories claim that the case for marriage "can be made and won at the level of reason."

"The better arguments are on our side but they haven't been made, or at least made with rigor or given a hearing in the media," said James Stoner, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University and chairman of the drafting committee, in an interview with ZENIT.

According to Stoner, "There is this impression out there that this debate is between those who want equal rights and some religious bigots trying to stop them."

Stoner insists the idea for the document was to speak from the perspective of natural reason in a way that is accessible to all people and not confined to a certain creed.

"We've laid out the framework for how this argument can be made," he said.

"[M]arriage," the document states, "is not narrowly religious, but the cross-cultural fruit of broad human experience and reflection, and supported by considerable social science evidence."

Road map

On the heels of last week's defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment in the U.S. Senate, the document could provide a road map for defenders of traditional marriage as the debate shifts to state legislatures.

"Many were saying that the amendment was about appealing to the prejudice of a certain bloc of voters," Stoner said. "But what it really exposed was how evenly divided the country is about how fundamental marriage is as an institution to our society.

"If only fundamental things are enshrined in the Constitution, yet almost half of the senators refused to codify a common definition of marriage, then regardless of your views on gay marriage, there is a serious division in our polity about the fundamental nature of marriage."

"Thus," Stoner added, "the debate about why a common conception of marriage is necessary to maintain a healthy civil society is really just ready to begin."

In response to the crisis of marriage, the document argues that it is particularly important to continue to make the case for marriage as an important public good in a free society.

To this end, it offers 10 principles that summarize the public value of marriage and why society should endorse and support the institution:

1) Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.

2) Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.

3) Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.

4) Marriage protects and promotes the wellbeing of children.

5) Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.

6) Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.

7) When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.

8) A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.

9) The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

10) "Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

Finding solutions

According to the signatories, "Creating a marriage culture is not the job for government.

"Families, religious communities, and civic institutions -- along with intellectual, moral, religious, and artistic leaders -- point the way. But law and public policy will either reinforce and support these goals or undermine them."

The signatories advocate a few practical policy prescriptions so that politicians, academics, families, and religious organizations can assist in establishing the necessary policy framework to foster a healthy culture of marriage: expanding family-friendly tax provisions and cuts; divorce law reform; monitoring the fertility industry; and preserving the public understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

While the document offers some practical policy initiatives that should be pursued, it stresses that marriage will only be strengthened when more children are raised by their mothers and fathers in "loving, lasting marital unions."

"The issue of marriage is more than just an empirical question," said Stoner. "If you know that, you know not to start experimenting with something so fundamental to human nature and found throughout human history."