Strengthen Marriage, Including Gays

Kudos to American Family Association of Michigan president Gary Glenn (Sentinel, Saturday) for his support of marriage. Massive evidence supports his contention that marriage is conducive to happy, flourishing adults and children.

James Dobson has similarly noted that “where children are raised with a committed mother and father the children are less likely to fail in school … be on drugs … be in poverty … commit suicide … get pregnant.” Having examined the evidence, I can say with confidence that Glenn and Dobson are right. Show me a community where marriages are plentiful and thriving, and I will show you a community with mostly healthy people, thriving kids and low crime rates.

There is, therefore, good reason to support the AFA, the Michigan Family Forum, and the Family Research Council in their conviction that we should work courageously to strengthen marriage and to counter its corrosion by toxic forces, such as by media that model and encourage impulsive sexuality.

With people marrying later and less often, with cohabitation and domestic partnerships soaring, with a third of children born to unmarried parents and with pornography a bigger business than professional football, marriage renewal is becoming a cultural priority. That’s why, agreeing with Glenn and Dobson on this much, I have written books in support of marriage, spoken to the point on college and university campuses, and served as an advisor to the marriage-supporting National Marriage Project.

While agreeing in our overall aims, we marriage supporters differ in our strategies. Some, such as Glenn, argue that we support marriage by keeping gays unmarried (such as by voting “yes” on Michigan’s Proposal 2). Others of us have been persuaded that sexual orientation is not a choice, that the Bible’s few pertinent verses say little about naturally disposed same-sex commitments, and that the marriage institution would actually be strengthened by society’s more consistently affirming monogamy for all. As gay marriage-supporter Jonathan Rauch argues, “Children, parents, childless adults and marriage itself are all better off when society sends a clear and unequivocal message that sex, love and marriage go together. Same-sex marriage affirms that message.”

In C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” senior devil Screwtape advises his junior apprentice devil to corrupt by diverting attention from the real issues at hand: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood.” In Europe and North America, the flood that threatens the house of marriage is not gay marriage but heterosexual nonmarriage, including cohabitation, domestic partnerships, and other “marriage lite” alternatives to marriage, all of which promise to offer the benefits of partnership without the burdens of marriage.

With gay marriage banned nearly everywhere (including in the oft-cited Scandinavian countries), corporations increasingly are offering domestic partnership benefits to gay couples – and then, to be fair, to heterosexual unmarried couples as well (some of whom are shunning marriage “as a sign of solidarity” with gay and lesbian couples). The way to arrest this slide, say marriage-supporting opponents of federal and state marriage amendments, is (as Jonathan Rauch argues) to level the playing field: “If you want the benefits of marriage, get married – no exclusions, no exceptions, no excuses. Adopt same-sex marriage, and the alternatives-to-marriage movement loses its main impetus overnight.”

After the passage of Vermont’s civil union law, the University of Vermontwithdrew its longstanding domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. To get the benefits, same-sex couples had to form civil unions and heterosexual couples had to be married. Create a marriage option for all, declare that domestic-partner benefit programs are no longer needed, couple the change with a national marriage-renewal movement supported by the White House bully pulpit, and cost- and values- conscious corporations would then gladly require marriage as a condition for partner benefits.

Because marriage is healthy, same-sex marriage will be healthier than its less permanent alternatives. Moreover, a consistent mandate for monogamy has the potential to let the steam out of the alternatives-to-marriage movement. If implemented as part of a pro-marriage initiative, inviting gay couples to say “I do” may actually help reverse the growing tendency for straight couples to say “We don’t.” And that would be a result that all of us marriage supporters would celebrate.