Amidst all the kvetching, grimacing and posturing over the New York debacle, a couple of voices here and there have tried to warn us that the problem is worse than we think, that our focus is misdirected, that the legalization of gay marriage has “killed” an institution that was already on terminal life support in 2003, the year the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed down its decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.
Stephen Greydanus, for example, writes: “The problem is, it isn’t just same-sex marriage advocates who are unable to explain what marriage is. It’s practically everyone. Marriage has been redefined for decades in our society, and it isn’t homosexuals or politicians who have done it. It’s our culture as a whole. And that’s why we are where we are” (emphasis in original). In line with that thought, Taylor Marshall has pinned down two culprits, contraception and pornography.
David Carlin and John Zmirak have blamed it on our unwillingness to assert on natural-law principles that gay sex is wrong. If it comes to that, we — as a culture — been equally weak at asserting the wrongness of premarital sex and contraception. Here, though, we’ve been as much at the mercy of our allies as of our opponents; those of us who have managed to connect all the dots are part of a rather tiny minority.
But Mona Charen (H/T to Mark Stricherz of CatholicVote.org) argues that we’re looking in the wrong direction. Divorce rates and general marital happiness measures have been fairly stable over the last twenty years. However, social scientists are seeing an increasing marriage gap that mirrors the effects of the wealth gap. Kay Hymowitz, among others, argues in Marriage and Caste (2006) has argued that “We are becoming a nation of separate and unequal families that threatens to last into the foreseeable future.”
The statistics are familiar [Charen writes]. In 1970, 85.2 percent of children under 18 lived in a two-parent family. In 2005, it was 68.3 percent and dropping. Forty percent of births in America are to unwed parents. Broken down by ethnic group, the figures are 30 percent among whites, 50 percent for Hispanics and 70 percent for blacks.
It just gets worse from there. Single mothers who have their children prior to wedlock are more likely to divorce than women who wait until after marriage. Blended families are more likely to end in divorce than average. Parents who cohabit before marriage are more likely to split up than those who don’t; the “try before you buy” idea doesn’t necessarily work. Social support of single parents costs the American taxpayers $112 billion just in direct payments, not to mention extra costs in child care, special education, and Medicare and Medicaid for older unmarrieds.
And keep in mind, this is fifty years after the introduction of the Pill, thirty-eight years after Roe v. Wade; these numbers don’t even take into the account the emotional and social costs wrought by over fifty million abortions.
Furthermore, successful marriage is connected with education; adults with at least some college, especially a baccalaureate, are more likely to remain together for the duration of childrearing, as are parents with more than two children. By contrast, children of divorced and single parents are less likely to go on to college than are children whose parents remain married, with the resulting effect that they’re less likely to climb out of poverty and less likely to marry or remain married. Moreover, the spiraling costs of college education means that a bachelor’s degree is beginning once again to climb out of poor children’s reach.
None of this is to correct or dispute anything Messrs. Carlin, Greydanus, Marshall and Zmirak have said. Rather, it’s to give a fuller picture; the growing inequality between rich and poor, aided by the business owners’ willingness to support whatever social policies stand to make them money (or at least cost them nothing directly), has contributed significantly to the development of this nascent caste system.
The battles we’ve been fighting — abortion, pornography, in vitro fertilization, etc. — have all been connected; yet we’ve been fighting a defensive war since the 1960’s. Our opponents have been fighting a largely coordinated war on a mostly shared, consistent set of principles and tactics; we, on the other hand, have been fighting piecemeal with pick-me-up allies, little to no communication and no overall strategy. As Robert E. Lee told James Longstreet (in the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels and its movie incarnation Gettysburg), “The logical end of defensive warfare is surrender.”
As long as the main mass of our country has a distorted and ill-informed sexual value system, traditional marriage will continue its downhill plunge, condemning greater numbers of our people to unrelenting poverty. The proper defense of traditional marriage then should be a focus on reforging the connections and re-educating people on a healthy and sane sexuality that respects natural law and human dignity.
To this end, we need to get our Protestant brothers and sisters, our natural allies, “on message”; if we convert them and reunite with them in no other respect, we must do it on this set of issues. This means we must preach the pro-life story from the beginning and in its entirety, using natural-law principles and our wealth of backing scientific data as our foundation, and building our understanding of historic (not to use the “t” word) Christian sexual ethics on top of that bedrock.
This also means we stress that the so-called “realism” of the “people are gonna do it anyway” argument is not only fatal to authentic Christian witness but implicit permission for people to be sexually stupid, that it’s not all right to sin as long as you’re careful about it or as long as you feel some vague emotion that makes the sex less mechanical.
Above all, we must abandon the notion that we’re defending the present system, because the present system is already rotting and dying of cancer. Rather, we must set about the harder, longer yet more hopeful task of reviving traditional marriage.