I recieved an e-mail in response to "And Tom, your question is ..."
, a reflection on the purpose of marriage: "It is not contradictory for me to say both "being there" and openness to procreation are key elements of marriage. Marriage isn't "essentially" about procreation in the sense of "strictly"; but it is "essentially" about procreation in the sense that they can't be separated without real consequences.
I am not sure exactly what distinction he was drawing between to "essentially, but not strictly" as opposed to "essentially", so I won't comment about his view until I know more.
But let me be clear about what I believe.
I do not think that civil marriage is or should be tied to procreation, in the sense that civil marriage should be reserved for couples with ability or intent to procreate. But I do think that while procreation and childrearing is largely unlinked from civil marriage in our society, civil marriage is critical to childrearing and couples who procreate and raise children should do so in civil marriages.
To put it into shorthand, children are not essential to civil marriage, but civil marriage is essential for children.Children are not essential to civil marriage ...
Let me look at the first half of this couplet, the proposition that children are not essential to civil marriage.
I don't think that civil marriage should be tied to sexual activity. I don't think that ability or intention to "consumate the marriage" should be a precondition to civil marriage. As far as I am concerned, each couple can decide for themselves, whether or not to consummate a civil marriage -- Jackie Kennedy Onassis, apparently, chose not to do so, for example, and I think that her marriage to Aristotle Onassis was a real marriage. And each couple can decide, at any point during a civil marriage, as far as I am concerned, to be celibate, if they so choose, as many couples do. And so on. I think that we should tie civil marriage to lifelong commitment, not to sex.
And I don't think that civil marriage should be tied to procreation, either. I think that couples who cannot or choose not to have children should have the opportunity to marry, that our society benefits from marriages without children, and that our society should provide the same protection and support to those couples as to couples who can and intend to have children. I think that we should tie civil marriage to lifelong commitment, not to procreation.
As we do, of course. I did not point out the 1622 Book of Common Law marriage vows ("... to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part ...
") or the laws relating to civil marriage in our country out of whimsy or mischief. I think that the vows and laws come from the same wellspring, a long, deep tradition concerning marriage in Western society, that holds that marriage is essentially about lifelong commitment, not about procreation.
We quite reasonably expect, in the normal course, that most younger heterosexual couples who enter into civil marriage can have children and probably will. But many will not. Our society does not impose a fertility test with respect to civil marriage, and permits obviously infertile couples to be married.
And the simple fact is that our culture takes joy in both kinds of civil marriage, and this has been the case for untold centuries.
When an aging couple marries, we don't say "Well, they are tearing at the foundations of marriage because they can't procreate, but we have to let you do it, I guess ...". Instead we say "Good for you! Congratulations! I hope you will enjoy many happy years together!" And we mean it. We celebrate civil marriages where the couple has no possibility of procreating.
And we do not, in our culture, say of long-term childless civil marriages, "Oh, they should be condemned for tearing at the foundations of marriage because they didn't procreate ..." or even "They don't have a real marriage ..." We might say, "How sad that they were not able to have children ...", but we all recognize the reality of their civil marriage, and we celebrate its longevity and worth as an example to married couples. We say "Congratulations!" on each anniversary. And we mean it.
If marriage were essentially about procreation, it seems to me, we would not do so. But we do.
And the reason, as everyone knows, is that while marriage will for most heretosexual younger couples involve procreation sooner or later, marriage is also, for them as well as those who cannot or choose not to procreate, about happiness, security, safety, prosperity, good health, caregiving, personal growth, sex and love -- the many ways in which couples mutually support one another to create something that is greater than either of them alone.
And is obvious to me, as well, that our society has a stake in childless civil marriages. We have a stake because the happiness, security, safety, prosperity, good health, caregiving, personal growth, sex and love that we hope for all married couples returns a benefit to the larger society if, when and to the extent that couples realize our hopes for them. Married couples live longer, are healthier, get into less trouble with the law and relieve society of a huge burden by acting as each other's primary caregivers.
I don't agree with the proposition that "procreation is essential to civil marriage". If that is what you mean when you speak about marriage being "essentially about procreation
", then we disagree, and sharply.Marriage is essential for children ...
I think, on the other hand, that we have separated marriage from childrearing in our society, and are suffering real consequences as a result. Negative, serious consequences that threaten our future.
The separation that concerns me, however, is not that we continue to celebrate marriages of fertile and infertile couples alike, as human beings always have, but because we no longer insist on a basic cultural norm: "If you want to have children, get married; if you have children, stay married.
As I look around the wreckage of our culture, I see what everyone else sees. Fewer and fewer people are getting married. Fewer and fewer people who get married stay married for any length of time. About a third of our children are born out of wedlock. A majority of our children are not being raised by both biological parents in marriage any more, but instead by single parents or by parents in second third or fourth marriages or fifth marriages.
At some level, this is unavoidable, of course. As long as human beings have been on the planet, I suppose, children have been born out of wedlock, parents died before their children were raised, husbands and wive have run out on marriages, and so on. But the level of non-marriage and broken marriage in our society (reflecting western culture, generally) seems to be remarkably high, and increasing. And it seems that this is also true for the number of children being conceived out of wedlock, assuming that you lump live births and abortions together. And, given the temporary state of most marriages in our country, we are at a point where less than half of our children are being raised by both biological parents.
This is, in my view, obviously destructive. I can't imagine anyone who looks at our society thinking otherwise.
The available studies about the welfare of our children, support my instinctive recoil.
I offer the studies with caution, because they may be showing differences that might or might not be directly related to the family structure. Many factors -- the turmoil of divorce or death of a parent, the age of the child when the child's family situation stabilized, and so on -- affect the well being of children in various family structures, so I think we have to approach the studies with real caution, using them as indicators and not necessarily as fact.
But for what they are worth, the studies strongly suggest that children raised in stable homes in which both biological parents are present and married do best. Next best are children being raised by stable, married couples, even if one of the couple is not a biological parent, and children being raised raised by gay and lesbian couples who, although not married, have been together for the long term, a decade or more. On the other hand, children who are raised by straight unmarried couples do not do nearly as well, even if the couple are the the biological parents. And quite a way down the scale are children being raised by single parents.
Again, I note the need for caution. But it seems to me, on whole, that these studies suggest that the more stable the family in which a child is raised, the better off the child. And it seems to me, on the whole, that marriage -- or a marriage equivalent, in the case of gay and lesbian parents who are in long-term, stable, commited relationships -- makes a difference.
I note, again, that it is important to approach the studies with caution. The fact that children seem to do significantly less well when raised by single parents than by couples may be as much related to the demands made on the time of single parents by having to balance work and home, as much as from the single parent structure. It might well be -- we don't know -- that single parents, if relieved of the obligation to work long hours by government support, would do as well as couples. The reason I note this is that children raised by single parents in Belgium, where single parents are given support by an extensive and child-friendly societal support system, seem to do nearly as well as children raised by couples.
Our culture has clearly got something wrong, something upside down, on a national scale.
I don't want to sound like the grumpy old man that I am, but it was not this way when I was young. We held to the idea that "If you want to have children, get married; if you have children, stay married ...
" in those days. I think that it made a difference. We no longer believe that people who have kids should be married. I think that change in attitude is the core problem.
But we don't provide much support for marriages, either, in the way that we used to do. We don't expect people to stay married when they get married, and we don't offer support when the marriages get into trouble, as almost all marriages will, sooner or later, the way we used to do. We no longer, I think, care all that much about marriage.
I'd like to see that change. We are not insisting on either "If you want to have children, get married ...
" or "If you have children, stay married ...
" We should. We need to insist once again, as a norm in our culture, the idea that marriage is essential to childrearing, and the idea that parents should get married and stay married.Opposition to same-sex marriage is destructive to marriage ...
As I think about marriage and children, and how important it seems to be to for children to be raised by married parents, I cannot help but observe that the loud and vehement opposition of social conservatives to same-sex marriage is both anti-marriage and anti-child, no matter how much social conservatives hide that fact behind "pro-marriage" and "pro-family" labels.
About two million kids are being raised by gay and lesbian parents in our country, based on conservative estimates from the 2000 Census data. All of these kids are being raised outside of marriages.
Social conservatives tell kids that their parents should NOT be married. No way, no how.
The social conservatives claim "Marriage is important for kids ...
" But that is not what they mean, no matter what they say. What they mean is "Marriage is important for kids with straight parents, but not for kids with gay and lesbian parents ...
And because they do, social conservatives are saying either "We don't really mean that marriage is important for kids ...
" or "We really mean that marriage is important for kids, but the kids of gay and lesbian parents, don't count ...
" Either way, social conservatives are ripping apart the "pro-marriage" or "pro-family" case they claim is so critical a foundation for our society's well being.
I suspect that our straight kids hear the message. But it is a very different message than "If you want to have children, get married; if you have children, stay married.
The message social conservatives send to our straight kids is much closer to "We aren't concerned about the connection between marriage and children ...
" Why? Because social conservative say that marriage is important only to some kids, not all kids.
When social conservatives say that there is no connection between marriage and children for gays and lesbians -- that it is more important to stop gays and lesbians from being married than it is for their children to be raised by gay and lesbian married couples -- why should our straight kids think that there is a connection between marriage and children when it comes to their own kids?
Either children benefit from the stability of marriage or they don't. Social conservatives send a message that they don't.
"If you want to have children, get married; if you have children, stay married.
I believe in marriage. And I believe in it for everyone. And I believe that kids should be raised in marriages. And I believe it for every kid.Unlike
the President of the United States.Unlike
And don't think that our kids miss the message.