For awhile now I’ve have a two-part view on gay marriage:
(1) The government should get out of marriage entirely, leaving individuals to sign contracts amongst themselves as they see fit — and churches can decide which contracts to dignify with a ceremony.
(2) If the government must recognize marriages, it must do so on behalf of the people it represents. Those people don’t want gay marriage as of now.
Regarding part 2, Rick Santorum has the best argument: The government doesn’t recognize marriage for the good of those getting married; it recognizes marriage because it’s the best mechanism for perpetuating our society. (Some counter that, following from that, we should ban childless heterosexual marriage. I responded to that in an American Spectator piece.)
Well, it seems Americans don’t see their own marriages this way: A new survey reports that fewer and fewer of them view children as important to a marriage — though they report their children give them personal fulfillment, and of course that’s the most important thing!
Adults of all ages consider unwed parenting to be a big problem for society. At the same time, however, just four-in-ten (41%) say that children are very important to a successful marriage, compared with 65% of the public who felt this way as recently as 1990.
Children may be perceived as less central to marriage, but they are as important as ever to their parents. As a source of adult happiness and fulfillment, children occupy a pedestal matched only by spouses and situated well above that of jobs, career, friends, hobbies and other relatives.
Also, this very interesting tidbit on race:
Blacks are much less likely than whites to marry and much more likely to have children outside of marriage. However, an equal percentage of both whites and blacks (46% and 44%, respectively) consider it morally wrong to have a child out of wedlock. Hispanics, meantime, place greater importance than either whites or blacks do on children as a key to a successful marriage â€“ even though they have a higher nonmarital birth rate than do whites.
No matter what this says for the “our government recognizes marriage for the sake of children” argument, it’s downright scary that when asked what makes a marriage work, only 41 percent mention children, down 24 percent since 1990. It lost out to “faithfulness,” “happy sexual relationship,” “sharing household chores,” “adequate income,” “good housing,” “shared religious beliefs” and “shared tastes and interests.”
I suppose I should note, though, is that the question wasn’t “what do you hope to get out of a marriage?” It was “what makes a marriage work?” Since plenty of people have great marriages without kids — and few have great marriages while they’re cheating on each other or broke — it’s arguable that the new rankings fit the available facts about marriage better.
Blog: Robert VerBruggen