Building the next generation of leaders for marriage, family, and sexual integrity

Frequently Asked Questions: Marriage

What is marriage?

Marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. It is based on the reality that a man and a woman are necessary for reproduction and that children need a father and a mother. Marriage brings together a man and a woman to be committed to each other as husband and wife and together committed to their children as father and mother.

What does sex have to do with marriage?

Sexual intercourse is the physical expression of the reality of marriage. It unites a man and woman not just sexually and physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Therefore, sex is both a symbol and expression of the union man and woman consent to in marriage. For this reason, sex is called the “marital act” and has for centuries been required by common law to make a marriage legally binding. The same is not true of other non-procreative sex acts. Sex outside of marriage is problematic because the act of sex communicates a level of intimacy and union that is not actually present in the relationship.

What are the consequences of redefining marriage?

Redefining marriage hurts children. Research shows how children suffer from the absence of a mother or father, whether from unwed childbearing or divorce. Mothers and fathers have important and distinct roles to play in their children’s lives. Redefining marriage renders either the mother or the father as disposable, and shifts attention away from the child’s wellbeing, favoring the emotions of adults over the needs of children. Redefining marriage also has two significant consequences. As children suffer from a weakening marriage culture, welfare programs will grow and government will intervene more in families. Redefining marriage also jeopardizes the religious liberty of those individuals, businesses, and programs that hold more traditional views on the family.

Can’t marriage be whatever we say it is?

For millennia people around the world have recognized the joining of one man and one woman in an exclusive and lifelong union as something special and set apart. For millennia this unique institution has been publically recognized for its value to society and to the upbringing of the next generation. This institution is marriage. Even if we redefine the word “marriage” in the U.S., it does not change the reality that the union of a man and woman is distinctly different than the relationship of two people of the same sex.

Hasn’t divorce already harmed the institution you’re trying to preserve?

Yes, no-fault divorce has harmed the institution of marriage. No-fault divorce shifted attention away from the well-being of children and made marriage about the emotional attachments and feelings of consenting adults. As a result, the divorce rate rose, leading to more broken families and greater risk for children. Protections for children in marriage law also weakened substantially in the wake of the no-fault divorce revolution.

The redefinition of marriage is the natural consequence of the logic of no-fault divorce. That marriage has been harmed by divorce and its recent redefinition does not remove the need to defend and promote marriage as the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. Society and especially children have much to gain from a strong marriage culture.

Shouldn’t same-sex partners get the same marriage benefits as others?

We do not need to redefine marriage in order to address questions of social benefits. These concerns can and should be addressed through specific policies.

Are you saying gay parents can’t love and provide for a child?

Gay parents are capable of loving a child unconditionally and providing for that child. But however much the gay couple loves that child, it is still denying that child of either a mother or a father. And children have a right to know and be known by the mother and father whose love brought them into the world, and they do best when raised by their married mother and father. There is no substitute for this fundamental need.

What does the research say about what’s best for a child?

Children do best when raised by a mother and a father who are committed to each other in marriage and who are together committed to the children their marriage produces. The research demonstrates this for a variety of different outcomes: emotional health, physical health, economic stability, educational achievement, avoidance of risky and delinquent behaviors, etc. Research on same-sex parenting is a matter of ongoing debate, and should not have a disproportionate effect on our treatment of marriage.

How would the marriage of a same-sex couple affect that of a man and woman? What’s the harm?

Marriage is a social institution. Redefining marriage affects everyone because it teaches that marriage is about the emotional attachments of adults as opposed to the well-being and needs of children. Children benefit from a strong marriage culture. Men and women, husbands and wives also benefit from a strong marriage culture because it reinforces the value of the promises they made to each other.

Why shouldn’t everyone be able to marry the person they love?

The State does not have an interest in the personal emotions and loves of its citizens. And the State would be overstepping its bounds to regulate human love. Everyone is and should remain free to love as they choose. The State has an interest in the well-being of children, and it is because of children that the State has historically been interested in marriage.

Every policy about marriage has to draw some line based on a certain principle. It is completely reasonable for marriage policy to draw a line based on the principle that marriage is rooted in the sexual complementarity of men and women. Without this principle, there is no consistent argument preventing multiple redefinitions of marriage. If marriage is simply about love, then why restrict marriage to two people, or why not let celibate family members marry each other? Why does a marriage relationship need be sexual at all? The most sound policy is that which is based on the enduring principle that marriage exists to unite one man and one woman as husband and wife, who can together be father and mother to their children.

If marriage is about children, then what about couples that don’t have children?

It is true that some couples do not or cannot have children, but this is the exception to the rule. Furthermore, every child does have a natural mother and a father, and every child has a basic need for their father and mother to raise them. Public policy should be based on this fact, not on those who are childless whether by choice or not.

Has the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges settled the marriage question?

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has not settled the marriage question anymore than Roe v. Wade settled the abortion question decades ago. The Supreme Court should have ruled to preserve the right of the people to vote on marriage policy at the State level. The meaning of marriage remains a highly debated question over which the country is deeply divided. Five unelected Supreme Court justices should not decide marriage policy for the entire country, silencing the great number of people who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

How does marriage serve the common good?

Marriage serves the common good in many ways. First and foremost, it binds a man and wife together as husband and wife to be a father and mother to the children their union produces. Children benefit from being raised by their mother and father, and society benefits when children do well. Furthermore, married people tend to be happier, healthier, and wealthier than their unmarried peers. Society flourishes when we have a strong marriage culture.

What makes for a successful and happy marriage?

When a couple gets married, they typically pledge to one another the exclusive and permanent nature of their love: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad…all the days of my life.” So a successful marriage would be one that lives out the vows of exclusivity and lifelong commitment. Undoubtedly, couples may have different ideas of what qualifies as a “happy” marriage. However, some level of happiness should be found in living out the vows of marriage. Additionally, a marriage could be made more or less “happy” by other factors such as the couple’s openness and communication with each other, their ability to problem-solve and resolve conflicts together, their spirit of service and effort to put the other person first, their level of commitment to the marriage, and their general attitude. Couples do well when they realize that the quality of their marriage depends on the effort they put into it.

Is there an ideal age to get married?

While individuals may have their ideal age for getting married, there is no generally recognized ideal. Roughly speaking, the median age of marriage for women is 27 and for men is 29, but a wide range exists with many couples either marrying in their early twenties or not until their mid-thirties. The circumstances influencing an individual’s or a couple’s readiness for marriage are complex, but there are a few important factors that anyone interested in getting married someday should consider.

Marriage as a capstone vs marriage as a foundation: Today, marriage is often postponed for the sake of other priorities such as higher education, professional advancement, and economic stability. There is the belief that it is irresponsible to “marry young” and risk distracting oneself from other important goals. In these cases, marriage is seen as the capstone event that follows other life achievements. This differs from the view that marriage is not a crowning achievement but a foundation. Just as other close friendships or family relationships ground an individual and provide the support and perspective one needs for personal and professional growth, so too can marriage provide a foundation for success. In fact, research shows marriage to have a positive effect on an individual’s health and wealth, and certainly on any children of the couple.

Biological clock: It can be hard to hear, but time is not on women’s side with the delayed age of marriage. One’s twenties remain the ideal biological time for having children, and since children do best when raised by their married mother and father, one could argue that the twenties remain the ideal age for marriage as well. Reproductive technologies and family planning programs exist to help couples (young and old) achieve pregnancy, but many are expensive or go against the consciences and beliefs of men and women. Those whose life goals include getting married and having children would do best to get serious about marriage sooner rather than later.

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