Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why Government Should Protect Traditional Marriage

The problem with the same-sex marriage debate is that nobody (or almost nobody) is making the right argument.

On one side of the issue we have those who advocate for same-sex marriage, claiming that heterosexuals have the right to marry whoever they want and homosexuals should be allowed that also, out of fairness. On the other side you have people saying that homosexuality is a sin and thus should not be allowed. Both sides are making flawed arguments.

The problem with claiming that homosexuality is a sin is that whether or not it is a sin is irrelevant to making law. We live in a secular country, not a theocracy, and we don’t make everything that is wrong illegal – nor should we. Coveting, lust, and not remembering the Sabbath are sins, but I think we all agree that making and enforcing laws against these things would be bad. 

In this country, laws are based on the concept of inalienable rights (also known as human rights or natural rights) – rights that all people have by virtue of being human and which government cannot grant or take away. These principles of inalienable rights are consistent with Christianity, but can stand alone as a justification that all people can agree with. What’s more, they offer an objective means of determining how government should be involved in making law about various issues. 

Before we get into the arguments about same-sex marriage, we need to understand how government handles different behaviors and why. There are only 3 ways that government can treat behaviors. It can prohibit them, permit them, or promote them. 

Because the highest purpose of government is the protection of inalienable rights, government should NOT prohibit behaviors that the people have an inalienable right to engage in. For example, we have the inalienable right to bear arms and thus government should not prohibit gun ownership. Government prohibition of something the people have a right to do creates an unjust law that itself violates inalienable rights. 

On the other hand, government SHOULD prohibit behaviors that violate the rights of others. So, for instance, government must make murder and theft illegal because these behaviors violate inalienable rights. Any violation of inalienable rights should be prohibited by law in order to protect those rights.

However, there are many behaviors that are not a direct violation of inalienable rights. In such cases, government's main purpose (its secondary purpose, if you will) is the good of society. Thus, behaviors which are definitely bad for society should be prohibited while behaviors which are definitely good for society should be promoted. For example, driving very fast in a car may not always violate the inalienable rights of others (it only does if you hurt them or their property), but it is bad for society for people to be driving recklessly, so driving too fast is prohibited. On the other hand, government promotes giving to charity by providing tax incentives for doing so. Of course, it is necessary for the people to consent to any laws that limit their freedom through their representatives in government. But these are good laws that the people can pass on themselves for the good of society as long as the laws do not violate anyone's inalienable rights. 

The default government position for behaviors is to simply permit them. Before a behavior can be prohibited, it is necessary to prove one of two things. You either have to prove that the behavior violates someone's rights OR you have to prove that it is bad for society and that prohibiting it does not violate anyone's rights. You can't just decide to prohibit something for no good reason or you violate the right to liberty.  

Similarly, before you can promote a behavior you must prove that it is good for society and that it does not violate anyone's rights. You can't just go around promoting behaviors without good reason or you are not protecting the interests of society as a whole. 

So that's the background. The question is, what is government's role with regard to different kinds of human relationships? Which behaviors should be prohibited? Which should be promoted? Which should be simply permitted? 

Certainly some types of sexual relationships should be prohibited. Pedophilia, for example, is prohibited because it is harmful to children (and therefore society) and because it violates the inalienable rights of children (who cannot consent to sex). 

Traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been promoted by government since the beginning because it is good for society. A traditional marriage is procreative, producing the next generation of citizens, and also forms a stable environment in which to raise those children, making them more likely to be good and responsible citizens. Thus, stable marriages are in society's best interest and government promotes this ideal by recognizing and protecting the marriage relationship and by providing economic incentives (such as tax breaks) to encourage people to marry and raise children in stable homes. It's an investment in the future. 

In addition to producing the next generation, marriage forms both an economic and a social unit and provides benefits to society in this way as well. Economically, marriage is a wealth-building institution. Married people make more and save more than singles and children of married couples are far less likely to be poor. Socially, marriage is good for all parties – men, women, and children. Married men live longer and are happier and healthier than unmarried men. Women who are married and children who live with their married parents are far less likely to be abused. Children of married couples are more likely to do well in school. These are just a few of the many advantages of marriage to the individuals and to society as a whole. 

By contrast, homosexual relationships do not provide these benefits to society. No logical conservative is advocating that we prohibit same-sex relationships between consenting adults. We don't cart people off to jail for engaging in consensual homosexual acts, nor do we want to. However, because same-sex relationships have not been shown to be a good for society, the proper role of government with respect to same-sex relationships is to simply permit them. Until same-sex relationships can be shown to have the same benefits to society as traditional marriage, we should not promote them.  

Of course, some claim that same-sex couples have a right to marry. The problem with this claim is that there is no such right to marry whoever one wants. If there was such a right, then it would apply to many more than just homosexuals. Pedophiles who want to marry young children, zoophiles who want to marry animals, those who wish to marry close relatives, and those who want to marry multiple people would all have a “right” to do so if there is a right to marry whoever one wishes. I think we all agree that this is not the case. Civilization has always placed restrictions on marriage and it always will. The only question is what the proper restrictions are. 

The thing is, marriage means much more than just two people that love each other or who want to commit to one another. Marriage is a natural unit based on the biology of human reproduction and, most importantly, the needs of children for care and stability. Only a union of a man and a woman can produce children naturally. Every child has just one biological mother and one biological father. And since both parents have equal responsibility for their child’s care, it is only natural that parents would form permanent unions in order to share that care and provide the stable home the child needs. Thus, every society on earth has figured out how to have marriages as individuals form a marriage relationship with another person of the opposite sex in order to raise a family together. There are lots of kinds of sexual relationships (committed or not), but only the permanent, exclusive, and comprehensive union of a man and woman produces a natural family unit. 

Because the natural family is a natural unit, it has natural rights and responsibilities of its own that government should recognize in order to protect those rights. One of those rights, for example, is the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. If there is no such thing as a natural family with its own natural rights, then there is no such thing as parental rights. In such a case, every man, woman, and child is an individual ward of the state and has no natural family ties. This would also mean that parents bring up their children only by permission of government, which may be revoked at any time. In a society that is increasingly denying the existence of the natural family, it is no wonder that parental rights are also under attack.

One of the responsibilities of the natural family is that parents care for their children, providing food, shelter, love, and education. One of the advantages of this arrangement is that both the mother and the father bring different strengths to the parenting table which are both needed by the child. When one is missing, the child will be disadvantaged. 

In addition to these profound reasons that marriage between a man and a woman is important to promote, there is the extremely important issue of children’s rights. One of the rights of children is to be cared for by their parents. Every child deserves to know and live with their biological mother and father. They also deserve to know where they came from and have a sense of their family history. Obviously, in an imperfect world, this doesn’t always happen, but it is an ideal worth holding up and encouraging in our society. That is why promoting traditional marriage is important in order to help as many children as possible to have this ideal in their lives. 

But not only does a same-sex “marriage” not provide this ideal to a child, it actively undermines this ideal by encoding in law that children have no right to both of their parents and that children don’t need both a mother and a father. Thus, not only are children raised in same-sex household purposely deprived of either a mother or a father, but they are being told by the law and by society that they aren’t lacking anything - they have two parents, after all, and there is nothing about those parents’ genders that matters to their upbringing. But this is quite untrue. Children need and deserve both their mother and their father. Thus, same-sex marriage denies children their rightful parents inherently, as part of the design, not merely as a response to unavoidable circumstances as adoption does. And thus elevating same-sex relationships to the status of marriage unavoidably violates the rights of children and should not be made law. 

In conclusion, it is because of the many benefits of traditional marriage to society as well as its intrinsic natural rights that government protects and encourages marriage. Same-sex relationships do not have the same status as marriage because they are intrinsically different relationships. Homosexual relationships are not a natural unit and can produce no children. They thus have no claim to the natural rights that marriage has. Since same-sex unions have not been shown to provide the benefits to society that marriage does, they are not and should not be encouraged the way marriage is. 

Most importantly, in order to protect the rights of children to their mother and father, we must not pretend that same-sex relationships are marriages. We must not encode a vision of the family in our laws that denies children one of their parents as an inherent part of the design. We must uphold the ideal of a married mother and father for every child.


  1. Lindsay, great article and I agree with you 100%. But do you think that we're past being able to effectively make this argument and make a change because we have so egregiously undermined the institution of marriage and distorted our view of sex? By this I mean divorce, birth control, premarital sex, etc. We can make arguments like the one above but it seems to me it will get us no where because of how Christians continue to live our lives. If we're going to get people to understand and accept the truth then we need to show them the beauty of the family (both in our own lives and by supporting others struggling to do the same). The difficulty is that this requires sacrifice which I suspect many Christians are not willing to do.

    1. A restoration of the correct view of marriage involves more than opposing same-sex marriage. It must also involve fighting no-fault divorce and pre-marital sex as well. We need to do all of those.

    2. I stumbled across this article today that reinforces my point (albeit in a more intellectual and coherent way). Even though it was written in 2004 it's ever more applicable today.

      We've got a long way to go if we're going to restore marriage to its rightful place in society.

  2. Great comments. I really have a problem with so-called conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage, the gay agenda, and the like and yet have divorced and remarried (sometimes even several times). Christians need to fully show marriage as the sacred institution that God intended.

  3. One of the problems with these so-called secular arguments against same-sex marriage is the underlying assumption that children need to be raised by a mother and a father who adhere to “traditional” gender roles. This belief is based on religious ideology rather than research. There are many types of “non-traditional” families, and research shows that some types (for example, single-parent families) are more likely to have negative impacts for the children. However, that doesn’t mean all “non-traditional” families negatively affect children. If you actually take the time to look at research on the subject from reputable peer-reviewed journals, studies indicate that having same-sex parents has no impact on psychological adjustment, school performance, or sexual behaviour of the children. In addition, it has also been demonstrated that having same-sex parents has no impact on delinquent behaviour or substance use (references provided at the bottom). In both these studies, it is concluded that “the quality of parent-adolescent relationships better predicts adolescent outcomes than does family type”. In other words, a child with a good a relationship with their same-sex parents is actually better off than a child with a poor relationship with their heterosexual parents. It’s true that research in this area is limited at present, and more studies need to be done before we draw any major conclusions. However, the current evidence suggests that children with same-sex parents are just as happy and healthy as children with heterosexual parents. To assume that children will be negatively impacted by having same-sex parents is largely based on the religious ideology of traditional families and gender roles, and therefore is not a very good secular argument.

    The other problematic aspect of your argument is that it fails to really address where the children raised by same-sex parents are coming from. It’s not as though same-sex couples are taking children away from “traditional” Christian families; most same-sex couples either adopt children, or use a sperm/egg donor. You argue that every child has the right to be raised by a mother and father (which, as previously discussed, is a religious argument rather than a secular one), but the reality is that there are more children to adopt than there are “traditional” Christian families to adopt them. By saying that same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married and adopt children, you’re essentially saying that having two same-sex parents is worse for children than living in an orphanage or foster care. There are plenty of family situations that research has demonstrated to be harmful to children, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, single parents, poverty, malnutrition, neglect, living in foster care, parents with substance abuse problems, etc. Many of these things can happen even in a “traditional” heterosexual Christian family. If you truly believe that children should be raised only in the best possible environment, then wouldn’t it also make sense to ban marriage between people who are poor, as we know that children in poor families tend to be worse-off? There are so many other, more important issues that are negatively affecting children today, and yet most of the Christians I know, either from blogs or in my personal life, choose to fixate on same-sex marriage as the biggest threat to children when there is no evidence to suggest that it is even a problem.

    Wainright, J. L., Russell, S. T., & Patterson, C. J. (2004). Psychosocial adjustment, school outcomes, and romantic relationships of adolescents with same‐sex parents. Child development, 75(6), 1886-1898.

    Wainright, J. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2006). Delinquency, victimization, and substance use among adolescents with female same-sex parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(3), 526.

    1. Unfortunately, your facts are flawed and you don't seem to understand the depth of the problem. Yes, a few studies have shown no difference between homosexual parenting and heterosexual parenting. However, many studies *have* found a difference. Importantly, many of the smaller, non-random, or self-reported studies have shown no difference while larger, randomized, or more objective studies have shown significant differences in child outcomes with different kinds of parenting. Also, some studies which showed no difference compared homosexual parents to single mothers, not to married biological parents. The emerging picture from the studies is that the best environment for children is a home with their married biological mother and father. That's what the science says.

      However, even without these studies, it is evident that same-sex parenting inherently, as part of the design, deprives a child of one or more of his biological parents. Obviously, if children are born into a male-female marriage and then divorce occurs and the custodial parent "marries" a same-sex partner, this is just one way for children to be raised in a same-sex household. In such cases it is obvious that the child is being purposely denied a biological parent.

      But children conceived through sperm or egg donation are also being deprived of a relationship with a biological parent. The studies are showing that this has a marked impact on these children. Many such children have testified that they always longed to know their absent parent, that it has harmed them psychologically, and that being donor-conceived is, in many ways, worse than the death of a parent. Children who lose a parent to death have had a tragic loss. But children whose parent was paid to go away and not be a part of the child's life not only have that same tragic loss, but will always wrestle with the heart-rending question of "Why didn't they want me?"

      You're claiming that my position is that children are worse off with two parents of the same sex than in foster care, but the thing is, my position can allow for children to be adopted by same-sex parents when they don't have other options. Your position, on the other hand, says to these children in same-sex households that they are not deprived in any way when they objectively are. Your position claims that children being raised without one of their biological parents is just as good as a child being raised with both of their biological parents.

      In fact, your position not only does away with biological parenting as the norm, but it tells children that they don't even need a parent of each sex. At least when children are adopted by a husband and wife they have a male role model and a female role model so that they can understand the differences between men and women and learn to relate to both of them. But studies show that men and women parent differently and children need both. Lacking a mother or a father objectively puts children at a disadvantage - whether that occurs through single-parenting or through same-sex parenting.

    2. In order to claim that same-sex parenting is equal to mother-father parenting, you must claim that a mother adds nothing to a child's life that cannot be supplied by a man and that a father adds nothing to a child's life that cannot be supplied by a woman. That's is simply false. It not only runs counter to everything we know about the impact of mothers and fathers on a child's development from the research, but it contradicts our own experience and intuition as well.

      In addition to all these things, studies have shown that same-sex relationships are far less stable than male-female marriages. Thus, children raised in same-sex households are far more likely to experience the break-up of their family and all the upheaval and trauma that entails.

      Also, adoption isn't ideal and everyone knows it, but we have to do what we can for existing children who have been unavoidably separated from one or more of their natural parents. But same-sex marriage and parenting elevates what is clearly not the ideal - a child deprived of one or more biological parents - and makes it legally equal to the actual ideal of married biological parents raising their children. In doing so, it erases the cultural understanding of that real ideal and systematically and inherently deprives children of a parent purposely, not merely due to a tragedy.

      Here are some links for your further study on these issues:

  4. I don't think so low of Marriage and so High of Government to think that the Government could effect my Marriage. I would never get license from the State anyone, I refuse to concede the state authority over my marriage.

    "Thus, behaviors which are definitely bad for society should be prohibited"
    That is why you Fail. That entire concept is entirely subjective anyone and should never be an excuse for anything. The state prohibit nothing that is not a direct violation of another's right. And should Promote nothing.

  5. Excellent and clear-cut explanation as to why same-sex "marriage" never, ever should have been made the law of the land. It is disappointing that our current POTUS has said this is "settled law," and can only hope the fall-out will reverse the thinking of our legislature in the future.. I have thought those opposing same-sex marriage missed the boat-approval of a civil union that affords many of the same benefits (i.e. inheritance, medical record and benefit access, etc.) should have been proffered, but perhaps would still have been pushed aside as not the same thing. Just don't call it "marriage!" - I say.