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Why marriage is good

DALLAS (BP)–Just for fun, my husband sat me down the other night and asked me some pre-marriage questions from a book, “Getting to ‘Really Know’ Your Life-Mate-to Be, by Bobb and Cheryl Biehl.

Examples were:

— “Who do you think is responsible to do the following work around the home: Car repairs? Cooking? Fixing things? House cleaning?”

— “Who will balance the monthly bank statement?”

— “How do you feel about birth control?”

Some questions weren’t so easy, though. One asked, “How would you improve on either one of our social lives?” Hmm.

The exercise was fun and it got me thinking about how satisfying a good marriage is. In response to one of my Baptist Press columns (“Going Beyond Same Sex Marriage,” Aug. 17, 2006) I was e-mailed some thoughtful questions from a homosexual reader. One question challenged my contention that bringing homosexual couples into the marriage equation would result in the “deconstruction” of marriage and would remove something good and positive from the society. My critic argued that those of us in the battle to retain the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman have the singular goal of denying rights to same-sex couples, and that our efforts do nothing to “protect” and “defend” marriage and families.

As a matter of fact, he said, our efforts are accomplishing the exact opposite. Protecting the definition of marriage, in his view, prevents homosexual couples from “building a life and family” together. I am prevented from using biblical arguments in response to this critique because, according to the reader, any religion’s definition of marriage is completely separate from these “civil marriage rights.” My friend complained that the only way he can get the society to grant him certain “support” or “rights” is to fall in love with a woman and marry her, a scenario he describes as not even remotely possible.

But he has the wrong view of the purpose of marriage. The rationale for marriage is not so people can share in each other’s insurance and retirement benefits. It’s not about inheriting someone’s property or social security check. And, as compelling as the argument sounds, hospital visitation and end-of-life decision privileges are not core reasons to get married. (I don’t remember considering any of these things when I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal.) Arrangements can be made to bestow many of the benefits of marriage on another person. That, though, is beside the point.

Benefits are conferred upon married couples because marriage is important to society. Although the benefits of marriage certainly encourage marriage, they are not its purpose. The “marriage equality” argument says everyone is owed these benefits. That argument would have some merit in a purely socialist economy. In fact, the European governments that allow “gay marriage” or have marriage benefits for cohabiting couples, are now funding expensive programs to deal with the fallout.

Marriage is privileged because of the tremendous impact for good the institution has on the culture. Marriage, with its uniquely positive environment for procreation and the rearing of children, is worth maintaining for the perpetuation of society and the future of the nation. That’s why it is not simply a religious institution, but is protected in our body of law.

Attorney Glen Lavy of the Alliance Defense Fund handles marriage cases for the Alliance Defense Fund. In an article posted on Townhall.com, he critiqued last fall’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision in which the plaintiffs, in his words, “successfully argued that the state’s first obligation is to underwrite the romantic inclinations of its adults, rather than protect its children.” Three other top courts (the New York high court, the Washington state Supreme court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit) got it right, he says, when they held that government’s interest in the relationship between two loving individuals is derived from “the likelihood of that relationship producing children.”

Certainly, some homosexual couples raise children and, as my e-mail critic reminded me, those children “are part of the next generation.” But governments should not adopt radical changes in laws that benefit the society as a whole to accommodate atypical circumstances. National policy should be informed by the evidence — buttressed by countless studies — showing children do best physically, emotionally and educationally when living with both biological parents. Admittedly, increasing numbers of children are living outside the ideal, but the answer is to encourage the creation of that environment, not to undermine it.

A recent Washington Post story points out the sad fact that fewer children are living in families with their married biological parents than ever before. Divorce contributes to this situation, as does heterosexual cohabitation, which is on the rise. One-third of first births to white women occur out of wedlock; three-quarters of first births among black women take place outside of wedlock. These trends have terrible consequences for the next generation and will cost society dearly. The solution is to strengthen and encourage marriage to cope with these problems — not to dilute the institution by redefining it as a package of benefits.

The attempt to amend the United States Constitution to protect marriage is on hold in the current congressional atmosphere. The battles over marriage continue in the states, and some of the ideas being floated are alarming:

A state legislator in Maine has introduced a bill to strip the clergy of the right to sign marriage licenses, essentially separating state-sanctioned marriage from religious ceremonies.

In New Mexico, lawmakers are looking at a proposal that would remove the words “bride” and “groom” from marriage licenses, and according to legislative analysts, replace these terms with “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2.” And legislation is likely to pass in Washington state that will grant domestic partnership benefits to cohabitating homosexuals and seniors. Meanwhile, pro-family North Carolinians are facing some tough opposition in their attempt to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Societies thrive or fade based upon how they structure their marriage and family policy. Marriage is not a private relationship. It is profoundly public, and the quality of the culture and future of the nation ride on the outcome of the ongoing struggle to protect it.
Penna Dexter is a board of trustee member with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a conservative activist and an announcer on the syndicated radio program “Life on the Line” (information available at www.lifeontheline.com). She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a co-host of “Jerry Johnson Live,” a production of Criswell Communications. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux’s “Point of View” syndicated radio program.

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  • Penna Dexter