By Chris Albright
In the United States of America today, two things are true which have never been true before: 1) a clear majority of citizens under 30 believe that marriage should be redefined as the union of any two persons; 2) more than 50% of children born to women under 30 are born to unmarried women, and a large percentage of these children will never know their fathers or will have only a tangential relationship with them. These are not unrelated statistics.
A belief that marriage should be redefined as the union of any two persons requires a number of other beliefs as well, which beliefs are promoted by the new definition, and are directly opposed to and different from those beliefs promoted by traditional marriage. Among the new messages sent by redefined marriage are these two: 1) Fathers are not particularly essential or important to children, as a father has nothing unique to offer a child which that child could not receive from a second female parent. 2) Mothers are not particularly essential or important to children, as a mother has nothing unique to offer a child which that child could not receive from a second male parent.
Neither message is healthy. But the threat which redefined marriage poses to fatherhood is far greater than the threat which it poses to motherhood, and it is therefore message one, about the unimportance of fathers, which is of greater concern in a society which redefines marriage. This is the case for two related reasons. First of all, the ideal of bonded and involved motherhood has a natural and biological basis, as mothers naturally bond with and are identified with their children through the processes of pregnancy, birth, and other natural processes in a manner which renders the concept of motherhood largely immune from and impervious to threats from otherwise disruptive social trends, and which means that the concept of motherhood simply does not require the same degree of social and cultural fostering and protection as does fatherhood. The ideal of bonded and involved fatherhood (that is to say, the idea that fatherhood matters, and fathers need to play an ongoing role in their children’s lives after conception), is, in contrast to the concept of motherhood, a much more fragile idea, with little basis in nature and biology, and which must therefore instead be fostered and protected by various social, legal, cultural and religious mores and notions. Redefining marriage can do little to threaten the natural and biological basis for motherhood, but a society which teaches that fatherhood is not essential and that children do not need fathers, will soon find itself devastating the ideal of fatherhood. The second reason redefined marriage is a bigger threat to fatherhood than to motherhood is related to the first, in that, based on the biological factors discussed above, the math will simply work out in such a way that message (1), about the unimportance of fathers, will be conveyed much more frequently than message (2), about the unimportance of mothers, in a genderless marriage society.
In Canada, where same-sex marriage has now been in place for nearly a decade, 80% of married same-sex households with children in the home are female couples. This should surprise no one. Two women whose relationship is treated as a marriage and who want to have a child or children which they raise together as though both of them were the parents will have the means to do so readily at hand. One or both of the women can become pregnant through artificial insemination or other means from a sperm donor and then the two women can raise the child(ren) as their own. Two men who want to raise a child together as their own will need to find a child whose mother is willing to have it adopted. This will not be as readily available an option.
A mother will always and inevitably have a major role to play in determining the fate of her newborn child. This is not always the case for the child’s father, let alone non-fathers who would like to adopt. Hence, just as the vast majority of single parents actively involved in raising their children are single mothers, the vast majority of same-sex couples raising children will be two-female couples not two-male couples. Accordingly, the ideal which will take the bigger hit from our society’s promotion of same-sex parenting (just as the ideal which took the bigger hit from our society’s earlier promotion of single parenting) will be the ideal of fatherhood, not the ideal of motherhood.
When sociologists refer to the “breakdown of the family” which has occurred in many American communities over the past 5 decades, what they are typically describing is the rise of an increasingly common new form of matriarchal family structure, in which fatherless children are raised by husbandless mothers. Redefined marriage will bring us more such homes as a society which defines marriage as the union of any two persons explicitly and implicitly teaches a society’s young men, fathers aren’t essential in the lives of their children. This message, which is absolutely essential to redefine marriage, has and will inevitably continue to spill over into heterosexual relationships.
In the United States, the first judicial decision to require the definition of marriage be changed was issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The dissenting opinion noted as follows:
“The institution of marriage provides the important legal and normative link between heterosexual intercourse and procreation on the one hand and family responsibilities on the other. The partners in a marriage are expected to engage in exclusive sexual relations, with children the probable result and paternity presumed. . . . Whereas the relationship between mother and child is demonstratively and predictably created and recognizable through the biological process of pregnancy and childbirth, there is no corresponding process for creating a relationship between father and child.
Similarly, aside from an act of heterosexual intercourse nine months prior to childbirth, there is no process for creating a relationship between a man and a woman as the parents of a particular child. The institution of marriage fills this void by formally binding the husband-father to his wife and child, and imposing on him the responsibilities of fatherhood. . . . The alternative, a society without the institution of marriage, in which heterosexual intercourse, procreation, and child care are largely disconnected processes, would be chaotic.” Goodridge v. Dep’t of Pub. Health, 798 N.E.2d 941, 995-96 (Mass. 2003) (Cordy, J., dissenting) (Emphasis added).
As stated in Marriage and the Law, a Statement of Principles (A Call to the Nation from Family and Legal Scholars) Institute for Marriage and Public Policy (Institute for American Values 2006) (hereafter “Statement of Principles”) available at www.marriagedebate.com.
“The law of marriage protects children to the extent that it succeeds in getting men and women to have and raise their children together. Because women are connected to their children naturally, through the process of gestation and birth, marriage is especially important for effectively connecting children to fathers, not only satisfying more children’s longing for a loving father, but creating more equal distribution of parenting burdens between men and women.”
The decreasing numbers of children being born into homes with a married father is a tragedy, because fatherhood matters. It matters to children, who are shown by every available statistic to be far more likely to thrive if they have a father in the home than if they don’t have one. It matters to women, who are likewise shown by relevant statistics to be far less likely to live in poverty if they are living with a husband than if they are living without one. It matters for society, which suffers ill effects when it fails to socialize and civilize its young men through marriage and fatherhood, as demonstrated by spiking crime rates in those parts of India and China where sex-selective abortions have distorted natural sex ratios and led to an excess of unmarried young men.
Perhaps most of all, fatherhood matters to the men themselves who will step up to becoming a father if society tells them they need to do so as a societal expectation, thereby giving them a meaningful purpose and identity for their lives. As the Statement of Principles indicates: “A growing acceptance of fatherlessness as ‘normal’ promotes a dehumanized vision of men and masculinity. Children long for their fathers as well as their mothers. This longing emerges so early, and for many children with such intensity, that it is hard to dismiss as a mere ‘social construct.’
Men also need and want a vision of masculinity that affirms the indispensable role of good family men in protecting, providing for, and nurturing children, as well as in caring for and about their children’s mother. A culture that no longer expects most men to become reliable fathers and husbands promotes a degraded vision of masculinity to men and about men, one deeply at odds with the human dignity of men and women and with the needs of children.”
The social institution of marriage as traditionally defined thus helps all four groups as it says to young men, fathers matter in the lives of their children, and fatherhood is a socially important role we expect the men in our society to embrace, therefore, we need you to become civilized, and channel your sexual impulses into a responsible and committed relationship, so you can provide for your children. Marriage redefined as genderless doesn’t do that. Rather, a society which defines marriage as the union of any two persons explicitly and implicitly teaches a society’s young men, you don’t matter in the lives of your children, as a male father has nothing of unique value to offer a child. So feel free to participate in sexual promiscuity in non-committed relationships and don’t take responsibility for any children that arise therefrom, because fatherhood isn’t really necessary or essential in this world. In fact, says marriage as the union of any two persons, the idea that fatherhood matters may not be legally promoted by government and should be socially condemned and stigmatized as bigotry when advocated by individuals. This is a recipe for destroying one of society’s most important ideals.
Given how important fatherhood is to children, to women, to men themselves, and to society as a whole, no society should be quick to support a fundamental change in the definition of marriage which has the effect of proclaiming that a father has nothing of unique value to offer a child, and there is nothing essentially important about striving to ensure, as far as possible, that every child has a father. That is the message which marriage, when redefined as the union of any two persons, sends. It is the opposite of the message sent by traditional marriage (thereby undercutting one of the few legitimate reasons for marriage to be recognized and thereby promoted by government in the first case). And it is a destructive lie.
Chris Albright is a partner with the Las Vegas law firm of Albright Stoddard Warnick & Albright where he practices commercial litigation. Chris is one of the attorneys representing the Nevada Coalition for the Protection of Marriage.
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