Last updated on November 18th, 2022 at 03:04 pm
Why is the Witherspoon Institute providing public policy recommendations when marriage is generally a cultural issue?
“Creating…a marriage culture is not a job for the government. Families, religious communities, and civic institutions must point the way. But law and public policy are also teachers; they will either reinforce and support these goals or undermine them. We call upon our nation’s leaders and our fellow citizens to support public policies that strengthen traditional marriage as a social institution.”
In the book the Witherspoon Institute provides eight public policy proposals to restore marriage. First, the authors argue that we must “maintain the legal distinction between married and cohabiting couples.” They write:
“Powerful intellectual institutions in family law, including the American Law Institute, have proposed that America follow the path of many European nations and Canada in erasing the legal distinction between marriage and cohabitation. But since such a shift in law would create further harm by sending a false message to the next generation that marriage itself is irrelevant or secondary, we encourage our legislators to refuse to extend legal marital status to cohabiting couples.”
It wisely notes that since cohabiting couples have refused the obligations imposed by marriage, they should not have the benefits given to marriage in the law.
Second, the books states that we need to “investigate divorce-law reforms.” The authors open up discussion on this point by noting a terrible truth: “Under America’s current divorce system, courts today provide less protection for the marriage contract than they do for an ordinary business contract.” In essence, the contract you have with your employee is more binding than the marriage contract you have with your spouse. The authors propose several divorce-related reforms, including requiring divorcing couples to attend religious or secular pro-marriage counseling sessions before a divorce can be granted, allowing couples to enter into more binding marriage contracts at the outset, giving an innocent spouse a greater share of marital property, and creating secular and religious marriage education programs in communities with high rates of family non-formation or dissolution.
In regard to the argument that the above ideas may keep spouses in an abusive marriage, the authors declare:
“We affirm that protecting Americans from domestic violence and abuse is a critically important goal. But because both children and adults in nonmarital unions are at vastly increased risk for both, encouraging high rates of family fragmentation is not a good strategy for protecting them.”
Third, the book proposes the “end of marriage penalties for low-income Americans.” Indeed, should low-income people in America want to marry, they know that most likely they will lose tens of thousands of dollars in means-tested welfare payments by going the altar—and as a result many of them simply forego marriage. The authors write:
“A recent study found that where there was an anticipated loss of income-tax credit due to a marriage penalty, lower-income women were less likely to marry and more likely to cohabit; thus, financial disincentives are potentially affecting the marriage decisions of millions of low-income women. It is unconscionable that government levies substantial financial penalties on low-income parents who marry.”
Some suggestions made by other organizations in this area include gradually phasing out welfare benefits if a person marries, doubling the means-tested income levels for married couples, and continuing government programs that specifically benefit children such as public health care and school meal programs after a parent marries.
Fourth, the book advocates “protect[ing] and expand[ing] pro-child and pro-family provisions in our tax code.” As the authors write: “The tax code ought to privilege institutions that stabilize society and help those making sacrifices to ensure the next generation.”
Fifth, the authors urge us to “protect the interests of children against a powerful fertility industry.” This industry promotes the interest of adults over children and very often deprives a child from a relationship with (or even knowing) one or both of his biological parents. Under this point the authors propose such things as banning anonymous sperm and egg donations, banning surrogacy, refusing to create fatherless children by holding sperm donors and/or clinics financially and legally responsible for any offspring that result, and restricting reproductive technologies to married heterosexual couples. As the authors declare:
“The most important forces underwriting the current United States fertility industry are not technological; they are social and legal. Both law and culture have stressed the interests of adults to the exclusion of the needs of children. Parents seeking children deserve our sympathy and support. But we ought not, in offering this, deliberately create an entire class of children deprived of their natural human right to know their own origins and to experience the unique love of both a mother and a father.”
Sixth, the book states we must “protect the freedom to live out and express belief in the uniqueness of traditional marriage without fear of government coercion and institutional hostility.” Indeed, all too often government “non-discrimination” laws punish people who hold traditional views of the family. The authors write:
“[F]aith-based adoption and foster-care providers have been forced to compromise their belief that placing children in homes with a mother and a father is in the best interest of the child—or to cease offering services entirely, leaving vulnerable children in need. In a similar way, sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws are often used by their backers as a sword ‘to punish the wicked’.…”
Seventh, the authors urge us to “protect the freedom to conduct scholarly inquiry and promote dissemination of accurate research findings on marriage and related topics.” They state:
“In tandem with the widespread misrepresentation of research findings both in academia and public media on the subject of marriage, a disturbing trend toward actual suppression of research based on ideological rather than scientific grounds appears to be emerging and altering the playing field in the study of sexuality and gender.”
The authors give the example of a peer-reviewed study linking social media use to an increase in gender-dysphoria among adolescent girls. Under pressure from the LGBT community, the university that published the study immediately took it off its website and the study’s editors were forced to issue a revised version of it (that ironically did not change the initial results).
And finally, the book advocates “restor[ing] the public understanding of marriage as uniquely the union of one man with one woman as husband and wife.” The authors note that while the erroneously decided 2015 United States Supreme Court decision will likely not be overturned anytime soon (but we thought the same about Roe v. Wade…), “we can seek to restore the public’s understanding of the unique goods of traditional marriage for society.”
In its book Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles, the Witherspoon Institute has provided us with some solid proposals on how to revitalize a culture of marriage in America—a culture that brings the most good to children, women, men, and society as a whole. Indeed, the social science research from all sides of the political spectrum is virtually unanimous on the benefits provided by a healthy marriage composed of one woman and one man. As the authors conclude their work:
“Families, religious communities, community organizations, and public policymakers must work together toward a great goal: strengthening marriage so that each year more children are raised by their own mother and father in loving, lasting marital unions. The survival of the American experiment depends upon it. And our children deserve nothing less.”