Why Conservatives are Losing the Battle for Marriage

by Dr. Stephen Baskerville
November 30, 2010

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Defenders of marriage must face some hard facts or lose the battle.  The federal ruling nullifying Proposition 8, erosion of support for marriage, and conservatives like Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter welcoming same-sex marriage, all show that simple mantras like “one man and one woman” are no longer effective.  We must find arguments outside the box or marriage will not survive. Without confronting the larger family crisis, stopping same-sex marriage is both impossible and pointless.

Considerable nonsense has been written about same-sex marriage, while critical truths are being avoided, even by marriage defenders.  Facing these undeniable facts can save not only marriage, but the family generally:

First:  Marriage exists, in ways critically important to societal stability, to maintain strong bonds between the father and the family.  Marriage deterioration produces widespread fatherlessness, not motherlessness. Because of the ways the divorce industry in this country has advanced, the father has, in disturbing ways, become the weakest link in the family. Without a determined effort, institutionalized in marriage, fathers can be too easily discarded from the family unit.  As myriad studies have shown, fatherlessness predicts virtually every social pathology among the young.  Fatherless adolescents are put at grave risk, and society suffers for it.

Once this fundamental principle is recognized, same-sex marriage makes little sense.  Judge Vaughn Walker’s finding of “fact” that “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage” is rendered preposterous.  Same-sex marriage simply mocks the social function of marriage.  Homosexual parenting is likewise exposed as so much emblematic nose-thumbing, marginalizing children still further from their fathers, since obviously some homosexual “parents,” generally, must acquire their children from others -- often through heterosexual divorce.

Second:  Homosexuals did not destroy marriage; heterosexuals did.  Same-sex marriage is a symptom, not a cause, of marriage decline.  As marriage advocate Michael McManus says, “Divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.”  Same-sex marriage would not be on the agenda if marriage had not already been debased by heterosexual divorce. 

Third:  Divorce is a political problem we can no longer sweep under the rug.  It is not a private matter from which we can wash our hands by scolding others who are presumed to be less moral than ourselves.  Divorce is, through myriad policies and practices, perpetrated by an authoritarian government machinery operating in our name and funded by our taxes.  It is too often imposed upon unwilling and innocent people, whose children and property can be confiscated, and who are then, in many cases, forcibly removed from their homes and subject to arrest.  These gloomy circumstances generate the social ills -- crime, substance abuse, truancy -- that rationalize almost all domestic government spending.  And it is largely driven, ideologically, by the same sexual radicals who are now promoting same-sex marriage. 

Conservatives have completely misunderstood the divorce revolution. We refuse to confront its politics, seriously undermining our credibility.  "People who won't censure divorce carry no special weight as defenders of marriage," writes Froma Harrop.  "Moral authority doesn't come cheap." 

When conservatives have addressed divorce at all, they tend to lament and bemoan, and to credulously parrot feminist clichés blaming philandering and “abusive” husbands seeking “trophy wives.”  While such abuse may indeed be true in some cases, divorce has nonetheless become feminism’s foremost weapon against “patriarchy.” Just as marriage creates fatherhood, so divorce systematically neuters it.  Feminist lawyers in the 1940s began drafting the no-fault divorce laws that brought the gender war into every household in the Western world.  It is no accident that divorce court has largely become a venue for plundering and criminalizing otherwise capable, caring fathers. 

Yet moralizing conservatives endorse feminist measures to evict more fathers and facilitate more divorce and fatherlessness, such as dishonest domestic violence and child abuse laws, and a child support gendarmerie that forces fathers to pay for the confiscation of their own children and pays mothers to seek easy divorces. 

The Bush administration tried to avoid confronting these abuses by spending on “Healthy Marriages,” an ineffective program of government therapy and patronage. Under Obama, this initiative has predictably been hijacked by feminists who use the federal money to encourage more divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing. 

Fourth:  Marriage is not entirely a “public” institution, if this means that government may define and regulate it.  Marriage also creates what the Supreme Court called a "realm of family life which the state cannot enter.”  Marriage creates a unique zone of privacy within which parents may raise their children without government interference.

Parenthood is the one exception to government’s monopoly of force. This is a primary reason why government is constantly trying to undermine marriage and prohibit all methods by which parents may instruct, protect, and provide for their own children without dependence on the state -- for example, homeschooling, spanking, gun ownership, private property, and Christian faith.  Without parental authority, legitimized by marriage, government’s reach is total.

Finally:  Prohibiting homosexual marriage will not work.  As Robert Seidenberg writes in the Washington Times, "Even if Republicans were to succeed in constitutionally defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, some judge somewhere would soon discover a novel meaning for 'man' or 'woman' or 'between' or  'relationship'."

So what will work?  Though not designed primarily to protect marriage, the proposed Parental Rights Amendment is the most effective possible measure.  It guarantees “the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children.”  How does this protect marriage?

Guaranteeing the rights of parents -- married parents -- to raise their own children would weaken most government interference in the family.  Especially if worded to protect the bond between children and their married fathers, it would undermine both divorce and same-sex marriage by establishing marriage as a permanent contract conferring enforceable parental rights.  Within the bonds of marriage, it would preserve the rights of fathers, parents of both genders, and spouses generally.  It would also render same-sex marriage somewhat pointless.  Marriages producing children would be effectively indissoluble without firm legal grounds, and men would begin to see that to have full rights as fathers, it would be in their best interests to marry before conceiving children. It would give them a lasting interest in the institution’s permanence.

Admittedly, such an amendment raises the stakes -- or, rather, it highlights how critically high the stakes are already.  The alternative is to be dismissed as a chorus of scolds and moralizers and “bigots.”  And lose.

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Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007).  He is working on a book on sexual politics. Read full bio.

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