We've been thinking about the American family for quite a while now. First came the Peggy Noonan quote (see below) and then we had a conversation with one of our former professors. This isn't our first word on the family, nor will it be our last. We can't even make this a coherent essay on the topic like we might normally prefer. Please excuse the disjointed nature of this post.
The moral traditionalist wing of conservatism and the Republican party has long waged political battle with so-called progressives over issues related to the family. They understood, and we with them, that families are the very building blocks of a successful society. Every measurable statistic related to an individual's potential success and happy life improves significantly when they come from a home with a mother and a father.
We mention this with caution, as we have a number of friends who come from homes without either a mother or a father. This does not, of course, make it any less of a family. In many instances they, and others across this country, have overcome the odds to be successful, productive members of society. But those who have done so without the support of a traditional family are the exception.
We first wrote about family-related issues when a former BYU professor wrote an open letter in the Salt Lake Tribune encouraging the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be more allowing of homosexual unions. (here and here)
Then, a couple of weeks ago, in a column about Obama and Clinton, Peggy Noonan mentioned by the by that the great divide in America was not between the haves and the have nots or even between black and white or brown and white, but between those who have functioning families and those who do not. Or, as she put it, "the great divide in modern America, whether or not you had a functioning family." We think she's right.
What's fascinating is that the Left, (for whom it is now chic to refer to oneself as "progressive") which loves to solve societal problems with the latest, greatest gimmicky idea--it takes a village!--ignores the very simplest solution: strengthen the family. This, despite the fact that empirical evidence shows that everything they'd like to improve with their village!, from test scores to jail rates to literacy (really, the list could go on indefinitely) improves when an individual comes from a functioning family. There is nothing more or less complicated to it than that.
It would seem prudent, therefore, that we do what we can to shore up the American family. What the heck is a no-fault divorce, anyway? Marriage for life has ceased to be the norm. Heck, two marriages are quickly ceasing to be the norm. We conservatives almost nominated a man on his third marriage. And much of the multiple marriages and single parent families can be traced back to the easing of divorce laws in the '60's. As James Q. Wilson pointed out, it's easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a mortgage.
(though it would seem many now might wish it were the other way around)
As anyone who has taken intro to economics will tell you: lower the cost of something and demand will rise. As marriage has devolved from lifelong union to a union of convenience, fewer and fewer people get married and fewer and fewer children come from 2-parent homes.
To come at this from another angle, if you want to invest in America's human capital, do what you can to strengthen marriages. Our friends in the teaching profession often talk to us about how they are unable to "reach" certain students or have the impact they'd like because the students' parents are not involved. We still think that vouchers and more school choice could help alleviate that problem, but they do nothing to address the core issue--the breakdown of the family.
And this isn't something we can go about haphazardly. When we first debated gay marriage on this blog, those in favor said, 'where is the empirical evidence that gay marriage doesn't equal successful home?' We pointed to a number of studies coming out of the United Kingdom and the nordic countries, but, unfortunately, we can't prove it conclusively one way or the other.
But we can't prove it now the same way those who were against the loosening of divorce laws in the '60's couldn't prove the disastrous effect that would have on families either. That is to say, progressives are convinced that whatever the latest idea to come down is better than whatever we have now. The case for and from moral traditionalists and conservatism, broadly speaking, is that things are the way they are now because over the centuries of human experience, it has proven to work.
We know that families with a mother and a father have a far greater chance of creating successful happy offspring than any other organization developed. Why experiment with something so essential, something so integral to civilization as the family? The burden of proof in favor of something new, of change for change's sake or because it is being trumped up as a right(!), lies not with conservatives to defend what is, but with progressives to convince that what they have, whether gay marriage or polygamy or some sort of arrangement with them and their vacuum cleaner or a communal village pitch-in effort, can match the success of the family.
Because marriage in this country is not a right, it's a privilege and a responsibility. Furthermore, it's one which should be closely guarded and fortified and strengthened and whatever other verb we've used in this post. We will continue to argue in favor of the family on principle and because it makes good policy sense.
Wherever you may be reading this, we invite you to take up the cause of defending marriage. There are many ways you can do this: vote for and helping to elect people for whom family is important; vote in favor of initiatives that define marriage as between a man and a woman; write letters to the editor of your local newspaper... the list goes on.
For further reading on this topic, see the following from James Q. Wilson:
Why We Don't Marry
The Ties That Do Not Bind: The Decline Of Marriage And Loyalty
The Family Way
Welfare Reform And Character Development
No Easy Answers
James Q. Wilson Interview
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