Real Marriage
From the March 21, 2011 issue of NR


Thus, with the further erosion of marital norms, the state would be forced to play an ever greater role in children’s health, education, and formation more generally, with those in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society being hit the hardest, as the evidence cited in my article with George and Anderson shows.

Peer-reviewed studies referenced there also indicate that men and women generally bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise, and that boys and girls tend to benefit from fathers and mothers in different ways. With the recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriages, no civil institution would any longer reinforce these points, and there would be proportionately less motivation for individuals and communities to make decisions based on the mother-father parenting ideal.

This helps to explain why weakening marital norms would be a catastrophe for limited government. Absent a flourishing marriage culture, families often fail to form or maintain stability. As absentee fathers and out-of-wedlock births become common, social pathologies increase, as does the demand for governmental policing and social services. According to a Brookings Institution study, $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 can be attributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture and the resulting exacerbation of social ills. Research on Scandinavian countries by sociologists David Popenoe and Alan Wolfe also supports the conclusion that as adherence to marital norms declines, state spending rises. 

Finally, Steorts’s “maximal experiential union” view would diminish the value of non-marital bonds, as between sisters or deep friends, by sending the message that marriage offers more — indeed, the most — of what makes any union valuable: shared experience. Those who cannot find a mate or commit due to prior obligations must, in Steorts’s plan, just settle for less
Indeed, though Steorts accepts and tries to defend traditional norms against incest, including by appeal to the “nature of blood relations,” it is hard to see how his theory, in treating marriage as maximal, could avoid seeing the sexualization of two adult brothers’ relationship as primarily an upgrade: an increase in their degree of union. What could be wrong with that? Only when we recognize more robustly different types of union — refusing to divide them into maximal and less-than-maximal — can we begin to understand how two types (say, fraternal and marital) are incompatible, so that a switch from one to the other would not increase love but pervert it. 
More positively, only if there are different basic types of bonds can people know the depth, passion, and intimacy proper to some type — e.g., friendly or fraternal — without thereby undermining their marriage, and indeed even if they are unmarried. Consider in this connection Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates’s admission that he had until recently never considered the possibility of deep non-romantic friendship. Reading about historical examples of it “actually opened up some portion of my own imagination — the possibility of feeling passionate, but not sexual, about someone who I wasn’t related to,” he confessed. “‘Passion’ isn’t a word that often enters into the description [of] friendships these days. And yet [it’s] present in the writings of previous generations” — when people didn’t equate marriage with intimacy, and intimacy with marriage, but recognized it as the highest realization of one type of intimacy among others.
But the conjugal view, in distinguishing several axes of union, would allow for different types of love and sharing, each with its own scale of depth. Indeed, it is a point lost on many in this debate that the more the conjugal view prevails, the easier it will be on the unmarried, who will be less susceptible to thinking that what they lack is the most valuable kind of relationship, or the only opportunity for deep intimacy. Yes, only marriage unites both minds and bodies and inherently requires some sharing in most areas of life, since such cooperation would foster the good of children, to which marriage is oriented. But precisely because it sees marriage as oriented to procreation and true bodily union, and not simply to shared experience, the conjugal view leaves plenty of room for other types of bonds to have their own depth, passion, and constancy of presence and mutual care.