Bench Memos

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Marriage Practices and Real-World Consequences


In advance of next week’s Senate vote on the federal marriage amendment, the new issue of the Weekly Standard has another powerful article—“Polygamy Versus Democracy:  You can’t have both”—by the remarkably prolific Stanley Kurtz.  As Kurtz shows, Americans in the mid-19th century understood that the marriage practices that a society endorses have real-world consequences that extend far beyond the individuals seeking to marry and that shape the broader culture.  They knew how big the marriage issue is: 


Antipolygamy sentiment helped found the Republican party in 1854. Republicans called slavery and polygamy “twin relics of barbarism,” and Lincoln attacked Douglas over both issues in the campaign of 1860.


Too many Americans today, Kurtz argues, ignore the cultural consequences of marriage practices and mistakenly see marriage as a civil-rights issue (or as merely a matter of state law).  Kurtz concludes:


The solution is to treat marriage as a social institution whose fundamental purpose is to encourage mothers and fathers to build stable families for the children they create. Same-sex marriage breaks this understanding, thus encouraging the sort of unstable parental cohabitation we see in Europe, where cohabiting parents break up at two to three times the rate of married parents. And polygamy undercuts companionate monogamy, the only form of marriage that can function in a modern liberal society. What’s needed, then, is the revitalization of a richer understanding of marriage as a culturally specific social form.


Let’s hope some more senators begin to recognize what’s really at stake.


Tags: Whelan


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