Social conservatives who oppose gay marriage have suffered a series of losses as voters have embraced gay marriage in state referendums and in public polling. The argument that gay marriage “harms” heterosexual marriage is not one that has found resonance with most Americans.
That is not to say that marriage isn’t in trouble.
For the first time we have more unmarried households than married households and more single than married women. That has ramifications for mental health, the economy, politics, childhood development and a slew of other aspects of American life.
We know some of the reasons for this stampede toward singlehood is voluntary (more working women delaying marriage and children), but that does not mean the atomization of American life makes us a more stable, happy and prosperous country. It doesn’t.
It seems that much of the focus on traditional marriage has consisted of hectoring gay men and lesbians who want to get married and deploring the breakdown of the family with little discussion of policy or the role that churches, synagogues and other mediating institutions play.
Perhaps heading into the new year and beyond, social conservatives can focus on public policy and private efforts to increase marriage and positively promote intact families. The tax code (marriage penalties, child credits) is one area. Labor laws (allowing flexible work schedules that don’t trigger overtime requirements) are another.
More to the point, social conservatives should understand the primacy of local communities, religious and civic institutions and families themselves in promoting and assisting in marriage. We’ve had campaigns aimed at teens to say no to drugs and yes to celibacy, but not much about saying yes to marriage and how to stay out of poverty (finish high school, don’t have kids outside marriage, don’t abuse drugs, etc.).
We have a societal problem that is vast and serious and an organized political-social movement that, to be blunt, needs something constructive to do. Dare I say this might be a match made in heaven?
Ironically, with gay marriage and with the Obama economy (lots of young adults now living at home with mom and dad) reducing the number of singles households, we may begin to improve the percentage of married households. But economic decline is not a strategy. For all the time, money and energy spent on preventing gay men and lesbians from marrying, imagine if all those efforts were spent trying to encourage and improve the economics of marriage? Now that would be a joyous endeavor.