Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute is running a series of articles on Public Discourse this week about the follies of a conception of marriage that is exclusively private. Answering slogans like “Get the government out of the marriage business” and “Leave it to the churches” that are popular in some libertarian circles, Morse outlines the public goods of marriage. It is in civil society’s best interest – even the smallest of government, night watchman state-touting libertarian’s interest – to maintain traditional marriage as a public good. As a primary mitigating institution between the citizen and the state, marriage provides a stopgap to the encroaching central government on civil society, maintains order in raising children with a mother and a father, and, moreover, Morse argues, is inextricably linked with the current societal involvement of the state. “The government is already deeply involved in many aspects of human life that affect people’s decisions of what kind of relationship to be in,” she writes. “For instance, government’s policies regarding welfare, health care, and housing have contributed to the near-disappearance of marriage from the lower classes, not only in
Despite the difficulties social contract libertarians following John Stuart Mill’s intellectual tradition may have in articulating a justification for the covenant-based institution of marriage, Morse’s argument from protection from encroaching government appeals to such a political theory. Jean Bethke Elshtain explains the role of the family in a democratic society in her article “The Family and Civic Life,” calling on totalitarianism’s interest in destroying the family, a particular, in favor of the state, a universal: “to destroy private life; and most of all, to require that individuals never allow their commitments to specific others – family, friends, comrades – to weaken their commitment to the state. To this idea, which can only be described as evil, the family stands in defiance.” Thus, it is a good sign the state is involved in the “marriage business,” encouraging a civil institution that has its own authoritative structure separate from legislatures and executive branches. Morse argues this point from the problem of parenthood: if marriage disintegrates, the state becomes the de facto parent, becoming literally paternalistic.
The Marriage And Religion Research Institute’s research and publications corroborate this theory of the family with social science research. A paper entitled “Our Fiscal Crisis: We Cannot Tax, Spend, and Borrow Enough to Substitute for Marriage” points out the human capital provided by marriage that is essential to a flourishing society apart from the state. It is in the citizens’ best interest for the state to recognize the traditional intact married family and, thus, it should be promoted and upheld.