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New census consensus? Marriage doesn't matter

Culture | The 2000 head count takes a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude toward marriage-and why that's tragic

Issue: "The first straw," Aug. 28, 1999

The new census, planned for the year 2000, will gather tons of information about Americans for the use of the federal government, policymakers, and social scientists. But a bit of information that the being counters do not much care about is whether you are married.

The short form of the census process, which will be filled out by more than 80 percent of American households, will now omit any questions about marital status (although "Relationship to household" is included). Citizens will find no box to check to indicate whether they are married, single, widowed, or divorced. Nor will the census takers collect data on the living arrangements that are unprecedented in any culture: men and women living together without being married or homosexuals cohabiting with a "domestic partner."

It isn't because the era of big government is over. The Census Bureau has not redesigned its short form simply to count the citizens, as the Constitution requires, to help divvy up the House of Representatives. The short form asks lots of questions about race, going into more detail than ever before. But when it comes to marriage, the federal government is adopting a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

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Certainly, the long form-which goes to only 16 million households-will ask for marriage data. The social scientists can use those forms (which will take 38 minutes to complete, as opposed to 10 minutes for the short form) to practice their favorite technique of "sampling," extrapolating the statistics to form conclusions about the nation as a whole. But leaving marriage off the short form signals an important shift of values on the part of federal bureaucrats.

One response might be, so what? What business is it of the government who is married and who isn't? The government is already too intrusive. The fewer questions on the census form, the better. Given the breakdown in the traditional family and society's growing acceptance of the various forms of living in sin, Christians might consider that they are practically the only ones left with a high view of marriage. (The high view of marriage remains, even though the divorce rate of Christians is about the same as non-Christians.) It is a reasonable assumption to think that, at some point-say, once the state legalizes "gay marriage"-civil marriage and church marriage will become two totally different things. Maybe it would be better if the state stayed out of marriage entirely.

But there is a reason marriage needs to be important to the civil authorities. The purpose of marriage is not, contrary to today's rhetoric, "letting people love each other." Certainly, people can do that without the "piece of paper" that is a marriage license, and the government has no real interest in regulating romantic attachments. Rather, the purpose of marriage, in the civil sense, is the establishment of a family. And the family is the foundation of all social organizations, including civil government.

For all that our culture is obsessed with sex, it remains childishly naïve to the fact of life that human sexuality is designed as it is because generating children is vital. A man and a woman are attracted to each other, and then marry, conceive children, and stay together not only for love, but to raise those children.

Certainly, some married couples are not able to have children, but the possibility-and usually the desperate desire-is there. (Couples who get married while resolving never to have children are missing the point.) This is why the "domestic partnerships" of homosexuals can never be marriages, since their use of sex never leads to the conception of children.

Once a man and a woman have children, they need a civil society. To provide for his family, the father works, necessitating the division of labor and the whole economic system. To protect his family, he bands with other families, and soon they have military institutions, a legal system, and some sort of community government.

Behind it all, of course, is God, who invented marriage, ordained the family, and providentially governs even the most secular of social institutions. Luther pointed out that God could have created the successive generations from the dust, just as He did Adam. But instead, He chose to create new children by making both an Adam and an Eve and telling them to "be fruitful and multiply." Luther went on to argue that the commandment "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the root of all other earthly authorities.

While Catholicism considers marriage to be a sacrament, the Reformers insisted that it was not. Sacraments, in the Reformation understanding, communicated the gospel (baptism as a cleansing from sin and a burial into Christ; the Lord's Supper as Christ giving His broken body and His shed blood for the forgiveness of our sins). The sacraments are for Christians, maintained the Reformers, while marriage is for non-Christians as well. Marriage is indeed established by God, and it marks His Lordship precisely in the civil sphere.

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