Virtual Voices

Civil unions and true marriage

Marriage

Mae West was one of Hollywood's original darlings. Her attributes were such that in World War II, sailors named their inflatable life vests "Mae Wests."

She had some strong opinions on marriage. "Marriage is a great institution," she said, "I'm just not ready for an institution."

We can give the star credit. She had a better understanding of the public institution of marriage than some of today's lawmakers do.

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Happily, the Republican Platform Committee this week sidestepped the issue of civil unions. Committee members reaffirmed the party's historic support for true marriage. That's a good thing because, from the government's perspective, all our marriages are civil unions. And government has a duty to protect the civil institution of marriage.

What some call a civil union—as a softer way to grant same-sex couples all the rights of marriage without the name of marriage—is merely a slow-motion surrender on the critical issue of marriage. Governments cannot sanctify marriage, but governments can and should protect the civil institution of marriage. True marriage.

Even if government abolishes marriage, most of us as Christians and Jews will continue to have our marriages sanctified in churches and synagogues. So why should we object if those outside our faith communities have civil unions?

We have seen many examples of the ways in which defenders of marriage will lose their civil rights if marriage itself is abolished. If 61 percent of North Carolina voters last May had voted to end true marriage in that state instead of affirming it, we could have been sure that the very next semester schoolchildren in the Tar Heel State would have been proselytized in the early grades for the new definition of marriage. This is what happened in Massachusetts. When parents of public schoolchildren object, they will be the ones singled out for threats, ridicule, and possibly even government sanctions.

We know what happens when true marriage is attacked. The nation has just seen how business people—the owner of a national restaurant chain, the owner of a bakery, a wedding photographer—are vilified and bullied by those who want to counterfeit marriage.

Those who want to end marriage as we know it often cite the famed U.S. Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia (1967). In that case, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for a unanimous court when he struck down a state law that barred men and women from different races from legally marrying. We agree with that opinion. We, too, believe that marriage is a fundamental civil right of Americans. And we also agree with Earl Warren's view that true marriage is necessary for the survival of society.

Chief Justice Warren did not have to say true marriage—between one man and one woman. It was understood. It must still be so understood. The civil rights of all Americans must be defended.

When author and social scientist Charles Murray wrote Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, he did not choose to study white America because he does not care about black America, Hispanic America, or Asian America, or any other group of Americans. He studied the white majority so that his findings could not be dismissed as the result of decades of segregation and racism on the one hand or immigration status and limited English proficiency on the other. By focusing on the white majority, Murray could sound a warning—our more perfect Union is becoming less so. It is in danger of dissolving.

And the key components of this coming apart are the decline of marriage and religiosity.

The alarming rise of the out-of-wedlock births—to greater than 40 percent in recent statistics—is a key factor in poverty, poorer health, greater educational deficit, and greater incidence of crime, drug use, and unmarried pregnancy.

Therefore, the campaign for true marriage is a fight for America itself. None of us should "play the Pharisee," as Abraham Lincoln memorably put it. Our marriages are not perfect. Those of us who campaign for true marriage and vote for true marriage certainly know that. Keeping marriage alive requires hard work. And it needs government support.

What we are saying is that true marriage must survive for America to survive. We are saying preserve Americans' civil right of marriage if we want America to climb back from the abyss of economic decline and social decay.

Dr. Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council points out—and his command of the social science data make clear—that crime rates, for example, are roughly equal across racial and ethnic groups—if we take into account family structure. When three-quarters of teen rapists and two-thirds of teen murderers in our prisons are fatherless young men, we need to focus more on father absence than on the skin color of the perpetrators.

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