Why the State Regulates Marriage
In the debate over Pennsylvania’s law defining marriage as an arrangement between one man and one woman, two questions are fundamental: 1) Why is marriage properly understood as a lasting relationship between one man and one woman? 2) Why does the state have an interest in defining it that way?
Most of the proponents of same-sex “marriage” who answer the first question in the negative, do not address the second question. My guess is that in their view all our rights emanate from government and so when same-sex couples
claim an equal standing to rights, they expect government to dispense those rights. It is implicitly a view of an all-powerful, totalitarian state.
But understanding the government’s interest in marriage begins with answering the first question above. Human life begins and is sustained through heterosexual relations and so over the millennia, an institution between man and woman, father and mother, has evolved in our civilization. The predicate of marriage has always been the consequences of heterosexual behavior, which include the potential of human life and the proper rearing of children.
Most people understand that each child is best served with a loving mother and a loving father. It is natural enough to view the so-called nuclear family as the building block of civilization. No doubt, this is not always possible and second best arrangements are sometimes necessary and can be lovingly heroic. But it is the mistake of modernity to equate these other arrangements with the traditional family and thereby denigrate the ideal of the traditional family.
The past 50 years in America have been particularly destructive of this ideal. No fault divorce, social programs that supplant true parenthood, abortion on demand, sexual behavior viewed as entertainment and recreation--all of this and much else have undermined the family at the core of civilization.
If it’s not the duty of government to foster marriage, it is most certainly its duty to refrain from contributing to its demise. Understanding marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman is not an act of hate as some have claimed. It is, rather, an elevation of a common and natural act to one of uncommon importance for the human race. It is to recognize the intrinsic value of each human life.
And that is why the state takes an interest in marriage. Or I should say, why society uses government to define and regulate marriage as a lasting relationship between one man and one woman. Our rights are antecedent to government—we have instituted government to secure our rights to life and property. The life of a child brought into being through heterosexual relations deserves the protection of the state and the state, as the fundamental protector of civilization, ought to support civilization by supporting its most basic component, the family.
I always advocate for limited government and there are those who say government has no standing with respect to marriage. But favoring limited government does not mean favoring no government and obviously there are proper duties for government. I can think of none higher than the protection of children and the extension of civilization.
So between those who favor unlimited government and its licensing of homosexual relations and those who favor no government involvement in the natural process of procreation, there is a middle ground of prudence—marriage defined as a lasting relationship between one man and one woman with the understanding that society will flourish only when families flourish. This is not an edict or a recent discovery, but a truth learned from thousands of years of human existence.
Full disclosure: Our Commonwealth’s Constitution, which I and all who serve in public office swear or affirm to uphold, explicitly thanks God for His blessings of civil and religious liberty and asks for His guidance. I am a God-fearing Christian whose personal life and worldview is informed through the Bible. I stood proudly with the Pennsylvania Pastors who recently protested Attorney General Kane’s dereliction of duty to defend our state’s law on marriage. Nonetheless, I have scrupled in this essay to make the secular case for that law and its importance for the well-being of our society. This is not strictly a religious issue, but one of enormous general concern.
Dr. John D McGinnis, R-Blair, is the 79th District’s representative to Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.