The position that the family is the basic unit of society, and must be preserved, has always made sense to me. Purely as an economic argument, it makes sense that two parents raise children; that way, either one can specialize in work-force labor and the other can specialize in raising children. Or if possible, both can work at jobs with flexible hours that allow them both to spend a substantial amount of time raising the children. As even leftists have come to agree, the social studies data backs me up on this.* The skyrocketing divorce rate has had all sorts of negative effects on children.
The reason why you need marriage to have this arrangement to support the children, as opposed to some other sort of arrangement, is the permanence of marriage allow each partner to rely on the other so as to specialize, in either raising the child or focusing on work. Sort of like a contract. I know this sounds unromantic (I’m not married, I wonder why?), but I doubt that lack of romance is really the main problem causing divorces. Unless you think America became suddenly much more unromantic in the 1970s when the divorce rate skyrocketed (possible though-70s and 80s hair was not sexy).
Of course, merely stating that marriage is a necessary element of society raises the question of what the government can do about it. Making divorce slightly more difficult may make a difference, but it’s hard to prove the counter-factual that unhappy marriages staying together ends up being better for the children. I suppose economics are a big factor in marriage, so making it slightly economically easier for people to get and stay married while reproducing, such as increasing the child tax credit and lowering the payroll tax may make a difference, but I’d bet that only matters on the margins. And no, preventing GLBTs from formalizing their unions will not help the rest of us heteros. That argument is too ridiculous to waste much time on here.
So this is a serious social problem, and one that we can really only solve through cultural change. For myself, I can’t think of a better way to deal with this issue other than the banal steps of taking the issue of divorce quite seriously in my own life; supporting those of my friends who are married, and so on. This blog post is a bit less satisfying intellectually (for me). But it’s a good reminder that the government’s powers, and by extension, our own, are quite limited when it comes to solving many problems. We really need healthy marriages, but those can only be delivered by the individual couples themselves. In the end, the rest of us are just bystanders.
*Notice how this paragraph avoids any gender stereotypes? That was neat!