Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Promoting Marriage is a Public Good

Over at the Family Scholars Blog, David Blankenhorn comments today on the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly poll on “Faith and Family.” He writes:

“here to me is the most striking statistic — 82 percent of respondents say that government should NOT “start up programs that encourage people to get and stay married.” I’ve supported the Administration’s Healthy Marriage Initiative since the beginning, and I still do, but these numbers (and yes, I know, the wording of the question could be better) strongly suggest that, in the public mind, the basic idea is going nowhere.”

The same survey reports that most people strongly support marriage. The resistance, I think, is to the government supporting marriage. I expect there would be less resistance to other, voluntary, institutions supporting marriage.

Americans think of marriage as a good thing. However, a rising fraction of us have come to think of marriage as a private good. This is a dangerous notion. Marriage is, of course, good for private citizens. But it is also a very important public good. Society as a whole has a stake in the strength of marriages in general, and of each marriage. This means that the state does have an interest in promoting marriage.

I think that more people are adopting the view that marriage is a private good. They are not taking this view because they think any less of marriage. Rather, they are trying to avoid making a moral judgment that there is anything wrong with not valuing marriage. I don’t think the issue is about other kinds of marriage besides the traditional one. It is not the existence of alternatives to marriage which pushes people to moral privatism. It is a desire to avoid conflict with other people about the possibility of their having other judgments.

I think everyone should be willing stand up for what they think is right. Once again, we would all be greatly helped if most people were comfortable talking about the good, and the good enough. I am convinced that most people will privately choose the good, which will benefit society. Some people will have to settle for the good enough, sometimes for reasons beyond their control.

The real battleground is whether people who might get or stay married don’t do so, because people they respect have not had the nerve to say “marriage is better.”

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