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NEW YORK, May 2, 2013 (Heritage Foundation) – In a recent debate at New York University Law School, Ryan T. Anderson, co-author of the book What Is Marriage? and Heritage’s William E. Simon Fellow, asked Professor Judith Stacey the essential question: What is marriage?

Stacey gives a very clear answer: “Why should there be marriage at all?”

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Stacey concedes that we live in a world where marriage exists and so asks, “What should limit [marriage] to two, and why should it be monogamous?”

But as Anderson pointed out, government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means to ensure the well-being of children while respecting everyone’s liberty to form their own relationships. Men and women need to commit to each other permanently and exclusively in order to provide any children their union creates with mothers and fathers.

Stacey rejects the relationship between marriage policy and the interests of children. She also rejects the overwhelming evidence that children tend to do best when raised by their married, biological parents: “I would say that children certainly do not need a mother and a father…There is no evidence that three parents would not be better than two.”

Stacey also rejects the conclusions of studies of the past 40 years that conclude there are social consequences when the law teaches fathers are optional. Unwed births make children more vulnerable to poverty, and children without fathers also are much more susceptible to participate in crime and drug abuse. All the while, unwed childbearing leads to dramatically higher welfare costs and limits social mobility.

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Stacey even disputes the recent statement of President Obama, who was raised by a single mother, about children growing up without fathers:

We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves.

Stacey’s response: “Obama is not a social scientist and was deeply misled…Obama was dead wrong.”

In fact, Stacey goes so far as to attest, “I suspect, for the reasons of selection effects, the children of gay male co-parents will wind up having probably the best parents.”

That’s a bold claim that doesn’t seem to rest on research, as Leon R. Kass and Harvey C. Mansfield’s amicus brief to the Supreme Court points out.

For his part, Anderson acknowledged agreement with Stacey—at least on one thing:

If you accept Professor Stacey’s argument, then not just the expectation that marriage is a male/female relationship, but everything else about marriage law will also be arbitrary: the expectation of permanency, monogamy, sexual exclusivity, all of that stands or falls together.… The difference is that I think [marriage] should stand and Professor Stacey thinks it should fall.

The notion that same-sex marriage may lead to polygamy and open marriages is not just a “slippery slope” argument. The cards are on the table: Many proponents of same-sex marriage actually want to eliminate the marital norms of permanence and exclusivity.

Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. Otherwise, why does it exist at all?

This article originally appeared on the Heritage Foundation and is reprinted with permission.

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