, Feb 12, 2007 v59 i2 p31
Families and first principles: the conservative fight to protect life and
George, Robert P.
USC Content Connection
USC Content Connection
COPYRIGHT 2007 National Review, Inc.
THE MEANING OF MATRIMONY
Let me now turn to marriage. The institution is battered, but it is not lost. Private pro-
marriage forces, such as Marriage Savers, are doing important work through churches
and other institutions. Much damage to the critically important marriage culture was done
by bad legislation and policy, almost always in the name of reform. That legislation and
policy is now itself in need of reform.
The conservative movement should remember what marriage is and why it is in the
public interest for law and policy to take cognizance of it and support it. Marriage is a
pre-political form of association--what might be called a natural institution. It is not
created by law, though law recognizes and regulates it in every culture. Nowhere is it
treated as a purely private matter, the way we (rightly) treat baptisms and bar mitzvahs.
Some on the libertarian wing of conservatism toy with the idea that marriage could in fact
be privatized, and wonder whether that might be the solution to the controversy over
I understand why someone would consider this idea, but it strikes me as a very bad one.
There is a reason that all cultures treat marriage as a matter of public concern and even
recognize it in law and regulate it. The family is the fundamental unit of society. It is the
original and best department of health, education, and welfare. Governments rely on
families to produce something that they could not possibly produce--namely, upright,
decent people who make honest, law-abiding, public-spirited citizens. And marriage is
the indispensable foundation of the family. Although all marriages in all cultures have
their imperfections, children flourish in an environment where they benefit from the love
and care of both parents, and from the committed and exclusive love of their parents for
Conservatives of all stripes--and, indeed, anyone who believes in limited government--
should, far from favoring the privatization of marriage, strongly back government support
for it. In the absence of a strong marriage culture, families fail to form; when they do
form they are often unstable; absentee fathers become a serious problem; out-of-wedlock
births are common; and a train of social pathologies follows. With families failing to
perform their health, education, and welfare functions, the demand for government to
step in grows, whether in the form of greater policing, as an arbiter of conflicts between
unmarried parents, or as a provider of other social services. Bureaucracies must be