Fifteen years ago, there appeared a short booklet (53 pages) called Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles. Happily, it is still available and just a year ago the Witherspoon Institute released a second edition.
The work simply aims to provide evidence for the goodness of intergendered marriage. Their argument is statistical and sociological (and historical), rather than theological or philosophical. Therefore, it is immediately accessible to anyone, whatever his worldview. This was their purpose.
Marriage and the Public Good brims with succinct statistics and cited studies. They cumulatively highlight the benefit when marriages happen and the tragedy when they don’t:
Pp19-24 A sampling of statistics and studies showing how marriage is so much better for children.
Pp25-30 A sampling of statistics and studies showing how marriage is so much better for women and men.
The conclusion is unavoidable: “The clear preponderance of the evidence shows that intact, married families are superior—for adults and especially children—to alternative family arrangements.”
This is true for sometimes surprising reasons. For example, initial research suggests that the physical presence of a biological father plays an important role in the sexual development of girls. What? How on earth, one might wonder, could someone show this to be true (apart from the Bible’s counsel)? Bruce Ellis (an evolutionary developmental psychologist at the University of Arizona) notes the fact that girls who live apart from their biological father generally develop sexually at an earlier age than girls who live with their biological father. He suggests the reason is that the former group are more likely exposed to the pheromones (chemicals that convey sexual information between persons) of unrelated males. This would explain why girls who are exposed to a mother’s boyfriend or stepfather reach puberty at an earlier age than those raised by lone single moms. Earlier puberty is not good for a girl. This gives one the feeling, does it not, that the reasons for Genesis 2:24 (instituting marriage) go far deeper than we imagine.
The authors then discuss the consequences and the four threats to this blessing: divorce, illegitimacy, co-habitation, same-sex marriage. I found their Chapter III, giving social biological evidence, and Chapter V, giving proposed solutions to the dissolution of marriage, the most useful.
Some parts might seem a little dated, but the original booklet renders where we were in 2008, and a sadly accurate prediction of where we were heading. This was even after four decades of marriage breakdown and exploration of alternatives. As the number of American households based on a marriage just recently slid below 50% for the first time in history, we have to say that the evidence went largely unheeded.
I have found over the last twenty years, as a pastor and a father, over and over again, many different reasons for the goodness of marriage for all involved. As such, it is worth preserving wherever possible (Mal 2:15-16), though sometimes it isn’t (Mat 19:9, 1Co 7:10-15). It is not only a public good, but a private one as well. And, I would add to the Witherspoon Institute’s good work, as marriage tells us about God, it is just good.