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Traditional marriage has impact beyond faith

PROVO — Defending traditional marriage doesn't need to begin or end with a discussion of faith in order to make a point about its deep social impacts, a leading scholar said Thursday at BYU.

"Our support for the renewal of marriage is not predicated on some … religious worldview," said W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology and Director of the National Marriage Project, at the University of Virginia. "Rather, it's based on a reasonable understanding of the human condition that is accessible to all men and women of good will."

Wilcox was one of four scholars who spoke during the "Defense of the Family: Natural Law Perspectives" conference sponsored by the Wheatley Institution at BYU. Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence from Princeton also spoke, as did Catherine R. Pakaluk from Ave Maria University and BYU history professor Paul Kerry. (Summary of talks on A13.)

Wilcox, in his lecture "Why Marriage Matters," explained that this understanding of the human condition comes from data that show children from broken, fatherless and even cohabiting homes are more two to three times more likely to experience "serious negative outcomes" than children in normal, married, two-parent families.

Such negative outcomes include delinquency, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and even physical abuse and death.

Wilcox cited studies that showed young men from single-parent homes were twice as likely than their two-parent peers to end up in prison, and girls whose fathers left before they turned 6 were nearly seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teenager than their two-parent family peers.

"At a larger social level, communities, neighbors, states and nations bear large costs at the collective levels when families break down," Wilcox said. "Evidence suggests to us that intact, biological marriage is still the gold standard."

Benefits extend beyond children by "domesticating" men and encouraging them to remain in marital relationships and "do right by their families," he said.

Women benefit from the support of a partner to help with the difficult task of raising children and the creation of mutual dependency.

Such benefits don't exist in cohabiting relationships, which are, by nature, not institutionalized, less stable and even violent, Wilcox said.

While there's limited data on the effects of same-sex marriage on children, Wilcox hypothesized that in a few years, research will show that children in lesbian or gay family situations will exhibit some of the same problems as children from father-less or cohabiting relationships.

Such children often miss out on the unique father-provided benefits, like wrestling and rough-housing, activities where children learn self-control and appropriate expression of aggression.

"The classic purpose and function of marriage is to integrate biology, social conventions, law, etc, into one package, which is the intact, married family," Wilcox said.