Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 8, 2007
Marriage battle shifts focus to economics
But humans have a deep, natural desire to love and be loved
- Design Pics photo
Marriage and family helps humans be the best they can.
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Marriage is a social institution that constrains private behaviours for a social good, says Simon Fraser economist Doug Allen.
Allen said these constraints have been religious, social, legal, familial and cultural, but in recent years, many of them have been eroded or removed.
"Imagine describing marriage to a 19-year-old boy who has never heard of it before," he said. "What? Only one sexual partner for my whole life?"
Allen was one speaker at the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada's (IMFC) policy conference Sept. 27, who called for public policies that could encourage marriage.
IMFC executive director David Quist told journalists the institute has moved on from the same-sex marriage debate because recent Canadian census data shows how small the numbers of these marriages are. So the conference focused on the social and economic benefits of marriage.
Allen noted that child custody support laws encourage divorce especially among high-earning single income families. Divorce rates have risen 10 per cent in that group.
Most people view marriage as the formalization of a loving relationship, what Allen called the "good intentions theory of marriage." He argued love does not build the institution; instead the institution builds the love.
All the legal benefits of marriage now go to cohabiting couples as well, he said, noting most people want all the benefits of marriage but none of the costs. Marriage is associated with fertility, and its erosion has created a "huge demographic crisis."
"Canada has one of the lowest fertility rates in the Western world," he said.
He and others at the conference argued for policies such as income splitting - allowing members of single-breadwinner couples to each be taxed at a lower rate than that now paid by one higher earner.
While Allen stressed the need for constraints, keynote speaker David Blankenhorn described human beings as "pair-bonding creatures" with a deep, natural desire to love and be loved that is embedded in our natures.
Marriage is an imperfect response to these deep longings that helps flawed human beings "to be the best we can be," he said. Marriage has been trivialized, shrunk and miniaturized. Instead, marriage needs to be recognized as an institution that shows us "who we really are as people, and who we want to be as people."
Progressive family policy
Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, described Canada as "on the cutting edge" of progressive family policy that sees marriage as a public recognition of a private relationship defined by the couple themselves. Children are left out of this definition of marriage, he said.
Marriage is a preventive, he said, and even a modest decline in the divorce rate will have major implications in the future lives of children.
Acton Institute economist Jennifer Roback Morse outlined research from hundreds of studies that show cohabiting couples fare far worse than married couples and so do children living in those relationships. A common-law partner is nine times more likely to be killed by their partner. A child is 50 times more likely to die of injuries when living with an unrelated adult than when living with his biological parents.
In a marriage, a child becomes a source of co-operation for the couple. In cohabitation, the child is often perceived as an obstacle - someone "in the way," Morse said.