Two thousand years ago the Roman philosopher and playwright Seneca said this: “The time will come when our successors will wonder how we could have been ignorant of things so obvious.”
More recently, the great English author G.K. Chesterton had this to say: “A society is in decay, final or transitional, when common sense really becomes uncommon.”
Unfortunately both of these sentiments aptly describe the times that we now live in. What has always been blindingly obvious has now become a matter of debate. Common sense is in short supply, and the restatement of the obvious is now the first order of the day.
Indeed, can I impress upon you the really bizarre situation that we now face. We are gathered here today because some politicians and intellectuals really think that we have to have a debate on whether marriage should be between a man and a woman.
It is sort of like having a national rally to decide if we should continue to breath air or eat food. In times past you simply did these things, you didn’t debate them. And until recently we all simply knew that marriage was about men and women, not three men and a gold fish, not a football team, or some other combination.
But as George Orwell once remarked “There are some ideas so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them.” And evidently today, there are some ideas so stupid that only a politician could believe as well.
So we are gathered here today to restate the obvious. To reaffirm what everyone except some of our intelligentsia know, namely that marriage is something that only one man and one woman can take part in.
Now our critics succeed by misinformation and falsehood. How often have you heard, for example, that the family (mum dad and the kids) is a 1950s invention; a social construct that’s only been around a few decades; an American invention at that. This nonsense has been repeated so often that many people now believe it.
Well, it was Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s propaganda minister, who rightly said that “If you tell any lie long enough, often enough, and loud enough, people will come to believe it.” That is exactly the situation we now find ourselves in concerning marriage and family.
So I am here today to tell you it ain’t so. Everything we know about the historical, sociological and anthropological record tells us exactly the opposite. Marriage and family, mum dad and the kids, have always been the norm throughout human history.
In virtually every known human culture, the family unit, cemented by marriage, has been the norm. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
I cannot here give you all the evidence. For a fully documented and referenced article demonstrating this data, go to the National Marriage Coalition website. You will find there a lengthy and fully documented paper making these claims.
I will here just give a few brief findings from the social science research.
The family not only spans the centuries, but it extends across cultures as well. Bronislaw Malinowski was the first great anthropologist to live among primitive peoples. After years of research and painstaking observations of the daily habits of these people, he came to see that the family was a universal institution:
“Indeed, at first sight, the typical savage family, as it is found among the vast majority of native tribes . . . seems hardly to differ at all from its civilized counterpart. Mother, father, and children share the camp, the home, the food, and the life…. Attached to each other, sharing life and most of its interests, exchanging counsel and help, company and cheer, and reciprocating in economic cooperation . . . the individual, undivided family stands out conspicuous, a definitive social unit marked off from the rest of society by a clear line of division.”
Another important anthropologist, Robert Lowie, notes that communal arrangements in sexuality and child-rearing are the exception, whereas families are the universal norm: “Sexual communism as a condition taking the place of the individual family exists nowhere at the present time; and the arguments for its former existence must be rejected as unsatisfactory . . . we are justified in concluding that regardless of all other social arrangements the individual family is an omnipresent social unit…. [T]he one fact stands out beyond all others that everywhere the husband, wife and immature children constitute a unit apart from the remainder of the community.”
Sociologist Amitai Etzioni has put it this way: “There never was a society throughout all of history . . . without a family as the central unit for launching the education of children, for character formation, and as the moral agent of society.”
Harvard University’s James Q. Wilson concurs: “In every community and for as far back in time as we can probe, the family exists and children are expected, without exception, to be raised in one. By a family I mean a lasting, socially enforced obligation between a man and a woman that authorizes sexual congress and the supervision of children. Its style and habits will vary greatly, of course, but nowhere do we find a place where children are regularly raised by a mother who has no claims on the father.”
Marriage is also the norm, both universal and historical.
Writing in 1938, Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman opened his book on marital happiness with these words: “Marriage is one of the most nearly universal of human institutions. No other touches so intimately the life of practically every member of the earth’s population”. And more recent studies arrive at similar findings. Dr Helen Fisher, anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, puts it this way: “Marriage is a cultural universal; it predominates in every society in the world.”
American sociologist Kingsley Davis concurs: “Although the details of getting married – who chooses mates, what are the ceremonies and exchanges, how old are the parties – vary from group to group, the principle of marriage is everywhere embodied in practice. . . . No matter how bizarre or peculiar the marriage customs of a given society, they are still recognizable as marriage customs. In any particular society there may be individuals, couples, or even groups who reject marriage as a norm, but these, being in the minority, do not determine the norms of the whole society. Other people may fail to marry because of conditions beyond their control, but the institution of marriage is present in the society.”
He goes on to note that “the unique trait of what is commonly called marriage is social recognition and approval … approval of a couple’s engaging in sexual intercourse and bearing and rearing offspring”. And these aspects of marriage are both universal and historical. They are not unique to just a few cultures, nor are they found sporadically in history: “compared to most other aspects of human society, marriage has changed surprisingly little. As an institution, contemporary wedlock bears an indubitable likeness to marriage three centuries or three millennia ago. It still has the same essential character that it had then.
Malinowski puts it this way: “Through all societies there runs the rule that the father is indispensable for the full sociological status of the child [and] that the group consisting of a woman and her offspring is sociologically incomplete and illegitimate…. The most important moral and legal rule [in primitive societies] is that no child should be brought into the world without a man – and one man at that – assuming the role of sociological father, that is guardian and protector, the male link between the child and the rest of the community. . . . This is by no means only a European or Christian prejudice; it is the attitude found amongst most barbarous and savage people as well. . . . I think that this generalization amounts to a universal sociological law”.
Not only is marriage and family defined by the male/female relationship, but by a life-long commitment as well. Says anthropologist Margaret Mead: “No matter how free divorce, how frequently marriages break up, in most societies there is the assumption of permanent mating, of idea that the marriage should last as long as both live. . . . No known society has ever invented a form of marriage strong enough to stick that did not contain the 'till death us do part' assumption.”
Bernard Levin unites these various truths in this way: “Some societies have favored polygamy, a few polyandry; in some societies a number of married couples live together under a communal roof, while in others each of the basic units live separately. But no society has tolerated reproductive units with more than one member of both sexes, a temporary bond, or sex outside the reproductive unit.”
I can go on and on with such quotations. The evidence is simply overwhelming and irrefutable. Societies throughout history have consisted of mother/father/child family units marked by social recognition, that is, marriage.
Now we may think that we can dispense with the wisdom of the ages and ignore the historical record. But we do so at our own peril. Societies, individuals and children all need heterosexual marriage.
As Simon Leys recently put it, “The family has stood as the most enduring and successful experiment in the entire cultural history of mankind. . . .In the history of the civilised world, no substitute has ever been found for the family. Any society that allows it to disintegrate, or endeavours actively to destroy it (as we are now doing here) does it at its own horrific risks and costs. . . . That such a matter of common sense could become now a subject for challenge and debate is a telling sign of the times.
We are here today to defend marriage, Can I encourage every one of you here today to redouble your efforts to protect marriage. It is too valuable to let go of without a fight. On this issue, we need to persevere. Given the very real importance of this battle over marriage, the word surrender is not found in my dictionary. I hope it is not found in yours as well. Thank you.