The Big Picture

By Louis Avallone

Some people might say we have bigger fish to fry. Others might say first things first or that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. But when you see that the Japanese people, for the first time, are now buying more adult diapers, than baby diapers, there’s cause for concern – and not just here at home. I’ll explain.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard challenges to both the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. The Cliff’s notes version of the issue before the justices is whether or not the federal government has the authority to regulate marriage, in lieu of the states, considering the “historic commitment of marriage, and of questions of the rights of children, to the states.”

In fact, this deference to the states, regarding marriage, stretches back to the American colonies, which officially required marriages to be registered. In the old country, though, all that was needed were public announcements in church to notify family, friends, and neighbors of one’s matrimony. In colonial times, getting the word out in this manner became more difficult, considering the growth of the colonies, and some historians believe that marriage licenses developed, as a result.

Of course, there is much debate regarding why government is in the marriage business at all. Matters of romance, love, friendship, and even sacred bonds, can all be achieved without government entanglements. But a marriage license from the state also profoundly simplifies the legal complexities of couples, on matters from property and finances, to children, inheritance, and medical care. In order for the government to get out of the marriage business, it would have to stop giving special legal standing to spouses.
But that’s another discussion altogether. Here’s what I think we are missing, when we are talking about government regulation of marriage: A marriage license is not the state’s approval or sanctioning of the morality of one’s matrimonial union, whether it be to another man or woman, or whether it be your first or fifth marriage. After all, 50% of marriages now end in divorce, and the chances of a first marriage lasting more than 10 years is less than 1%, for all sorts of reasons, with infidelity being at the top of the list.

With that said, the government’s real interest in regulating matrimony was that it wanted folks to get married, and then make babies. There’s a couple of important policy reasons that this still makes sense, especially today:

First, the erosion of marriage and family over the past 50 years has created all sorts of problems. In 1964, only 7% of American-born children were born to unwed parents. Today, that number is 46%. This is important for society because a child born out of wedlock is seven times more likely to be poor, than a child raised by married parents. Did you know that welfare spending is the fastest-growing part of government, and that it has outpaced that of Social Security, Medicare, education, and defense? Under the Obama Administration, the Food Stamp Program has nearly doubled and welfare spending is projected at $10.3 trillion. In short, society is better when folks are married with kids: 70% of poor families have unwed parents, and 80% of long-term child poverty occurs in these families, as well. This creates generational dependence on government.

Secondly, government needs folks getting married and children because the birthrate in the U.S. has fallen to record lows. In fact, it’s the lowest it’s been since 1920. There are many reasons for declining birth rates, such as folks delaying family formation (as discussed above), and running from religion (worship attendance is precipitously declining). However, unless the trend is reversed, we will soon be headed over the “demographic cliff” because our birth rate (1.9 births per woman) is below the replacement rate needed (2.1 births per woman) to just maintain our population level.

This means a shrinking population which will get older much faster, and that means the economy shifts to healthcare, and away from consumption and innovation. To add insult to injury, there won’t be enough workers to pay for retirees (Social Security will be depleted by 2033) and our military strength will decline because there won’t be enough folks to enlist.

Consider Japan, as an example of when the fertility rate persistently remains below the replacement rate. Over the past 20 years, Japan’s annual rate of economic growth has averaged a mere 1%, its population has already shrunk by a million people since 2008, and more than half of the country has been categorized as “depopulated marginal land.” We don’t want to be Japan, do we?

Of course not. So, while marriage may mean romance, love, and friendship to you, the government interest in promoting the general welfare of its citizenry should be in making babies in marriages that the public does not support. Does that include same-sex marriages, which could adopt the nearly 37,000 children in the U.S. who will be conceived this year by in vitro fertilization, or the 50,000 children will be given for adoption by biological parents?

Well, the Supreme Court may soon answer that question. But in the meantime, let’s not miss the opportunity to have a discussion about what really matters in our country – and not miss the forest for the trees.

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