Illinois is facing a public policy decision as to whether it should follow the lead of 13 other states and legally redefine marriage to include not only two persons of opposite sexes, but two people of the same sexual orientation or gender.
Those advocating same sex marriage say Illinois' Human Rights Act bans discrimination against persons based on characterisitics such as sex, age, religion, ethnicity, housing, military status and sexual orientation. Neither should same sex couples wanting to get married be denied a marriage license.
For those wanting to change Illinois marriage law, the issue is about civil rights and equality. For those wanting to keep the definition as it is now, the issue is strengthening and protecting marriage, rather than attacking it. They also are concerned that with same sex marriage laws, religious liberties could be restricted rather than upheld.
A growing segment of American society argues marriage is a religious institution, and the state should stay out of its definition altogether. They insist social issues such as same sex marriage be restricted from public policy discussions and candidates not be expected to take positions on the issue, although gay marriage advocates say they are committed to gaining equal rights.
Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson says the definition of marriage matters to society and its value should be a part of how it is legally defined:
Why Does Marriage Matter?
Marriage is thus a personal relationship that serves a public purpose. According to the best available sociological evidence, children fare best on virtually every examined indicator when reared by their wedded biological parents. Studies that control for other factors, including poverty and even genetics, suggest that children reared in intact homes do best in terms of educational achievement, emotional health, familial and sexual development, and delinquency and incarceration.
The breakdown of marriage most hurts the least well-off. A leading indicator of whether someone will know poverty or prosperity is whether, growing up, he or she knew the love and security of having a married mother and father. Marriage reduces the probability of child poverty by 80 percent.
Marital breakdown harms society as a whole. A Brookings Institution study found that $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 can be attributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture and the resulting exacerbation of social ills: teen pregnancy, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and health problems. A 2008 study found that divorce and unwed childbearing cost taxpayers $112 billion each year, and Utah State University scholar David Schramm has estimated that divorce alone costs federal, state, and local governments $33 billion each year.
Recognition of marriage serves the ends of limited government more effectively, less intrusively, and at less cost than does picking up the pieces from a shattered marriage culture.
Someone might object: What does it matter if a small percentage of marriages are open, group, or temporary? Those arguments were made in the no-fault divorce debate in the 1960s, but the introduction of such laws had a dramatic impact. After all, law affects culture. Culture affects beliefs. Beliefs affect actions. The law teaches, and it will shape not just a handful of marriages but the public understanding of what marriage is.
More of Ryan Anderson's essay on marriage HERE.