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Crushing society’s building block

“Respect for Marriage Act” is the next step in a long campaign to redefine marriage


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Crushing society’s building block
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Joseph Stalin had an utter disregard for human life, and his regime claimed the lives of 9,000,000-20,000,000 of its own subjects. Yet even Stalin understood that society depended on strong, intact families.

Prior to Stalin’s rule, Vladimir Lenin had enforced radical anti-family policies. As Elizabeth Brainerd writes, “When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 they intended to break down the traditional ‘bourgeois’ structure of the family to equalize the status of men and women.” They quickly implemented an easy, inexpensive, no-fault divorce program and were the first nation to legalize abortion.

The outcome was much like you would expect: marriage rates plummeted, out-of-wedlock births sky-rocketed, and women were forced into harsh and demanding work. Much like the United States since 1965, poverty and deaths of despair exploded and society fragmented along moral, religious and civil lines. People were promised “equality and prosperity.” They got fatherless children and a steady decline in men’s work force participation.

To remedy this, Stalin overturned the nation’s no-fault divorce law. He also implemented policies designed to encourage family life. One, Brainerd notes, was an extra tax imposed upon “single people and married couples with fewer than three children.” Others included so-called ‘Motherhood medals’ for mothers with several children as well as benefits for larger families.

What’s more, abortion became illegal and, Brainerd writes, the 1944 Family Code “made the procedure for divorce so much more expensive and complicated that it has been described as effectively a ‘prohibition on divorce.’”

Let this sink in. Even the monstrous Stalin, who is responsible for millions of deaths and atrocities, saw that a society needs intact families with both mothers and fathers, if it is to flourish.

The United States failed to heed this lesson. In the 1960s, politicians and activists began advocating progressivist policies. That undermined marriage and family. Roe v. Wade inaugurated 49 years of fetal murder. In 1969, California passed the first no-fault divorce law under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. No-fault divorce became the law in each of the 50 states after the final state, New York, passed it in 2012.

Without knowing this history, it can be tempting to blame Obergefell—the Supreme Court decision that overturned state laws defining marriage exclusively between a man and woman—for our current woes. But this would be to confuse a recent symptom for a more distant root cause.

It was no-fault divorce, not same-sex marriage, that first redefined marriage in the United States.

It was no-fault divorce, not same-sex marriage, that first redefined marriage in the United States.

Marriage is best understood as a civil and religious commitment between one man and one woman for the procreation and raising of children. Of course, marriage should include mutual pleasure and companionship. But it’s the first part that forms the basic building block of society and gives the state an interest in it. No-fault divorce stripped marriage of its durability and security. Instead, marriage lasts until feelings depart or spouses decide it’s no longer allowing them to ‘live their best life.’

Worse, no-fault divorce codified the belief that children neither need nor desire to be raised by both their mother and father.

Obergefell took this progression yet another step further. Now, our laws do not guard a child’s right to be conceived in a mother/father relationship. If marriage, through these subsequent redefinitions, is based on one’s feelings and lacks any greater commitment to produce and rear children, why then prohibit two men or two women from entering a legally binding contract called “marriage”? Or so the logic goes.

With the bearing of children divorced from marriage, it was a short step to same-sex marriage, an arrangement that deprives the couple’s child of having both a mother and a father. This victimizes the children. A breadth of research points to the harm on a child’s financial, emotional, educational, or physical wellbeing when they are the product of either divorce or same-sex unions.

The redefinition of marriage, which began with no-fault divorce, has reached its latest stage in the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act. This bill redefines marriage to mean … well, anything any state chooses to recognize. Far beyond divorce, child neglect, or two same-sex persons, at least one version of this bill opens marriage to polyamorous relationships. Notably, the text does not define marriage. The bill states simply that “an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the state where the marriage was entered into….”

All who value true marriage should oppose the Respect for Marriage Act, which shows anything but respect for marriage. They should also recognize that marriage has been under legal attack for decades. Its recovery in our culture will be a long, hard fight.


Emma Waters

Emma Waters is a research associate in The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Life, Religion and Family.


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