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Earlier today, the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act. The justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that the federal government cannot discriminate against legally married same-sex couples. From tax breaks to immigration allowances to health insurance sharing, gay unions will now be treated the same as straight unions. Within minutes of the Court’s decision, the ruling was heralded as a major victory for gay rights advocates, but the truth is the decision will actually benefit every single one of us moving forward. And not just for the equal rights lessons you always hear about.
Over the past few decades, the once damn near all-powerful pull toward the wedding chapel has slowly gotten weaker and weaker. With the onset of the sexual revolution, sharp increases in the divorce rate, complicated laws reducing the benefits poor married Americans are eligible for and other societal changes slowly altering viewpoints, the percentage of Americans who choose marriage before starting a family is now lower than ever. In fact, recent studies have shown many poor women view exchanging vows as a luxury for their richer and more-educated counterparts. Consequently, almost half of all mothers birth their first child out of wedlock, which is a massive problem.
For every stable, affluent and loving couple like Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell who choose not to marry on philosophical grounds (and there are many of them), there are dozens more who procreate and don’t marry for far more practical reasons including but not limited to a) they don’t love each other, b) they’re not overly committed, c) they can’t afford it or d) they weren’t even together to begin with. In theory, the relationship status of the parents shouldn’t affect the children, but numerous studies (here’s one from Princeton) have shown that’s not the case at all. Children who grow up in single parent families, as a group, have lower test scores, are more likely to drop out of high school and are more likely to show unhealthy aggressiveness.
Given all this, it’s not surprising a tangible percentage of Americans would root for a return to Norman Rockwell-type nuclear families, and it’s not surprising they would view gay marriage as an obstacle standing in the way of that goal. Every individual relationship, however, has to be looked at on its own merits. Whether or not homosexuals receive equal protection under the law has no affect whatsoever on whether or not a random straight union will survive, but it does have a major affect on whether or not a homosexual marriage will. From military, stay at home spouses who desperately need their working partner’s health insurance to married couples trying to obtain permanent residency or citizenship for one of the partners who was born outside the United States, the difficulties DOMA placed on gay couples exponentially increased the hardships they faced, which doesn’t make any sense because we should collectively want people to stay together.
You know what the number one factor that correlates to happiness is? Health. You know what the number two factor is? Whether or not one is employed. You know what the number three factor is? Marriage. That’s right. Marriage is more central to a person’s mental well-being than how much money they make or whether or not they have children. Married people, as a general rule, also accept less government handouts when they get older and vote in higher percentages, both of which are, again, great for society as a whole.
Gay people are also raising children in far higher numbers. 4% of all adopted kids are now raised by homosexuals, and like their counterparts brought up by straight parents, these children are far more likely to succeed if their parents stay together. Years from now, these kids will be grown. They’ll be starting companies, applying for jobs and meeting potential spouses, and the less emotional and cognitive problems they have, the better it will be for all of us.
Yes, it’s important we give everyone equal rights. Yes, it’s important we stop judging people and let them rule over their own lives, but it’s every bit as important that we glorify and reward stable, long-term marriages for our collective future. Conservatives aren’t wrong when they say marriages are the backbone of our economy and our society, but there’s no reason why that backbone shouldn’t also include homosexual marriages too. Stability is better for everyone. It makes people more likely to show up for work, more likely to raise children to be contributing members of society and more likely to find happiness, and I, for one, want more joyful and productive parents willing to hold down an honest job, no matter what their sexual orientation might be. DOMA stood in the way of that for a lot of Americans, and it had to go for the benefit of us all.