The formation of families, or what we call marriage, has always been the central organizing element of economic activity, predating all modern forms of human endeavor. Today, dramatic changes to the formation of families have imposed huge costs on society. These changes are responsible for most household income inequality and a plethora of social ills that together account for more than a trillion dollars of government spending each year.
It is unsurprising that citizens who care about the future of the nation worry that additional changes to marriage will further erode the institution, weaken the economy and threaten the nation. They are right of course, but those people who think the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage is the problem have entirely misdiagnosed the deep challenges to families. Let me explain.
The United State is often advertised as a Christian nation. In a very narrow sense, I believe this is so; but not through the religious rulemaking of Christianity. The focus on individual over collective rights, which animates our Constitution, reflects the deep religious experience of the predominantly Christian rebels of 1775. Those rights are universally available, unalienable and “endowed by the Creator.”
This liberty is for all of us, of all creeds and colors, in all places at all times. It is in this where Christianity made its mark on the republic. The imposition on others of rules of conscience we try to live by, including restrictions on gay marriage, is incompatible with the deeper call for individual liberty.
Still, the vast collapse of marriage and families must worry us all. It has many causes and huge economic costs. One phenomenon that cannot explain the vast failure of families is same-sex marriage. The collapse of the American family predates any serious gay rights movement, and occurred first in communities who were largely antagonistic to homosexuals. Quite simply, the notion that gay rights threatens marriage is intellectually dishonest. Some argue intellectual dishonesty is sin.
This brings us to the present Supreme Court ruling. The extension of basic freedoms to individuals is the great and enduring gift of 18th century Christians to our country. The Supreme Court last week merely recognized those rights. There is not and cannot be a current, real attack on the choices of individual churches on this matter. So, my fellow Christian Americans should view this not as an assault on our convictions about marriage — upon which even we do not agree — but as a nod to the enduring principles of liberty upon which we must concur.
As we read the words “endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights” we have to understand these are 18th century Christian words, enduring and relevant today, influential to our neighbors of other creeds, and pregnant with opportunity. If we really believe these words, we must understand it was not the Supreme Court who gave gay people the right to a civil marriage. It was the Creator’s bequest. That realization should make it easier to turn our attention to other matters and confront the root causes of failing families in America.
Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.