I have argued that state sanctioning of marriage is NOT for the benefit of people who get married, but rather it is a benefit to the STATE -- and therefore the state has the right to sanction only those marriages that provide benefit. As an intellectual exercise, I have suggested starting with a system in which marriage is NOT recognised, and from there thinking about what forms of societal structure we would want to encourage.
My conclusion is that doing so would lead to state recognition of marriage, but that was simply my feeling. Now someone has done an evaluation of studies on marriage, and found that, in fact, marriage DOES matter for children -- to wit, that children who grow up in a household with married parents do better than those who grow up in a household with unmarried parents.
The survey was performed by Robin Fretwell Wilson, a professor of law at the University of Maryland Law school. Her study, "Evaluating Marriage: Does Marriage Matter to the Nurturing of Children?", was published in the San Diego Law review in 2005.
She provided a summary of her article in an e-mail I received:
Policymakers have argued recently that society should withdraw the legal and financial support given to marriage. Obviously, an important consideration in this debate is whether the State's support of marriage matters to the well-being of children. Until recently, social science studies contrasted families that were so dissimilar that nothing meaningful could be drawn from the studies about the importance of marriage. A pair of studies published in 2003 compared how children fare in families that contain biological, married parents with those containing biological, unmarried parents. These studies concluded that "marriage per se confers advantage in terms of" how children thrive and to the extent to which parents are willing to invest in children.
My latest article, Evaluating Marriage: Does Marriage Matter to the Nurturing of Children?, 42 (3) SAN DIEGO LAW REVIEW 847 (2005), evaluates the extent to which these newer, more carefully constructed studies can assist us in isolating the impact that living in a marital home has on a child's well-being. Although various selection effects may color the results, the transformative power of marriage seems to lie first in the greater permanence of marital relationships and, secondarily, in the motivation of the parties to invest in these relationships. In the article, I conclude that these studies provide a compelling justification for state support of marriage. By supporting marriage, the State is supporting children.
The actual article can be found here (pdf format). Seminal quote from the abstract:
Part II examines a pair of studies published in 2003 that compare children’s outcomes and parental investments in children in families that contain biological, married parents with those containing biological, unmarried parents. These studies conclude that “marriage per se confers advantage in terms of” how children thrive and to the extent to which parents are willing to invest in children.