Like individual rights, the family as an institution preceded the institution of government. History has shown that the type of family that is most beneficial to society—and to children—is the two-parent family that begins with marriage between a man and a woman. An indispensable component of ordered societies, the family is where children are best taught character, honor, the importance of hard work, virtue, citizenship, and respect for authority. As the fundamental building block of society, the family’s prosperity is essential to the development, advancement, and continuation of society. When families are healthy, communities are healthy; when families deteriorate, communities deteriorate.
All levels of government should protect this foundational unit.
Welfare programs initiated in the 1960s had the unintended consequence of devaluing the contribution of a father to the family—resulting in a sharp increase in female headed single-parent households. (For more on this, see Principle #6.) Those programs still favor unmarried couples over married ones. Another example of harmful policy is the “marriage penalty” in the federal tax code, which causes married couples to pay more in federal taxes than they would if they were single. (Fortunately, Mississippi no longer has a marriage penalty in our state’s tax code; exemptions and deductions for married couples are double those for singles. Still, married couples in Mississippi are affected by the federal penalty.)
Marriage is a relationship unlike any other between humans. Far more than a mere “contractual” arrangement, marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman. Because of its unique position, and because the stability of society is so indissolubly bonded to the stability of the institution of marriage, government does have a responsibility to protect it.
When it comes to raising children, government should not substitute its judgment on what constitutes the “best interest” of a child. Parents know their children best and can best understand what their family needs. How can a bureaucrat or politician judge better than parents? Only in unambiguous cases of habitual abuse or neglect should government step in. In cases that are so dangerous that a child must be removed from the home, the child should not be returned unless there is clear evidence the parents have radically changed their behavior.
Perhaps the most consistent way government interferes with the decisions of parents—especially in low and middle-income families—is by taking so much of their money that both parents are forced to work, even if they believe their children would be better served by having one parent at home. Ironically, the money taken by government is justified many times as being spent “for the children.”
It is imperative that the type of family to be esteemed and taught as the ideal is the one based on traditional marriage. Government officials must carefully consider the long-term impact policies will have on the family and should do nothing that undermines or harms the traditional, marriage-based, two-parent family. When government officials understand this role, they will govern with humility and restraint.
This is an excerpt from Governing By Principle, MCPP’s ten principles to guide public policy.