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Why is Marriage Important?

May 3, 2006
S. Michael Craven
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Marriage is far more profound than our contemporary culture would lead us to believe. It is a life-long commitment that restrains self-centeredness, self-indulgence and self-gratification. It is the one relationship that effectively prepares and conditions us for community. By restraining self-centeredness and promoting love of another, marriage becomes the foundation for social order. When this commitment labeled “marriage” is reduced to nothing more than a mere contract between two consenting persons, or worse just another option, it ceases to restrain our self-centered passions. Self-centeredness harms not only that relationship but also others as well until it spreads throughout society like ripples in a pond. Abandoning the “others before self” concept of marriage for the self-serving concept of contractual relationships between autonomous individuals makes us increasingly narcissistic, ultimately leading toward moral and social collapse.

Across America the institution of marriage is being assailed, reduced to nothing more than a sentimental ceremony between consenting adults, radically redefined, or simply abandoned altogether. With the long-term viability of marriage in question one must ask: Is the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage really that important? Absolutely, and perhaps there is a greater need now more than ever to understand why.

Our challenge then is to offer a reasonable defense of marriage that not only persuades the culture to resist redefining marriage but also encourages the culture to recommit to the strengthening of marriage as an esteemed institution in society.

The Judeo-Christian concept of marriage is as old as mankind. It has served as the very foundation of civilization itself. The marriage covenant is singularly unique in civilization; for marriage is not just a civil union between two people, rather it is an emotional, physical and spiritual union between one man and one woman. Emotional in the sense that these two people, male and female, each with different attributes, join together in life; each assisting the other, nurturing and caring for one another, affirming and guiding one another – in essence, completing the other. Physical in the sense that marriage is procreative – two separate biological beings blending together to create what neither can create on their own: children. And lastly, spiritual in the sense that we are made for this partnership that places the interest of the other (or others in the case of children) above self – a relationship that ultimately mirrors God’s sacrificial love toward each of us and His bride: the church.

It is this understanding of marriage that we must recapture for the sake of this and future generations. We must persuade the culture to understand the necessity of the Judeo-Christian view of marriage to social peace and order.

Augustine wrote in the 4th Century, “peace is the tranquility that is produced by order” (tranquillitas ordinis). Marriage is the very cornerstone of moral and social order. History has proven that no community can enjoy peace and harmony without following a true moral order and marriage provides the only suitable foundation for perpetuating this order.

There is irrefutable evidence to support this statement relative to marriage and its role in producing not only social order but cultural prosperity as well. Specifically it is marriage’s role in regulating sexual behavior that history demonstrates is so instrumental in determining a society’s condition.

J.D. Unwin, the noted British anthropologist of universities, released his comprehensive study: Sex and Culture in 1934, which proved conclusively that a strong sexual ethic which restrained sex to the exclusive relationship of legal marriage was directly related to the health and prosperity of a given civilization.

Unwin studied 16 civilized and 80 uncivilized cultures spanning 5000 years of human history. Unwin observed: “The Cultural condition of any society depends upon its social and mental energy, or creative energy.” Creative energy is directed toward productive endeavors intent upon the betterment of society. This creative energy, he concluded, was greater within those cultures that held strong marital restraints on sex and greatly diminished in cultures with more liberal sexual ethics. More specifically: “Those cultures which allowed sexual freedom do not display a high level of social energy – their energy is consumed with meeting their physical appetites - they do not think large thoughts about the physical world - they are not interested in metaphysical questions regarding life and its meaning. In these cultures, life is for now.”

Additionally, those cultures that began with a strong sexual ethic and later embraced a philosophy of sexual freedom for a period of at least three generations inevitably experienced cultural demise. There is not one single example in all of human history where this social fact was NOT observed. Marriage, sex and social order are directly related to the strength of marriage as perceived by a given society. Diminish the exclusive value of marriage by divorcing the intrinsic relationship of sex and you ultimately diminish the social order.

In other words, once a culture begins to extend sexual opportunities beyond the exclusive relationship of marriage, the societal and cultural importance of marriage is diminished. As sexual opportunities are increased our creative and social energies are redirected toward fulfilling our ever-increasing sexual appetites.

This would explain much of our present obsession with sexuality as expressed in almost all of our contemporary creative outlets – television, movies, art and music.

By accepting sex outside of marriage, the social commitment to and perception of marriage inevitably changes from its essential and necessary status to a non-essential status. Consider for example; Rutgers University conducted one of the most comprehensive studies on the state of marriage: The State of our Unions, The Social Health of Marriage in America, 2002. The top reason given by men for their unwillingness to commit to marriage is “They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.” History has demonstrated that we simply cannot violate God’s moral order on a cultural scale and maintain social harmony and moral stability.

In his book The Clash of Orthodoxies, professor Robert P. George, Ph.D. offers the following explanation regarding the profoundly unique relationship of sex to marriage:

“Marriage is a two-in-one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are reproductive in type, whether or not they are reproductive in effect (or are motivated, even in part, by a desire to reproduce.) The bodily union of spouses in marital acts is the biological matrix of their marriage as a multi-level relationship: that is, a relationship that unites persons at the bodily, emotional, dispositional and spiritual levels of their being. Marriage, precisely as such a relationship is ordered to the good of procreation (and to the nurturing and education of children) as well as to the good of spousal unity, and these goods are tightly bound together."

Germain Grisez (Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount Saint Mary's College in has explained the point:

“Though a male and female are complete individuals with respect to other functions – for example, nutrition, sensation and locomotion – with respect to reproduction they are only potential parts of a mated pair, which is the complete organism capable of reproducing sexually. Even if the mated pair is sterile, intercourse, provided it is the reproductive behavior characteristic of the species, makes the copulating male and female one organism.”

In this sense, marriage extends far beyond a mere emotional commitment and is for one, exclusive to a male/female union. For only the male and female can achieve this reproductive principle. It is for this reason that sex is intended only within the context of the marriage covenant. Marriage is the culmination of commitment on the part of two people that are emotionally and psychologically prepared to raise and nurture children. Therefore marriage is a civil institution representing society’s interest in procreative acts and a means of regulating the manner and place into which children come into being and are reared.

Marriage is not a right it is instead a responsibility - a restriction of the rights of individuals involved that derive from their potential procreative responsibility to their offspring and society. The so-called marital benefits that same-sex couples seek have been reserved for traditional families by society as both an incentive and reward for their commitment to lifelong fidelity and for preserving the best possible environment for regulating their procreative potential and subsequent child rearing. Since same-sex couples do not posses procreative potential nor fulfill this social responsibility they are simply not eligible for marriage and the accompanying benefits.

It is this procreative potential that makes traditional marriage singularly unique among all human relationships and is therefore in the interest of every civilization. These marital benefits are, for example, also withheld from cohabitating couples despite their procreative potential because society recognizes their refusal to fully commit to this social responsibility and the incentive therefore remains to marry.

Some may argue that couples unable to bear children or those that take steps to prevent the conception of children are exempt from this covenantal need. Not true. Because whether or not marital sex acts produce children, marriage under girds their commitment to each other. Absent this commitment there is no foundation for integrity in any relationship and society would become nothing more than a collection of narcissists pursuing their own welfare.

Marriage is designed for sex and sex is designed for marriage, non-marital sex ultimately harms the individual and society. Marriage is also exclusively heterosexual in that it conforms to the biological design and fulfills the reproductive principle. While same-sex couples may enjoy an emotional bond and even engage in sexual acts, they are unable to achieve this one-flesh union due to the fact that there is no biological communion such as that achieved through procreative acts.

In the absence of this one-flesh union, sex becomes merely instrumental for pleasure and therefore falls into the same category of “self-centered” acts that characterize all non-marital sex. Sex becomes recreational and not relational, only engaging the physical and to a limited extent the emotional. In this sense, sex outside of a marriage commitment remains an act of taking, not of giving. This is not and cannot ever be defined as marriage.

This view of sexual intimacy can never provide the emotional, physical and spiritual safety that a socially esteemed marriage commitment offers. It is within the safety of the marriage relationship that is reinforced and codified by society that true sexual freedom can be experienced – this is essential to true and fulfilling intimacy between two persons. The contemporary culture’s concept of sexual freedom is simply not true instead it offers broken trust and emotional harm. This is why cohabitating relationships last an average of five years. In the absence of a legitimate commitment the emotional security is simply not there and as such people are never free to experience intimacy as intended and designed by God.

As Christians we must affirm that God is not opposed to sex, even great and pleasurable sex, rather God opposes the abandonment of those with whom we have sex. This is why God has created and requires the lifelong commitment unique to marriage prior to having sex – for our pleasure and protection as well as the social and familial roles and responsibilities.

Marriage in this sense is therefore the cornerstone of social order and as such should be vigorously promoted and its integrity defended by every person concerned about the future of civilization. And, for the Christian, marriage offers evidence of God’s design validating His moral order and demonstrating His love for humanity and our well-being.

Given the fact that marriage is a product of God’s design, one of only three earthly institutions established by God, His revealed truth about human relationships, we as followers of Christ have a duty to defend this truth. However, it is the manner of our defense that may prove instrumental; we must appeal to reason and not to fear, offering the overwhelming evidential truth of traditional marriage.

Marital Facts: 

According to the eminent University of Chicago sociologist, Linda Waite: “Married people live longer, are healthier, have fewer heart attacks and other diseases, have fewer problems with alcohol, behave in less risky ways, have more sex -- and more satisfying sex -- and become much more wealthy than single people. There was one exception to this rosy picture: cohabiting couples do have more frequent sex. But they enjoy it less.”

Health Benefits:

  • Mortality rates are 50 percent higher for unmarried women and 250 percent higher for unmarried men than they are for married women and men.[i]
  • Married surgical patients are less likely to die than the unmarried.[ii]
  • Of men matched in every respect except marital status, nine out of ten married men who were alive at age 48 made it to 65; only six out of ten bachelors lived to the usual retirement age.[iii]
  • Nine out of ten married women alive at age 45 made it to 65, while only eight of ten unmarried women did?[iv]

Sexual Satisfaction:

  • According to a University of Chicago National Sex Survey, 43 percent of married men reported having sex at least twice a week while only 1.26 percent of single men not cohabiting had sex that often.[v]
  • 50 percent of married men and 42 percent of married women find sex physically and emotionally satisfying while only 39 percent of cohabiting men and 39 percent of cohabiting women do.[vi]

Financial Benefits:

  • On the verge of retirement, the typical married couple has accumulated a total of about $410,000, or $205,000 for each person, as compared to $167,000 for the never married[vii] “Married households accumulate far more than twice the amount of any other households, something more is happening here than the simple aggregation of individual earnings.”[viii]

Physical Security:

  • When all crimes are considered, single and divorced women are four to five times more likely to be victims.[ix]
  • Single women are ten times more likely to be victims of rape and three times more likely to be victims of aggravated assault.[x]
  • The national Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice reports that of all violent crimes against partners that occurred between 1979 and 1987, 65 percent were committed by boyfriends or ex-husbands. Husbands presently living with their wives committed 9 percent of these crimes. A redesigned study changed the statistics somewhat; 55 percent were committed by boyfriends, 31 percent by husbands, and 14 percent by ex-husbands.[xi]

Isn’t Cohabitation the Same as Marriage?

Many people falsely believe that living together prior to marriage serves as an effective “testing ground” for marriage thereby increasing a couple’s chances for a long term, healthy marriage. However, four decades of sociological evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that just the opposite is true. In fact, the evidence reveals that not only does cohabitation fail to prepare couples for marriage, but also it actually contributes to decreased marital stability in the future.

  • According to studies conducted in Canada, Sweden and the United States couples that cohabitate prior to marriage have substantially higher divorce rates. The recorded differences range from 50 to 100 percent higher.[xii]
  • Cohabitation is associated with greater marital conflict and poorer communication.[xiii]
  • Cohabiters perceive a greater likelihood of divorce than couples that did not cohabitate before marriage, and longer cohabitation was associated with higher likelihood of divorce. [xiv]
  • Cohabitation is not related to marital happiness, but it is related to lower levels of marital satisfaction, higher levels of marital disagreement, and marital instability. [xv]
  • The dissolution rates of women who cohabit premaritally with their future spouse are, on average, nearly 80 percent higher than the rates of those who do not. [xvi]
  • Married couples were significantly more egalitarian in their role expectations than cohabitating subjects. [xvii]
  • Rates of violence for cohabitating couples were twice as high and the overall rates for “severe” violence was nearly five times as high when compared with married couples. [xviii]
  • “Currently cohabitating and post marital cohabitating individuals are less committed to their present partner as regards to the possibility of sexual encounters with others outside of the current relationship.” [xix]
  • “Cohabiting couples seldom accumulate wealth in the same way that married couples do. They are far more tentative about their relationship; less inclined to invest together in homes, stocks, and furniture; and more likely to do such things as keep separate bank accounts and take separate vacations.”[xx]
  • “The physical and sexual abuse of children is much higher in cohabiting families and stepfamilies.”[xxi]

How does allowing Same-Sex Marriage harm the institution of marriage?

This a commonly asked question in the course of debate relative to redefining marriage to include persons of the same-sex. Those in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry base their argument solely on the emotional aspect completely ignoring the larger aspects of procreation and the natural family. As I have indicated earlier this is the beginning of the very process that undermines marriage itself, producing deleterious effects on the children in these modified families.

However there is some empirical evidence demonstrating that the allowance of same-sex marriage within a given culture will harm the institution of marriage. As Dr. Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at ’s Hoover Institute reported before the House Judiciary Committee in April of 2004, there is ample evidence in the experience of Scandinavia. Dr. Kurtz holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University and is regarded as both an excellent scholar and expert in this area. In the Scandinavian countries, he reports:

“They have simply drawn the final conclusion. In other words, ‘if we come this far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?’"

Indeed, in Sweden the out of wedlock birthrate is 55%, Norway is 50%, and Iceland is approaching 70% and in Denmark 60% of firstborn, children are born out-of-wedlock. And, again according to Dr. Kurtz, studies in these countries demonstrate that unmarried families break up at a rate two to three times that of married couples. This has only exacerbated the welfare state that is unparalleled in Scandinavia. No western nation has a higher percentage of public employees, public expenditures or higher tax rates than Sweden for example.

Dr. Kurtz reports that all of the Scandinavian countries mentioned have “embraced de-facto same-sex marriage beginning with Denmark in 1989. The out-of-wedlock birth rates given earlier experienced their most dramatic increases in the decade following the acceptance of same-sex marriage in these countries. The separation of marriage from parenting was already increasing, as it is here, gay marriage only widened the separation. In Scandinavia, gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood is acceptable.”

British demographer Kathleen Kiernan, the acknowledged authority on the spread of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births across cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births across Europe, divides the continent into three zones. The Nordic countries are the leaders in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. They are followed by a middle group that includes the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Germany. France's rising out-of-wedlock birthrate has moved it into the Nordic category. North American rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth put the United States and Canada into this middle group.

Most resistant to cohabitation, family dissolution, and out-of-wedlock births are the southern European countries of Portugal, Italy and Greece and until recently Spain, Switzerland and Ireland.

These three groupings closely track the movement for gay marriage. In the late eighties and early nineties, gay marriage came to the Nordic countries, where the out-of-wedlock birthrate was already high. Ten years later, out-of-wedlock birth rates have risen significantly in the middle group of nations. Not coincidentally, nearly every country in that middle group has recently either legalized some form of gay marriage, or is seriously considering doing so. Only in the group with low out-of-wedlock birthrates has the gay marriage movement achieved relatively little success.”

Kurtz concludes by saying that “This suggests that gay marriage is both an effect and a cause of the increasing separation between marriage and parenthood. As rising out-of-wedlock birthrates disassociate heterosexual marriage from parenting, gay marriage becomes conceivable.”

It begs the question: If marriage is only about a relationship between two people, and is not intrinsically connected to procreation and parenthood, why shouldn't same-sex couples be allowed to marry? It naturally follows that once marriage is redefined to accommodate same-sex couples, that change cannot help but lock in and reinforce the very cultural separation between marriage, procreation and parenthood that makes gay marriage conceivable to begin with.

Lastly, gay marriage has not strengthened the institution of marriage by promoting fidelity and commitment among gays in as some suggest it will do here. In fact, take-up rates on gay marriage are exceedingly small. Yale law professor William Eskridge (an advocate for gay marriage) acknowledged this when he reported in 2000 that only 2372 couples had registered after nine years of the Danish law going into effect, 674 after four years in Norway, and only 749 couples after four years in Sweden.

Danish social theorist Henning Bech and Norwegian sociologist Rune Halvorsen offer excellent accounts of the gay marriage debates in Denmark and Norway. Bech, who is perhaps Scandinavia's most prominent gay thinker, dismisses as an implausible claim the idea that gay marriage promotes monogamy. He treats this claim as something that only served a tactical purpose during the difficult political debate.

According to Halvorsen, many of Norway's gays imposed self-censorship during the marriage debate, in order to hide their opposition to marriage itself. The goal of the gay marriage movements in Norway and Denmark, say Halvorsen and Bech, was not marriage but social approval for homosexuality. Halvorsen goes on to suggest that the low numbers of registered gay couples may be understood as a collective protest against the expectations (presumably, monogamy) embodied in marriage.

The essence of the homosexual agenda and its demand for legal marriage is not about the expansion of civil rights; this is a carefully orchestrated misunderstanding of the matter. It is a public clash of privately held worldviews, the Christian vs. non-Christian, the truth vs. the lie.

As such, it is Christianity that stands in the way of this new moral order. Therefore it is only natural that as same-sex marriage gains traction there will follow a suppression of the Christian perspective.  This suppression or persecution can already be observed in other countries. Canada for example recently passed legislation, which included the biblical teachings about homosexuality to be in violation of that country’s hate-speech laws. Sweden passed similar legislation last summer. The same-sex debate in Norway was exploited by the media resulting in the solid establishment of the liberal leadership in the church.

Even Harvard professor of law, Dr. Mary Ann Glendon acknowledged this in a recent essay she wrote in which she said,

“Religious freedom, too, is at stake. As much as one may wish to live and let live, the experience in other countries reveals that once these arrangements become law, there will be no live-and-let-live policy for those who differ. Gay-marriage proponents use the language of openness, tolerance and diversity, yet one foreseeable effect of their success will be to usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination the likes of which we have rarely seen before. Every person and every religion that disagrees will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax must fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don’t go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles.”


Marriage is simply the highest of all human relationships and therefore must never be entered into lightly. It is the means of procreating humanity, nurturing and training subsequent generations, producing social order and for the Christian, the best means for perpetuating the Gospel. Marriage cannot be arbitrarily redefined without undermining society’s commitment to this invaluable institution and in so doing marriage defined as anything becomes nothing at all. This would be analogous to awarding every player in college football the Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Trophy, which recognizes the best collegiate football player in the country, would no longer hold its special distinction and as such it would inevitably reduce in value. No one would care about receiving the Heisman because it wouldn’t mean anything. In the same way, marriage redefined to accommodate a multitude of relationships also becomes meaningless.

Given the fact that marriage, as it has been traditionally understood in virtually every human society, is an important social good associated with an impressively broad array of positive benefits for society, children and adults alike it is imperative that this institution be preserved in its strictest natural form. 

If marriage is allowed to die in America as it is in other Western nations our posterity will inherit a godless culture. We simply must give an answer in defense of biblical marriage that persuades the culture to protect and esteem the biblical design for human relationships, family structure and social order – for the sake of the Gospel in America.

© S. Michael Craven, 2004


[i] The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially
By Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher [Hardcover - 256 pages (October 3, 2000) Doubleday

[ii] Ibid

[iii] The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially
By Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher [Hardcover - 256 pages (October 3, 2000) Doubleday

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Ibid

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] William G. Axinn and Arlan Thorton, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?” Demography29 (1992): 357-374

[xiii] Elizabeth Thomson and Ugo Colella, “Cohabitation and Marital Stability: Quality or Commitment?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992): 259-267.

[xiv] Thomson and Colella, 1992, p. 263

[xv] Alan Booth and David Johnson, “Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success” Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988). p. 261.

[xvi] Neil G. Bennett, Ann Klimas Blanc, and David Bloom, “Commitment and the Modern : Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability”, American Sociological Review 53 (1988): 127-138.

[xvii] Margaret A. Segrest and M. O’Neal Weeks, “Comparison of the Role Expectations of Married and Cohabitating Subjects,” International Journal of Sociology and the Family 6 (1976): 275-281

[xviii] Kersti Yllo and A. Strauss, “Interpersonal Violence Among Married and Cohabitating Couples,” Family Relations 30 (1981): p. 343

[xix] John D. Cunningham and John K. Antill, “Cohabitation and Marriage: Retrospective and Predictive Comparisons,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 11 (1994): p. 89

[xx] The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially
By Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher

[xxi] Ibid

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Response from : Paul Burdick  

January 19, 2007 8:31 AM

Your reasons for promoting marriage as an institution seem compelling, however your arguments for excluding same-gender couples is very weak.

Response from :  

January 14, 2013 12:48 PM

yes that is correct

Response from : s.inder  

November 27, 2013 11:30 AM

a very nice in-depth article.

Response from : Emily  

March 10, 2014 5:55 AM

MARRIAGE - Love institution or bonding obligation for the father figure?

Response from : Paul Henderson  

December 16, 2014 3:49 PM

Who would ever want to be Alone?, and many of us men are still single today. Really Sucks, Doesn't It?


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