Federal Marriage Amendment

Date: July 12, 2004
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Marriage


Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak on the proposed marriage amendment for up to 30 minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. SESSIONS). Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, I rise to speak on this proposed amendment, constitutional amendment to protect marriage. I am an original cosponsor. I support the Allard amendment. He has done an absolutely fabulous job of bringing this forward. I will articulate those reasons for my colleagues and for others.

This is a critical battle. We are at a critical stage in the culture of the United States. What happens on this particular issue will have a profound impact on the future of the United States of America. It is that which we are actually debating today.

I have no doubt it is imperative we act now by means of a constitutional amendment to protect marriage. As some of my distinguished colleagues have already pointed out, this action has been made necessary not by election year politics but by the reckless actions of a judiciary bent on radical social experimentation.

Let there be no mistake, the stakes in this battle of the future of our culture are enormous. This attempt by the judiciary to radically redefine marriage is both a grave threat to our central social institution and a serious affront to the democratic rule in our Nation.

On our reaction to this threat hinges the future of marriage and our future as a self-governing people. Both are at stake. Most Americans believe homosexuals have a right to live as they choose. They do not believe a small group of activists or a tiny judicial elite have a right to redefine marriage and impose a radical social experiment on our entire society.

Let us be clear, this is not a battle over civil rights; it is a battle over whether marriage will be emptied of its meaning in contradiction to the will of the people and their duly elected representatives. We are a democracy, not a people ruled by a judicial dictator. In order to reach a predetermined outcome with regard to marriage, judges such as the five judges responsible for the Goodridge decision in Massachusetts are disregarding thousands of years of custom and experience, the laws of every society, and the beliefs of every major religious tradition. Unless action is taken by Congress to protect marriage by means of a constitutional amendment, the marriage laws of 50 States will be at the mercy of Federal judges, and marriage itself will be redefined out of all recognition.

The Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress in 1996 is not enough. Without a constitutional amendment, Federal judges will likely rule DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, unconstitutional under the doctrine of full faith and credit, and marriages recognized in one State will be required to be recognized in all.

As several of my distinguished colleagues have noted, challenges to DOMA are already making their way through the courts. This radical attempt to redefine marriage also highlights the need to rein in an increasingly reckless judiciary. When activist judges show no regard for legal intent or precedent, using their positions to achieve policy goals, they must be resolutely opposed. In fundamentally altering the definition of marriage and changing duly approved marriage laws, these judges show contempt for the democratic process itself.

The choice is clear: Either we amend the Constitution and protect the rights of the people to self-determination in this process or the Constitution will be amended, in effect, by the edict of judges.

The time has come to act. If we continue to let activist judges determine the fate of marriage, the battle may be lost and we could lose the institution of marriage. Marriage can be lost.

It is important to take a step back from the heat of this controversy in order to understand why defending the institution of marriage is so important to the Nation's future. America's political system is framed around a particular understanding of human freedom, an understanding of freedom not as mere license but as something that must be guided and governed by a fundamental internal moral code. In keeping with human nature, the direction is toward both the individual good and the common good.

Our great experiment and freedom as a nation has not been without its difficult moments of trial when we have struggled with our very identity as a people as we attempted to resolve the tensions inherent in the responsible exercise of freedom. The attempts to grapple with the evils of slavery in the 19th century and civil rights struggles of the 20th century are primary examples.

In the long view of history, it seems likely we will look back at the social changes identified with the decline of marriage and the family, which began to make cultural inroads in the 1960s, and conclude that this vast cultural experiment has been a very harmful one, particularly harmful on children. That experiment, of course, continues today, but there are indications America is beginning to reevaluate that experiment, to assess where it is heading, and whether, as a people, we need to correct course.

A vitally important part of this assessment is to study the social science data regarding what happens when sexuality and children are taken outside of the context of marriage and what happens when marriage declines as an institution as a result of a culture in which divorced or out-of-wedlock births, cohabitation, and single parenthood have become a social norm.

One of the central questions before our society right now is whether this course is desirable and, if not, what can be done to avert it. Particularly important is what the social science evidence has to tell about how children have been affected by the weakening of the institution of marriage over the last 40 years. It is incumbent upon those who deal with public policy issues to investigate this trend and its consequences on society.

A very wise man who served in this body for a number of years, the late Democratic Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a great cultural commentator. He once wrote this:

[T]he central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

I think we see both truths in action in this debate.

Senator Moynihan also wrote:

[T]he principal objective of American government at every level should be to see that children are born into intact families and that they remain so.

The "principal objective," according to the late-Senator Moynihan.

I have no doubt about what the outcome of this debate over an amendment to protect marriage would be if more of us in the public policy arena adhered to this principle, because seeing to it "that children are born into intact families and that they remain so" is, in a nutshell, what this whole debate is all about. And the only way to achieve that laudable aim is to protect the traditional meaning of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and prevent rogue judges from defining marriage out of existence.

The costs to our society, should Federal judges force the States to recognize the legal equivalence of same-sex unions, would be significant-even disastrous-when measured in terms of the effects on our central social institution, the family.

Marriage is at the center of the family, and the family is the basis of society itself. The Government's interest in the marriage bond, and the reason it treats heterosexual unions in a manner unlike all other relationships, is closely related to the welfare of children. Government registers and endorses marriage between a man and a woman in order to ensure a stable environment for the raising and nurturing of children. Social science on this matter is conclusive: Children need both a mom and a dad.

Study after study shows children do best in a home with a married, biological mother and father, and the Government has a special responsibility to safeguard the needs of children. The social costs of not doing so are tremendous. Child Trends, a mainstream child welfare organization, has noted:

[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabitating relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. . . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.

Giving public sanction to homosexual "marriage" would violate this Government responsibility to safeguard the needs of children by placing individual adult desires above the best interests of children. There is no reliable social science data demonstrating that children raised by same-sex couples do as well as children raised by married, heterosexual parents. Redefining marriage is certain to harm children and the broader social good if that redefinition weakens Government's legitimate goal of encouraging men and women who intend on having children to get married.

If the experience of the last 40 years tells us anything, it is that the consequences of weakening the institution of marriage are tragic for society at large. While it has become fashionable to champion a wide variety of "alternative family forms," it is abundantly clear that children are much less likely to thrive in the absence of their biological father. Children who grow up without their fathers are two to three times more likely to fail in school, and two to three times more likely to suffer from an emotional or behavioral problem. They can achieve, but it is a much more difficult route.

I have a series of charts to share with my colleagues to make this point.

Developmental problems are less common in two-parent families. To show where this goes, they are five times more likely to be poor. Nearly 80 percent of all children suffering long-term poverty come from broken or never-married families-80 percent of all children suffering long-term poverty.

I want to show this chart to my colleagues. Eighty percent of children suffering long-term poverty come from broken or never-married families.

The crisis of child poverty in this country is, in large degree, a crisis of marriage. The percentage of children in intact families living in poverty is very small compared to those in families where the father is not present.

I want to show another chart to my colleagues: Percentage of children in poverty in 2000. You can see across the chart, for children in never-married families, 67 percent of the children are in poverty. If you go down on the chart to those children in families where the parents are in their first marriage, where the parents stay in that union, less than 12 percent of the children are in poverty.

Marriage has the effect of lifting families and children out of poverty. After the birth of a child out of wedlock, only 17 percent of poverty-level income mothers and children remain poor if the mother marries the child's father. More than half of those mothers and children remain poor if the mother remains single.

That is shown on this chart. If the mother remains single, over half remain below the poverty level. If she gets married, less than 17 percent remain below the poverty level.

Divorce, on the other hand, impoverishes families and children. It has been estimated that the average income of families with children declines by 42 percent after divorce.

This is the impact of divorce on the income of families with children. As this chart shows, you can see, after divorce, the income level of that average family declines 42 percent. Divorce is a key contributor and creator of child poverty.

Children who grow up fatherless are also at a much increased risk of serious child abuse. A child whose mother cohabits with a man who is not the child's father is 33 times more likely to suffer abuse than a child living with both biological parents in an intact marriage-33 times more likely to suffer child abuse.

You can see the child abuse levels in families: with married biological parents, comparative rates of abuse, 1 percent; biological mother cohabiting, 33 percent. Indeed, one of the most dangerous environments for a child today is in a home with a mother cohabiting with someone to whom she is not married. It is an incredibly dangerous situation overall-not for everybody and not in all circumstances, but the numbers just go up dramatically.

Married mothers are also half as likely to be victims of domestic violence than mothers who have never been married. As teenagers, fatherless children are more likely to commit crime, engage in early and promiscuous sexual activity, and to commit suicide.

It is clear that both children and society as a whole pay an enormous price in fatherless homes.

The American people realize this. A Gallup poll from several years ago showed almost 80 percent of the public agrees with the proposition that "the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home."

It is a problem that requires urgent attention in our country. Nearly 25 million children today reside in a home where the father is absent. Half of these children have never stepped foot in their father's home. Less than half of all teenagers currently live with their married biological mothers and fathers.

That is what this chart shows us. Less than half of all teenagers live with their married biological mothers and fathers.

This year, approximately 1 million children will endure the divorce of their parents and an additional 1.2 million will be born out of wedlock. Altogether, the proportion of children entering broken homes has more than quadrupled since 1950.

You can see this chart goes from 1950 up until about the year 2000. This shows children born out of wedlock, children born in previous years whose parents are divorced, and you can see that trend line and what that has done in America since 1950.

This is a crisis for both our children and our country, the fact that so many children are growing up without fathers. It has been exacerbated by the decline of the institution of marriage. According to the Census Bureau, the number of cohabiting couples has increased from a half million to almost 5 million in the last 30 years. The number of households with neither
marriage nor children present has gone from 7 million in 1960 to just under 41 million in 2000.

All this is not to say that good children cannot be raised in other family settings. They can. Many healthy children are raised in difficult circumstances. Many single parents struggle heroically and successfully to raise good children. Still, social science is clear, the best place for a child is with a mom and a dad. Both are needed.

Traditional marriage is a social good because it dramatically reduces the social costs associated with dysfunctional behavior. Supporting and strengthening marriage significantly diminishes public expenditure on welfare, raises government revenues, and produces a more engaged, responsible citizenry.

There is a real question about the future of societies that do not uphold traditional marriage. Once a society loses sight of the central importance of marriage in raising children, the institution can go into a tailspin. If marriage begins to be viewed as the way two adults make known their love for each other, there is no reason to marry before children are born rather than after. And if it is immaterial whether a couple should be married before the birth of a child, then why should they marry at all?

In Europe, many parents have stopped marrying altogether because they no longer view marriage as having anything to do with parenthood or children. The legalization of same-sex marriage has been instrumental in working this change in perspective, leading most to think of marriage as simply the expression of mutual affection between two consenting adults. As a result, couples are marrying later and later after children are born, or simply foregoing marriage altogether. Rates of parental cohabitation have skyrocketed, and family dissolution has become endemic.

The experience of other nations demonstrates that the imposition of same-sex "marriage" and civil unions leads to a weakening of marriage. As scholar Stanley Kurtz has shown, in Scandinavia, the system of marriage-like same-sex registered partnerships established in the late 1980s has contributed significantly to the ongoing decline of marriage in that region. In
The Netherlands, same-sex marriage has increased the cultural separation of marriage from parenthood, resulting in a soaring out-of-wedlock birthrate. Kurtz warns that same-sex "marriage" could widen the separation between marriage and parenthood here in the United States, and perhaps undo the progress we have made in arresting the once seemingly inexorable trend towards higher rates of illegitimacy among some communities in the United States.

And Stanley Kurtz is not alone in pointing to the negative effects these developments have had on marriage in The Netherlands.

I think it is important to go into this point at some length, because we have a case study of what can happen to the institution of marriage when it is redefined to include same-sex relationships. We have a case study. We know what happens when you redefine it. It has happened in The Netherlands.

In a letter released just last Thursday addressed to "parliaments around the world debating the issue of same-sex marriage," a group of Dutch scholars raised concerns about gay marriage's negative effects on the institution of marriage in The Netherlands. In a letter published in the July 8 edition of a Dutch paper, five Dutch academics suggested that "there are good reasons to believe the decline in Dutch marriage may be connected to the successful public campaign for the opening of marriage to same-sex couples in The Netherlands."

The letter's signatories came from several academic disciplines, including the social sciences, philosophy, and law. The scholars caution against attributing all of the recent decline of Dutch marriage to the adoption of same-sex marriage, but they did say, "There are undoubtedly other factors which have contributed to the decline of the institution of marriage in our country. Further scientific research is needed to establish the relative importance of all these factors." However, they conclude, "At the same time, we wish to note that enough evidence of marital decline already exists to raise serious concerns about the wisdom of the efforts to deconstruct marriage in its traditional form."

In recent years, they note, there is statistical evidence of Dutch marital decline, including "a spectacular rise in the number of illegitimate births." By creating a social and legal separation between the ideas of marriage and parenting, these scholars warn, same-sex marriage may make young people in The Netherlands feel less obligated to marry before having children.

The publication of the letter of warning in this Dutch paper was accompanied by a front page news story and an interview with two of the signatories. In the interview, Dutch law professor M. van Mourik said that "the reputation of marriage as an institution [in Holland] is in serious decline." According to Mourik, the Dutch need to have a national debate on how to restore traditional marriage. The decision to legalize gay marriage, said Mourik, should certainly never have happened. "In my view that has been an important contributing factor to the decline in the reputation of marriage."

One of the letters' other signatories, Dr. Joost van Loon, is a Dutch citizen who heads a research unit on culture and communication at Britain's Nottingham Trent University. Van Loon has done comparative studies of family life and sexual attitudes in The Netherlands and Britain, and is also acquainted with research on American marriage. Van Loon believes that gay marriage has contributed to a decline in the reputation of Dutch marriage. He says, it's "difficult to imagine" that the Dutch campaign for gay marriage did not have "serious social consequences," said Van Loon, citing "an intensive media campaign based on the claim that marriage and parenthood are unrelated."

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this letter and background documentation be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


[New statement. Here it is in Dutch. What follows is an unofficial English translation]

At a time when parliaments around the world are debating the issue of same-sex marriage, as Dutch scholars we would like to draw attention to the state of marriage in The Netherlands. The undersigned represent various academic disciplines in which marriage is an object of study. Through this letter, we would like to express our concerns over recent trends in marriage and family life in our country.

Until the late 1980's, marriage was a flourishing institution in The Netherlands. The number of marriages was high, the number of divorces was relatively low compared to other Western countries, the number of illegitimate births also low. It seems, however, that legal and social experiments in the 1990's have had an adverse effect on the reputation of man's most important institution.

Over the past fifteen years, the number of marriages has declined substantially, both in absolute and in relative terms. In 1990, 95,000 marriages were solemnized (6.4 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants); by 2003, this number had dropped to 82,000 (5.1 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants). This same period also witnessed a spectacular rise in the number of illegitimate births-in 1989 one in ten children were born out of wedlock (11 percent), by 2003 that number had risen to almost one in three (31 percent). The number of never-married people grew by more than 850,000, from 6.46 million in 1990 to 7.32 million in 2003. It seems the Dutch increasingly regard marriage as no longer relevant to their own lives or that of their offspring. We fear that this will have serious consequences, especially for the children. There is a broad base of social and legal research which shows that marriage is the best structure for the successful raising of children. A child that grows up out of wedlock has a greater chance of experiencing problems in its psychological development, health, school performance, even the quality of future relationships.

The question is, of course, what are the root causes of this decay of marriage in our country. In light of the intense debate elsewhere about the pros and cons of legalising gay marriage it must be observed that there is as yet no definitive scientific evidence to suggest the long campaign for the legalisation of same-sex marriage contributed to these harmful trends.

However, there are good reasons to believe the decline in Dutch marriage may be connected to the successful public campaign for the opening of marriage to same-sex couples in The Netherlands. After all, supporters of same-sex marriage argued forcefully in favour of the (legal and social) separation of marriage from parenting. In parliament, advocates and opponents alike agreed that same-sex marriage would pave the way to greater acceptance of alternative forms of cohabitation.

In our judgment, it is difficult to imagine that a lengthy, highly visible, and ultimately successful campaign to persuade Dutch citizens that marriage is not connected to parenthood and that marriage and cohabitation are equally valid 'lifestyle choices' has not had serious social consequences. There are undoubtedly other factors which have contributed to the decline of the institution of marriage in our country. Further scientific research is needed to establish the relative importance of all these factors. At the same time, we wish to note that enough evidence of martial decline already exists to raise serious concerns about the wisdom of the efforts to deconstruct marriage in its traditional form.

Of more immediate importance than the debate about causality is the question what we in our country can do in order to reverse this harmful development. We call upon politicians, academics and opinion leaders to academics and opinion leaders to acknowledge the fact that marriage in The Netherlands is now an endangered institution and that the many children born out of wedlock are likely to suffer the consequences of that development. A national debate about how we might strengthen marriage is now clearly in order.


Prof. M. van Mourik, professor in contract law, Nijmegen University.

Prof. A. Nuytinck, professor in family law, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Prof. R. Kuiper, professor in philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam J. Van Loon PhD, Lecturer in Social Theory, Nottingham Trent University H. Wels PhD, Lecturer in Social and Political Science, Free University Amsterdam.



"On average, the presence of two married parents is associated with more favorable outcomes for children both through, and independent of, added income. Children who live in a household with only one parent are substantially more likely to have family incomes below the poverty line, and to have more difficulty in their lives than are children who live in a household with two married parents." (quoting annual report published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2003)

"[T]he research evidence clearly shows that indicators of children's achievement and social behavior are more favorable in two parent biological families than in two-parent step, adoptive, or foster families."


Nearly 25% of U.S. children under the age of 18 are living with only their mothers, typically as a result of marital separation or divorce or birth outside of marriage. (U.S. Census Bureau)

5% of U.S. children are living with only their fathers. (U.S. Census Bureau)

4% of U.S. children are living with neither parent. (U.S. Census Bureau)

10% to 15% of U.S. children are living in a stepfamily situation, with their mother and a stepfather or their father and a stepmother. (U.S. Census Bureau)

69% of U.S. children are living with two married parents, but only 55% of U.S. children are living with two married biological parents. (U.S. Census Bureau)

About 1 in 3 children born in the U.S. today is born to unmarried parents-"many of whom will never get married to each other."



60% of U.S. children born in 2000 entered a broken family: 33% born out of wedlock and 27% suffering the divorce of their parents. In contrast, only 12% of U.S. children born in 1950 entered a broken family: 4% born out of wedlock and 8% suffering the divorce of their parents. (CDC/NCHS Series Report)

"The children of parents who reject each other suffer: in deep emotional pain, ill health, depression, anxiety, even shortened life span; more drop out of school, less go to college, they earn less income, they develop more addictions to drugs and alcohol, and they engage in increased violence or suffer it within their homes."

U.S. children from intact families that worship God frequently have an average GPA of 2.94, while children from fragmented families that worship little or not at all have an average GPA of 2.48. Children from intact families that worship little or not at all have an average GPA of 2.75. Children from fragmented families that worship frequently have an average GPA of 2.72. (National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health).

Mr. BROWNBACK. We have studied this question thoroughly. I and a number of my distinguished colleagues have held extensive hearings on the importance of protecting and strengthening the institution of marriage. Traditional marriage is a boon to society in a variety of ways, and government has a vital interest in encouraging and providing the conditions to maintain as many traditional marriages as possible. Marriage has economic benefits not only for the spouses but for the economy at large. Even in advanced industrial societies such as ours, economists tell us that the uncounted but real value of home activities such as child care, senior care, home carpentry, and food preparation is still almost as large as the "official" economy. Not least of the reasons heterosexual marriage is a positive social good is the fact that, in the married state, adults of both sexes are vastly healthier, happier, safer, wealthier and longer lived.

It is ironic, then, that the very governments that stand to benefit in so many ways from intact, traditional unions have, in recent years, seemed determined to follow policies that have the effect of weakening marriage.

If the movement for civil unions and same-sex marriage succeeds, we may well be dealing a fatal blow to an already-vulnerable institution. It is possible to lose the institution of marriage in America. And that is precisely the hidden agenda of many in this cultural battle: To do away with the traditional definition of the family entirely. An influential organization of lawyers and judges, the American Law Institute, has already recommended sweeping changes in family law that would equalize marriage and cohabitation, extending rights and benefits now reserved for married couples to cohabiting domestic partners, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Once the process of "defining marriage down" begins, it is but a short step to the dissolution of marriage as a vital institution altogether.

It is incumbent on this Senate to protect the institution of marriage from this vast social experiment to redefine it out of existence. I urge my colleagues to vote for this constitutional amendment and to do so now.

I yield the floor.