(The following is an op-ed that was published in The Patriot News

By Brandon McGinley

Single parenthood is on the rise. Fatherlessness, in particular, abounds. Out-of-wedlock childbearing occurs at levels that previous generations of reformers, such as Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, would find incomprehensible. Divorce rates have declined from a recent peak, but are still at unprecedented levels.

Who is most harmed by these realities? Common sense and social science agree: It’s the children. Children who grow up without the particular gifts and influences only a father can provide; children to whom mom and dad never truly commit because mom and dad have never truly committed to one another; children who feel like pawns in a legal chess match—these are the victims of the social pathologies that ail our families.

And yet on July 9, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania filed suit to eliminate the legal framework that teaches that moms and dads joined by a public commitment are the best way to bring children into our society. The suit aims to end Pennsylvania’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

family playing outside art In removing sexual complementarity from the legal definition of marriage we remove from our society the final institutional suggestion that it is best to conceive, to bear, and to raise children within a permanent bond between biological mother and father.

The law is a teacher, and the law will teach that neither moms nor dads are essential to raising children, and therefore that neither moms nor dads have any special duties to children. The law will teach that marriage is about the desires of adults, not the good of children.

But this is precisely the source of the social ills described above, about which we all agree: adult choices that impact the welfare of children. Legal marriage, properly defined, is the last bulwark of duty and responsibility that asserts, even if often ineffectively: “The kids come first.”

Let us then, as citizens, discuss with goodwill what is truly best for Pennsylvania—and especially for Pennsylvania’s children.

Marriage in America is in a bad way, and children bear the primary burden. Intuition and research agree: kids do best on the balance when raised by their married, biological mother and father.

It is alleged, though, that the weakness of our marriage culture is all the more reason to redefine the institution in our law. What sense is there in that? On this account, we shouldn’t try to heal the wounded institution, but euthanize it.

Make no mistake about it: if marriage is not about children, there is no reason for it to exist at all.

Surely we don’t need the government to bless our private sexual relationships to give them value and meaning.

How sad it would be if our relationships depended on the blessing of the state? As it stands, same-sex couples can express their commitment in ways both trivial and profound (including church weddings) without government interference.

The union of man and woman—husband and wife—mom and dad—is anything but private. In its natural inclination toward bringing new life into society, it is a public relationship, hence the public announcements of commitment and public recognition. And therefore redefining marriage has public consequences.

Some married people already see marriage as an adult-based, rather than children-based, institution. Some purposefully avoid having children.

Other people reject marriage altogether. But we don’t (and shouldn’t) make public policy based on cultural trends. We make public policy based on reasons and arguments about the common good—and especially the good of the voiceless and vulnerable who are our society’s future.

In filing suit, the ACLU short-circuits this process of public discussion.  And, in announcing that she will not defend our overwhelmingly-passed Defense of Marriage Act, Attorney General Kathleen Kane has affirmed that this is an issue for unelected judges to decide, not the people and their representatives.

Responsibility now falls on Gov. Tom Corbett to defend marriage and to fight to return the issue to the public sphere.  Let us then, as citizens, discuss with goodwill what is truly best for Pennsylvania—and especially for Pennsylvania’s children.

Let us then, as citizens, discuss with goodwill what is truly best for Pennsylvania—and especially for Pennsylvania’s children.

Brandon McGinley is Field Director for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.