Motherhood, marriage and the Supreme Court: new divisions

In a not particularly rare display of hubris, Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, asserted after the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, that there’s now only one side on the issue of same-sex marriage. “We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides,” he said.

Leaving aside the fact that the opinion was 5-4, indicating that there are at least two sides to the issue, there’s also an emerging split on whether the court’s reasoning in its decision was flawed.

Critics are asserting that the majority opinion, by emphasizing the importance of marriage to families and children, shames the families, parenting styles, and relationship choices of millions of Americans.

Considered particularly offensive and egregious are the following excerpts from the opinion:

“[Children of unmarried parents] also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life… Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests.”


“Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.”

But it’s the critics who are way off base, not the Supreme Court.

Single parenthood is a scourge on American society with dreadful consequences that can’t be ignored.


In saying that, it needs to be understood that single parenthood is a result of decisions, or the lack of decisions, by both men and women. Men who spread their sperm about shelter skelter without regard to the consequences are as much a part of the equation as women.


Just five percent of births in the United States were to unmarried couples in 1960. In 2013, as in the six previous years, more than four in ten births (41 percent to be precise) were to unmarried couples, with most of the mothers likely to be young, black or Latina and with no more than a high school degree.

In 2013, 72 percent of all births to black women, 66 percent to American Indian or Alaskan native women, and 53 percent to Hispanic women occurred outside of marriage, compared with 29 percent for white women, and 17 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander women.

What’s the prognosis for these unmarried women and their children?

Certainly there are exceptions, particularly if the mother is older, educated and economically secure, but the fact is women who have children outside of marriage, even if they are cohabiting with the other parent, are more likely to:

  • Have lower incomes as they age
  • Have lower education levels
  • Be dependent on welfare assistance
  • Have reduced marriage prospects themselves, compared with single women without children.

As for the children of unmarried couples, they are more likely to:

  • spend their entire youth in a single-parent household
  • experience instable living arrangements
  • live in poverty
  • have low educational attainment
  • have sex at a younger age
  • give birth out of marriage themselves
  • have lower occupational status and income as they grow up
  • have more divorces as adults than those born to married parents.

Certainly the issues associated with unmarried mothers are not one-size-fits-all, but those who believe marriage is irrelevant to the well-being of mothers and children are blinded by progressive ideology.

And the solution isn’t, as too many progressives argue, just more access to better childcare at less cost, more generous income support programs, higher pay, free or heavily subsidized higher education, guaranteed low-cost health care, paid leave, better early education programs, etc. All of these are about dealing with the after-effects of the birth of children to unmarried women and absent men.

A better solution is to work on getting men to accept responsibility for the children they help conceive. We need to talk again about the shame of men abandoning their children and the cowardice men exhibit when they avoid accountability for their actions.  As a friend puts it, “I’d like to see (children) cared for by the people that brung ’em…and that means BOTH parents!”

We also need to implement and support programs that discourage single women from having children and having to raise them alone in the first place. If we can move in that direction, while strengthening the education and economic security of Americans at large, then we’ll be on our way back from the precipice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s