Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

In Defense of Marriage: The Unique Benefits of Traditional Marriage

  • S. Michael Craven President, Center for Christ & Culture
  • 2008 9 Aug
In Defense of Marriage: The Unique Benefits of Traditional Marriage

Marriage is designed for sex and sex is designed for marriage. Nonmarital sex ultimately harms the individual and society. Marriage, as I have already shown, is also exclusively heterosexual in that it conforms to the biological design for human sexuality and fulfills the reproductive principle. While same-sex couples may enjoy an emotional bond and engage in sexual acts, they are unable to achieve this one-flesh union because there is no biological communion such as that achieved through procreative acts. In the absence of this biological principle, sex becomes merely instrumental for self-satisfying pleasure and therefore falls into the same destructive category of self-centered acts that characterize all nonmarital sex.

Any deviation from this proper relationship for sex (i.e., marriage), as well as its proper biological design (i.e., heterosexual), is a perversion of human sexuality; history demonstrates that such deviations will inevitably undo those societal goods associated with marriage and the natural family. 

So what are these “goods” that derive from marriage? According to the eminent University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, there are a multitude of documented benefits unique to natural marriage that would be nullified if marriage were altered. For example:

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. (As quoted by Robert Browning in a book review of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher).

Regarding mortality, studies reveal that “mortality rates are 50 percent higher for unmarried women and 250 percent higher for unmarried men than they are for married women and men” (Waite and Gallagher, The Case for Marriage [New York: Broadway Books, 2000], 47). In regards to men matched in every respect except marital status, nine out of ten married men who were alive at age forty-eight made it to sixty-five; only six out of ten bachelors lived to the usual retirement age (Waite and Gallagher, 50).

Mortality rates for homosexual men are even higher. According to a study that appeared in the International Journal of Epidemiology, which examined the homosexual community in Vancouver, Canada, “Life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men” (Robert S. Hogg et al., “Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men,” International Journal of Epidemiology, 26 [1997]: 657).

Another overlooked benefit of marriage is that of physical security for women. While some may want you to believe that marriage facilitates the oppression and subjugation of women, the reality is that spousal abuse is not the primary source of domestic abuse in this country; it is nonspousal abuse. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the US Department of Justice, of all violent crimes against domestic partners (male/female) that occurred between 1979 and 1987, boyfriends or ex-husbands commit the overwhelming majority of crimes. In total, 20 percent of women report having been assaulted by their partner. However, husbands presently living with their wives committed only 9 percent of these crimes. The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that being unmarried puts women at a much higher risk of domestic abuse.

Abuse within male homosexual relationships is as high as 46 percent (“Domestic Violence in Gay and Lesbian Couples,” Among lesbian couples, some research shows that the lifetime prevalence of physical assault among women living with female partners was 35.4 percent. Given that same-sex “marriage” would exist in name only without its essential defining elements, its application to homosexual couples would, most likely, not serve to arrest the high rates of domestic abuse among gays. 

To illustrate that marriage is unique and its benefits derive from a particular social understanding that is beyond the mere fact of men and women living together in a sexual relationship, consider cohabitation. Cohabiting couples seldom accumulate wealth in the same way 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 (Waite and Gallagher, 110–123). And finally, the physical and sexual abuse of children is much higher in cohabiting families than in married families (Waite and Gallagher, 135).

Many believe that living together prior to marriage serves as an effective testing ground, 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, cohabitation not only fails to prepare couples for marriage, but actually contributes to decreased marital stability in the future. According to studies, couples that cohabitate prior to marriage have substantially higher divorce rates, ranging from 50 to 100 percent higher (Axinn and Thorton, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?” Demography 29, 357–374).

Cohabitation is not related to marital happiness, but it is instead related to lower levels of marital satisfaction, higher levels of marital disagreement, and marital instability (Booth and Johnson, “Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success,” Journal of Family Issues 9, 261). The dissolution rates of women who cohabit premaritally with their future spouses are, on average, nearly 80 percent higher than the rates of those who do not (Bennett, Blanc, and Bloom, “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability,” American Sociological Review 53, 127–138).

One possible cause for the instability inherent in cohabitation is the lack of social reinforcement for fidelity that is implicit in marriage. Research again reveals that currently cohabitating and postmarital cohabitating individuals are less committed to their present partner in regards to the possibility of sexual encounters with others outside of the current relationship (Cunningham and Antill, “Cohabitation and Marriage: Retrospective and Predictive Comparisons,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 11, 89).

In regards to homosexual couples, the concept of fidelity is a popular myth. In the book The Male Couple, the author reports that in a study of 156 males in homosexual relationships lasting from one to thirty-seven years, “Only seven couples have a totally exclusive sexual relationship, and these men all have been together for less than five years. Stated another way, all couples with a relationship lasting more than five years have incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationships” (McWhirter, The Male Couple [Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall] 252, 253).

Cohabitation among heterosexual couples is much closer to marriage—yet even here we see the adverse affect this modification of marriage and the natural family has had on the deterioration of the family and the loss of essential societal benefits. In short, marriage and the natural family function as the cornerstone of civilization; even the slightest deviation from this absolute definition destabilizes this vital institution and begins to produce a series of deleterious effects. Do we really believe that redefining marriage in even more radical terms will somehow improve the situation?

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

Comment on this article here

Subscribe to Michael's weekly commentary here

Subscribe to Michael's podcast here

S. Michael Craven is the founder and President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of the groundbreaking book, Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, published by Navpress and scheduled for release January 2009. Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit:

Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.