Other Defending Faith and Family Topics:

Marriage and Sexuality

The Issue

Marriage and family are the building blocks of all human civilization, and the primary institutions of civil society. Intact families, with married parents, are a guarantor of individual liberty, the building block of a strong and stable American culture, and the first engine of economic growth. Preserving the institution of marriage by restoring and protecting its fundamental definition is integral to the flourishing of children and for promoting a healthy civil society.

Mothers and fathers are neither interchangeable nor dispensable, and every child deserves a married mother and father. Government steps in more when it is compelled to provide (whether more or less directly) for the welfare of those who are affected by the collapse of marriage and family.

Laws and regulations should continue to protect and promote intact married family life as the basis of a stable and prosperous society. Now that the Supreme Court has mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage, policymakers should protect the freedom of those who still believe the truth of marriage: that it is the union of one man and one woman.

Recently, the notion of “gender identity” has come to the fore in public debate. While the concerns of people who identify as transgender should be heard, and solutions should be sought by local parties, such as parents, teachers, and school administrators, to accommodate them, the concerns of other Americans must be respected, particularly the privacy and safety concerns of women and children. When people’s “gender identity” becomes a protected class, women, girls, and those with moral or religious beliefs about sexuality are endangered. Public policy should ensure that communities are free to develop win-win solutions, that people who identify as transgender are respected without being made into a privileged class, and that the privacy, safety, and equality of all, particularly women, is protected. Additionally, people who still believe that humans are created objectively male or female, and that sex is not something that can be changed, must be protected, and such beliefs should not be deemed “discrimination” under any circumstances.


Understand and Promote the Many Benefits of Marriage. Married men and women tend to have better financial and physical health, more savings, and greater social mobility than unmarried individuals. Children raised in families headed by a married couple have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity. Teens from families with married parents are less likely to be sexually active and also less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, exhibit poor social behaviors, or participate in violent crimes. Consistent parental involvement, especially from fathers, is also related to decreased likelihood of teen pregnancy.

Given the positive influence of marriage on significant indicators of individual well-being—from employment and earnings to avoidance of delinquency, school dropout, and abuse—public policy should promote, rather than undermine, the institution of marriage.

Restore the Constitutional Authority of Citizens and Their Elected Officials to Make Marriage Policy that Reflects the Truth About Marriage. Marriage brings a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. The institution is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father. Government recognizes marriage because it is society’s most efficient and effective means of ensuring the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and take responsibility for their children. The overwhelming conclusion of social science studies over the course of decades is that children tend to have better outcomes—in all areas—when raised together by a married mother and father.

The Supreme Court’s mandate that all 50 states redefine marriage has further distanced marriage from the needs of children, and has denied, as a matter of policy, the notion that a child needs both a mother and a father. There is nothing in the Constitution that required the redefinition of marriage in all 50 states. Policymakers should promote policy that protects those who believe in traditional marriage. The First Amendment Defense Act and similar policies at the state level are a good place to start. These prevent the government from discriminating against any person or group in regard to contracts, grants, licensing, accreditation, or the award or maintenance of tax-exempt status, on the grounds that they speak or act on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are reserved for such a marriage.

Protect the True Understanding of “Sex” as Distinct from “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity.” Men and women are different, and this has implications for public policy beyond the marriage debate. With widespread discussion of the idea of “gender identity,” policymakers must continue to acknowledge that biological sex matters, and oppose policies that deny this fact. This means that policymakers should oppose policies, regulations, and guidance that provide special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). All citizens should oppose discrimination—and regulations and laws making SOGI new protected classes are bad public policy. SOGI laws, such as the proposed federal Equality Act, threaten fundamental First Amendment rights. They create new, subjective protected classes that will expose citizens to unwarranted liability. Furthermore, SOGI laws would increase government interference in labor markets in ways that could harm the economy. The damage caused by SOGI policies is not only economic. Such policies further weaken the marriage culture and the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions, such as that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective forms of being human. SOGI laws treat expressing or living out these beliefs in employment, business, school, and health care, among other fields, as actionable discrimination.

Refute the Redefinition of “Sex” as “Gender Identity” in Order to Protect the Privacy, Safety, and Rights of Women and Girls. Men and women are biologically distinct, and this biological distinction matters. In recent years, many efforts have been made to redefine male or female “sex” as “gender identity” and, in doing so, the privacy, safety, and rights of women and girls has been violated. In forcing girls to share bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, sports teams, and scholarships with biological males, women and girls are on the losing end of “gender identity” policies. Solutions should be sought by parents, teachers, and local school administrators that accommodate the concerns of people who identify as transgender while also addressing the concerns of all other Americans, particularly women and girls.

The Civil Rights Uniformity Act is a good place to start when it comes to implications in federal law. This act would state that for the purpose of existing federal civil rights laws, the word “sex” does not mean “gender identity” unless Congress specifically says so. This would prevent agency redefinition of existing civil rights laws, ensuring that unelected bureaucrats and judges cannot reshape policy affecting women and girls. Elected officials should allow local parents, schools, and teachers the time, space, and flexibility to find solutions that work for everyone, instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all policy from the top down. State governments can also create policies that would protect the privacy and safety of women and girls in intimate facilities.

Facts and Figures

FACT: Children who live in intact families with married parents are healthier, more financially secure, and engage in fewer destructive behaviors.

  • Fathers’ involvement is an important factor in children’s well-being, from health and behavioral outcomes to school performance.
  • Adolescents who do not live in intact families are more likely to engage in substance abuse, exhibit behavioral problems, have poor academic performance, and engage in risky behavior, including becoming sexually active at an early age.

FACT: The decline in marriage is alarming, given the many economic and character-building benefits of marriage.

  • In 1964, only 7 percent of births in America happened outside marriage. Today, this number has climbed to more than 40 percent.
  • Over the past six decades, the percentage of married adults has declined steadily among all Americans. The decline has occurred more rapidly among African American adults, fewer than 40 percent of whom are married.

Selected Additional Resources

Ryan T. Anderson, “First Amendment Defense Act Protects Freedom and Pluralism after Marriage Redefinition,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4490, November 25, 2015.

Ryan T. Anderson, “How to Think About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Policies and Religious Freedom,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3194, February 13, 2017.

Ryan T. Anderson, “In-Depth: 4 Harms the Court’s Marriage Ruling Will Cause,” The Daily Signal, June 30, 2015.

Ryan T. Anderson, “Marriage, Reason, and Religious Liberty: Much Ado About Sex, Nothing to Do with Race,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2894, April 4, 2014.

Ryan T. Anderson, “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2775, March 11, 2013.

Ryan T. Anderson, “The Social Costs of Abandoning the Meaning of Marriage,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4038, September 9, 2013.

Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2015).

Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, forthcoming from Encounter Books.

Ryan T. Anderson and Melody Wood, “Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3201, March 23, 2017.

Charles A. Donovan, “A Marshall Plan for Marriage: Rebuilding Our Shattered Homes,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2567, June 7, 2011.

Charles A. Donovan, “Obamacare: Impact on the Family,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2857, April 12, 2010.

Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter Books, 2012).

“Parents’ Influence on Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior,” Heritage Foundation Family Facts Brief No. 42, 2011.

Gene Schaerr and Ryan T. Anderson, “Memo to Supreme Court: State Marriage Laws Are Constitutional,” Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum No. 148, March 10, 2015.

“What You Need to Know About Marriage: Questions & Answers Driving the Debate,” The Heritage Foundation, co-published with Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and National Organization for Marriage, 2015.

Sarah Torre, “Congress Should End Federal Funding to Planned Parenthood and Redirect It Toward Other Health Care Options,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4462, September 22,2015.

Sarah Torre, “Obamacare’s Many Loopholes: Forcing Individuals and Taxpayers to Fund Elective Abortion Coverage,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2872, January 13, 2014.