Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"In countries that have redefined marriage, where they've said, 'Okay, it's not just a man and a woman, it can be two men, two women,' the marriage rates in those countries have plummeted to where you have counties now in northern Europe where 80 percent of the firstborn children are born out of wedlock. . . . And currently in this country -- currently -- we're at 36 percent of our children born out of wedlock."

-- Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), Republican TV debate, Sept. 5


Republican presidential hopeful Sam Brownback posits a strong correlation between the introduction of civil unions and same-sex marriage and the increase in the number of children being born out of wedlock. His argument appears to rely on two premises: (1) that the marriage rate has plummeted in countries that have "redefined" marriage, and (2) that the declining marriage rate has in turn resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of babies born to unmarried parents.

Both parts of Brownback's claim are questionable. The decline in marriage rates and the increase in the number of children born out of wedlock long precede attempts to "redefine" marriage by permitting civil unions and same-sex marriage. Domestic partnerships or civil unions were introduced in the District in 1992, Hawaii in 1997, Vermont and California in 2000, Maine in 2004, Connecticut in 2005, New Jersey in 2006, and Washington state this year. Only one state permits same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, since 2004.

Marriage rates in the United States have been falling steadily since at least 1960, according to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. They have not dropped appreciably faster in the past decade than during the preceding four decades.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 36.8 percent of children born in the United States in 2005 were born out of wedlock. (The senator is correct on that detail.)

As support for Brownback's statement, his campaign cited articles in National Review by Stanley Kurtz, an adjunct fellow at the Hoover Institution, on marriage rates in northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands. Kurtz has also cited counties in northern Norway where 80 percent of firstborn children are born out of wedlock. Although it is true that there has been a sharp rise in out-of-wedlock births in the Netherlands since domestic partnerships were introduced in 1997, there has been no appreciable increase in several other countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, that changed their marriage laws at the same time. In general, the rise in out-of-wedlock births in Europe predates changes in marriage legislation, according to the European Commission.

Stephanie Ventura, chief of the reproductive statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, said she is unaware of any provable correlation between changes to marriage laws and the rise in out-of-wedlock birthrates in the United States. She said the recent increase in the percentage of births to unmarried women was caused in large part by the declining birth rate among married women.


We are prepared to be persuaded otherwise if more experts weigh in, but for the moment we can see no factual basis for Brownback's assertion of a connection between same-sex marriage and out-of-wedlock births. We award him three Pinocchios.

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