Bernardo M. Villegas
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Marriage and the Common Good

           When the 48 members of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1987 unanimously decided to declare that “Marriage is an inviolable institution”, they were not formulating a religious principle.  Beside the fact that members of the Commission belonged to different religions (or no religion), a few of them were leftists from the “rainbow coalition” that brought President Cory Aquino to power.  The defence of marriage as an inviolable institution stemmed from the conviction that stable marriages promote the public good.  It should not be a surprise, therefore, that 18 years later, a group of 54 specialists in history, economics, psychiatry, law, sociology, and philosophy arrived at the same conclusion in a conference held in Princeton, New Jersey.  Under the sponsorship of Social Trends Institute and Witherspoon Institute, this inter-religious and multicultural assembly also declared that stable marriages are essential to promote the common good.  They came out with what are known as the ten Princeton Principles on Marriage and the Common Good, also declaring that marriage is an inviolable institution that should be protected by the State to promote the common good of society.

          As a Prologue to the Ten Principles, the 54 signatories observed that in recent years, the concept of marriage has been seriously weakened with very negative consequences for the whole of society.  The four more worrisome factors are:  divorce, live-in couples, illegitimate children and same-sex marriages.  By having resort to reason, the specialists concluded that marriage protects the children, men and women and their welfare.  It is especially important that the marriage institution enjoys good health in a free society, which necessarily depends on its citizens to govern their private lives and to educate their children in a responsible way, making possible the desirable limitation of the reach, coverage and power of the State.  The weakening of marriage has the greatest negative impact especially on the most vulnerable sectors of society:  the minorities and the poor pay a very high and disproportionate price when marriage is weakened in their respective communities.  Marriage also offers in the union between a man and a woman a good that they cannot find in any other thing:  the mutual and complete surrender of their person.  Thus, marriage is the enduring union between husband and wife, a good in itself and a benefit to public interests and the common good.

          The following are the ten Princeton Principles that link marriage and the common good:

          1.  Marriage is a personal union, that should last for the entire life between a man and a woman.

          2.  Marriage is a human good of profound significance which elevates and perfects our social and sexual nature.

          3.  As a general rule, men and women who are married enjoy a better life.

          4.  Marriage protects and promotes the welfare of children.

                   5.  Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.

          6.  Marriage is an institution that creates wealth in increasing human and social capital.

          7.  When the marriage institution is weakened, inequalities worsen since the children suffer the consequences of growing up in homes without progenitors who are committed to the family.

          8.  A society that believes in marriage protects political freedom and fosters limited government.

          9.  The laws that govern marriage are of great importance.

          10.  “Civil matrimony” and “Religious matrimony” cannot be rigidly and totally dissociated from one another.

          These principles transcend religious convictions.  They are a cultural product of wide experience and human reflection and are backed up by empirical evidences from the social sciences.  A culture of marriage, however, cannot flourish in a society whose main institutions—academic, judiciary, legislative and religious—not only fail to defend marriage, but in reality worsen its situation, both conceptually and in practice.  It is not the State that should create a culture of marriage. Families, religious communities and civil institution, together with intellectual, moral, religious, and artistic leaders must tread the right path

          Families, religious communities, civil society and law makers must work together in order to achieve the same objective:  strengthen marriage  so that  each year there are more children who grow up close to their mothers and fathers within a conjugal union that is lasting.  The future of civil society depends on this.  There is no other way to sustain a healthy and happy society. For comments, my email address is