The “Marriage Gap”: A Case for Strengthening Marriage in the 21st Century
Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice of Georgia
In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, reflects upon the state and significance of marriage as we head into the twenty-first century. Chief Justice Sears calls attention to social science evidence that shows that the health of the institution of marriage is directly related to the health of our children and communities. Yet today, alarming numbers of children do not have the support of two married parents in the home. Single parenthood, divorce, and cohabitation are at all-time highs, and a great many of these families are failing. Through a review of social science evidence, Chief Justice Sears shows the far-reaching implications that family fragmentation, a potentially self-perpetuating phenomenon, can have for judicial backlog, child well-being, and community health. She unearths an opportunity gap that renders children from fragmented families less likely to succeed and communities where marriage is the exception more prone to violence and crime. Given these dramatic family transformations and their implications, Chief Justice Sears discusses how society, through its laws, should respond. Emphasizing the emotional, financial, and social benefits flowing to children and communities from marriage, Chief Justice Sears suggests dedicating a renewed vigor to exploring ways that law can promote the benefits of marriage. While she cautions that these changes should not be implemented to the detriment of existing legal policies that protect and support children regardless of the family form they are born into, she challenges society to renew its commitment to marriage in this country, thereby manifesting the United States’ commitment to principles of equality and opportunity for all children.