Focus on the Family

Teach Your Children About Marriage

by Jeff Johnston

In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons writes, "It's our job to be faithful to respond to the brokenness of culture with an eye for the Creator's original intent." When we look around, it's very easy to see brokenness in the world, especially as it relates to marriage:

So, how can Christians respond faithfully and demonstrate God's design for marriage? We start first by understanding God's original intent. Then, we work to strengthen our marriages and teach our children what marriage is and why it matters.

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The Foundation of Marriage

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was constantly asked questions, including ones about marriage and sexuality. How did He respond? What can we learn from Him about marriage?

by Jeff Johnston

What Jesus Said About Marriage

10 13 08Because He had earned the reputation of being a wise teacher, people asked Jesus questions all the time, including ones about marriage. When asked about divorce and remarriage, for example, He pointed back to the foundation of marriage, in the very beginning. Jesus quotes the book of Genesis and describes God's design for human sexuality at creation, the way things were supposed to be before man disobeyed Him.  

Here's what Jesus said, and below we'll draw out some of the important points He is making about marriage and sexuality:  

"Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Matthew 19:4-6  

Male and Female

Jesus first reminded His followers that in the very beginning, God made humanity in His own image, male and female. Men and women are different, yet complementary; specifically designed by God to complete each other. Both are intrinsically valuable. The male body and the female body show us we are physically complementary, but being a man or a woman isn’t only about biology; a husband and wife fit together body, soul and spirit.  


Jesus also pointed His followers to God's plan for marriage. Marriage uniquely brings together a man and a woman so the two may become one. God established marriage to be a life-long, faithful relationship between a husband and a wife — full of joy, love and intimacy. Marriage is a relationship where two people, joined to each other and to God: listen and talk to each other; pray and worship together; share work and ministry in the world; and create and raise a family together. 

Sexual Intimacy

Sex is a good thing, as it was created by God. Sexual desire moves us toward intimacy with another, and marriage is the one place God established for sexual love to occur. Such intimacy is powerful, uniting two people physically, emotionally and spiritually. God's desire was for a married couple to enjoy each other without fear, hiding or shame.  

New Life

The marriage relationship was also intended to be fruitful. After all, one of the more obvious results of a sexual relationship is children. A husband and wife typically bring new life into the world. God designed marriage to join them to each other to be mother and father to any children their union creates. Mom and dad are the two best people to provide for and educate their children. Because marriage creates, nurtures and equips the next generation, it rests at the foundation of society — before government, religion, schools or other man-made institutions.  

Reflecting His Image

Being created in God's image means men and women reflect different aspects of God's character: Justice and Mercy; Strength and Beauty; Initiation and Response. These complementary masculine and feminine qualities show us something about who God is. 

A Spiritual Picture

While every person reflects aspects of the image of God, a husband and wife union is the most important picture in the Bible of how intimate our relationship with God can be. God is portrayed as the "husband" who loves us, and we are like the "wife," who responds back to Him. In the New Testament, Christ is pictured as the groom; the Church is His bride. Marriage shows us how deep and intimate our relationship with God can be!

Woven Together

Marriage is more than a private relationship; it is a pattern that strengthens the fabric of families, churches, communities and countries.

by Jenny Tyree

What Jesus Said About Marriage

We know how God designed marriage, but our broken world often leaves God out of the equation. As a result, many people don't know or understand marriage's bigger purpose, but view marriage as "a private relationship," "just a piece of paper," or "any two people who love each other." But marriage is so much more than a private relationship.


The strength of any fabric — from the sheerest muslins to the sturdiest upholstery — is its pattern of tightly woven threads. Similarly, the social institution of marriage is a pattern that strengthens the fabric of families, churches, communities and countries.

The words "social institution" may seem like an academic way to describe what we often think of as a private, romantic relationship, but marriage has deep cultural meaning in nearly every human society. In The Future of Marriage, scholar David Blankenhorn writes that a social institution is "a pattern of rules and structures intended to meet social needs."

Though marital customs, traditions and responsibilities vary by country and culture, Blankenhorn writes that nearly everywhere: Marriage at its core is a woman and a man whose sexual union forms the basis of an important cooperative relationship.

This "cooperative relationship" creates a framework for meeting the physical and relational needs of women, men and children in a way that is healthy for and protective of the next generation. Marriage has been so effective that other institutions, such as the government and the church, recognize and support marriage as essential to the well-being of families.

A Higher Purpose

Marriage has thrived cross-culturally because its purpose surpasses the meaning that any one couple, religion or government chooses to give it. A couple entering marriage willingly commits their bodies, wills and lives to each other, as well as to an established relational design for men and women.

The public vows of marriage make a clear statement to family and friends about the commitment of the spouses—that their sexuality is exclusive and their lives and worldly goods belong to one another. The vows also make a statement to the community. The couple's willingness to enter marriage indicates that they are capable of trust and duty.

The sexual aspect of marriage underscores its procreative purpose — not just the creation of a child, but the permanent bonding of the couple. The couples' sexual bond is of critical importance, as Blankenhorn writes "so that the mother and father will stay together to raise the baby."

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, emphasizes what marriage does for fathers:

"When a baby is born, there is bound to be a mother somewhere close by. If we want fathers to be equally involved in their children's lives, biology alone won't get us very far. The word for the way cultures attach fathers to the mother-child bond in...virtually every known human society is marriage."

When Marriage Fails

Our need for the social institution of marriage is most visible when it unravels. Unfortunately, those who suffer most are frequently the least prepared to bear that burden. If a marriage breaks up — or never occurs — children lose the financial, relational and emotional stability provided by a married mother and father. Often, financial support for these fractured families comes from taxpayers.

One Rutgers University researcher estimated that the cost of a single divorce to the state and federal governments is about $30,000. This includes the cost of food stamps and public housing following a couple's split, as well as the costs associated with increased bankruptcy and juvenile delinquency that often descend upon a broken family.

Sociologists continue to find evidence that marriage makes a difference for families — especially children. The Center for Law and Social Policy says most researchers now agree that, on average, children do better when raised by two married, biological parents who have a low-conflict relationship.

Marriage is the only human institution that uniquely interweaves our private needs with the public need for commitment to the next generation. The tapestry of a society will be only as strong as the pattern of its threads. Marriage between a man and woman must be celebrated and supported by communities, families and individuals who depend upon it.

Our society has experimented with marriage over the years, with practices such as no-fault divorce, cohabitation, "same-sex marriage," "open marriage," and even polygamy and polyamory. These experiments have proven disastrous — for children, for men and women, and for our culture. The next two articles explore children's need for a mother and father and the damage from our culture's devaluation of marriage.

Jenny Tyree served as a marriage analyst for CitizenLink, a partner of Focus on the Family. This article first appeared in the February 2008 issue of Focus on the Family Citizen magazine.



Mom and Dad: Children Need Both

Married mothers and fathers contribute uniquely to their children’s health and well-being.

by Jenny Tyree



Mothers and Fathers Parent Differently  

God established marriage to connect a husband and wife and any children they have. So what happens when marriage breaks down, as in today's culture? In particular, how does it's demise affect children? More than 30 years of social science studies tell us children do best with a married mother and father, so we know that the loss of either is detrimental to a child's development.

Different is good. 

Much of the value mothers and fathers bring to their children is due to the fact that females and males are different. The cooperative relationship of male and female in marriage blends their differences to provide a child with good things that same-sex caregivers cannot.

Balance is key.

Fathers tend to encourage children to take chances and push limits, while mothers tend to be protective and more cautious. Each approach is essential for a child's healthy development.When either parenting style is extreme it can have an unhealthy effect on children, but together the different approaches of a mother and father are balanced to nurture the child, expand his experiences and give him confidence.

Opposite-sex parents contribute uniquely to child development.

Dr. David Popenoe says,

"We should disavow the notion that 'mommies can make good daddies,' just as we should disavow the popular notion of radical feminists that 'daddies can make good mommies.' …The two sexes are different to the core, and each is necessary — culturally and biologically — for the optimal development of a human being."1

Children Need Fathers

Drawing from his own experience of growing up fatherless, President Obama has explained the importance of fathers and acknowledged the effects in his own life of growing up without one. Here is his statement from Father's Day 2009:

"In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence — both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference."

And in a Father's Day speech in 2008, then-U.S. Senator, Obama said:

"We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it."

Fathers should not be optional.

The father, as the male parent, brings unique contributions to the job of parenting that a mother cannot. Even Psychology Today understands this, saying, "Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children." 2

Fathers prepare their sons for life.

Boys who grow up with dads have their masculinity affirmed and learn from their fathers how to channel their strength in positive ways. Fathers help children understand proper male sexuality, hygiene and behavior in age appropriate ways. Fathers help connect their children, (especially boys) to job markets as they enter adulthood. This is because fathers, more than mothers, are likely to have the kinds of diverse community connections needed to help young adults get their first jobs. They are also more likely to have the motivation to make sure their children make these connections.

Fathers protect their daughters from predatory males.

Girls with involved, married fathers are more likely to have healthier relationships with boys in adolescence and men in adulthood because they learn from their fathers how proper men act toward women. They have a healthy familiarity with the world of men, and know which behaviors are inappropriate. This knowledge builds emotional security, and helps to safeguard them from the exploitation of predatory males.

Fathers keep children out of jail.

Studies have shown that the presence of a father strongly correlates to children avoiding incarceration. The absence of the father as an authority figure can contribute to a child's disregarding laws and rules. "70% of juveniles in state reform institutions grew up in single or no-parent situations."3

Ideas have consequences.

Anthropology tells us no human society, ancient or modern, primitive or civilized, has ever sustained itself with a buffet-like family model of "just pick what suits you." We cannot escape that male and female differences matter. Our humanity is diminished by those who say that we are only generic persons randomly equipped with either sperm or eggs. Deconstruction of the biological family structure will not be without profound and painful consequences.

Many of the above facts and statements are summarized from "Why Children Need Father-Love and Mother-Love," "Are Same-Sex Families Good for Children?" and "The Human Case Against Same-Sex Marriage" by Glenn T. Stanton, the director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family.

For more than 35 years, Focus on the Family has worked to support and encourage marriages and families. During that same time period, a great deal of social research has been conducted, which documents the truth that children do best when raised by their married mother and father. The next article in this series gives more information about that research.

1. David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable of the Good of Children and Society, (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 197.

2."Shuttle Diplomacy," Psychology Today, July/August 1993, p. 15.

3.Beck, Allen, Survey of Youth in Custody 1987.

30 Years of Research: A Child Deserves a Mother and a Father

Social research supports God’s design for marriage, demonstrating that children do best with their biological, married mother and father.

by Jenny Tyree


Nobody to our knowledge has actually counted all the studies supporting the value of married mother/father headed families.

They are too numerous to count and there are few topics within the social sciences that enjoy more numerous and diverse published research documentation from the world's leading scholars than how married mothers and fathers impact child well-being.

That said, we offer just a sampling of conclusions by various, universally recognized scholars and child-advocacy organizations on what the research says about which family form best contributes to healthy child development:

The research is clear: If we are concerned about elevating the well-being and life opportunities for children, we must be concerned about the health and strength of the two-parent family.  

A thriving marriage culture is vital for children, adults and all society. So we’ve created unique resources to help you pass on the value of marriage to your children and grandchildren. The following article in this series links to these resources that are filled with helpful and creative ideas.


How to Pass Along Your Values to the Next Generation

by Jeff Johnston

Healthy marriages are foundational for a thriving society. But our children don't necessarily hear that message on television, learn it at school, or even receive teaching about this at church.

So how do parents — and grandparents, teachers, church leaders and mentors — help our children understand what marriage is and why it matters?


We want to help you pass on your values and beliefs about marriage to your children, training them in the process to pass on those values and beliefs to the next generation. That's why we've created two downloadable resources that give creative ideas for teaching your children about marriage.

We hope these kits will equip and inspire, as you pass on your values to the next generation!

Understanding Marriage From God's Perspective

"Teach Your Children About Marriage": Part One

by Jeff Johnston

To equip you in this important effort, we’ve created a terrific new resource: "Teach Your Children about Marriage."

Part One of this complimentary two-part guide provides biblical guidance and tangible suggestions to help you understand marriage from God’s perspective. This unique approach will also help you model and live out God’s design for marriage before your children, extended family, church and culture.


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Talking About Marriage With Your Children - At Every Age and Stage

"Teach Your Children About Marriage": Part Two

by Jeff Johnston

Part Two offers creative ideas for talking about marriage to children at different ages and stages of their development.

God’s design for sex, marriage and family is the answer this broken world is looking for. It’s our hope that this free resource will help you promote the value of marriage in your own family — and beyond.


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The final article in this series links to a helpful resource that provides solid answers to frequently asked questions about marriage. You'll want to check out this short booklet and share with others!


The Marriage Debate: Answers to Your Questions

by Jeff Johnston

The last 50 years has seen a great deal of experimentation with marriage: no-fault divorce, "open marriage," cohabitation, unwed childbearing and "co-parenting" agreements. These are just some of the attempts to redefine marriage from its natural and historical definition: marriage unites a husband and wife to each other and to any children they have.

Several states and Washington D.C. have dramatically changed marriage to include same-sex couples. This is an unprecedented move historically and across cultures. In addition, there are cases moving through the courts that would bring about same-sex marriage in other states. Beyond that, there are court cases asking that lay the groundwork for legalization of polygamy. And we are beginning to see the push for "group marriage" or for the elimination of government protections and involvement in marriage.

As Christians, we want to give thoughtful, reasonable responses to those calling for marriage redefinition. While the Bible reveals and the Church teaches that God designed marriage, how do we communicate in the public arena with those who don't believe Scripture? Where do we find good answers in this societal debate?

 marriage ebook download 2014

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That's why we are pleased to promote this booklet: What You Need to Know about Marriage: Questions and Answers Driving the Debate. Along with our friends from The Heritage Foundation, The Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, and Alliance Defending Freedom, we are offering this booklet which gives solid answers to some of the questions being asked about marriage, such as:

The answers in this booklet are based on social science research. We trust that you will make good use of it as you engage the culture on this vital issue.

What are your thoughts? Let us hear from you! Email us at



Status of State Marriage Laws

The landscape of marriage has undergone immense transformation over the past five years. Following the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling, approving same-sex marriage, voters in more than 30 states sought to codify into law the protection of one-man, one-woman marital unions. In the majority of states, referendum and ballot initiatives passed by wide margins.

Nevertheless, the current legal onslaught by liberal and homosexual activists to reverse these voter-approved laws are gaining steam — in hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will rule same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

If you are concerned about protecting marriage — and thus, religious freedom — we encourage you to get involved locally with your Family Policy Council.

Download our latest state-by-state summary when you select this orange button:

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Or, stay onscreen and double-click on the tables (below) to zoom in.  

State Marriage Laws - 8 Oct 14 - page 1State Marriage Laws - 8 Oct 14 - page 2State Marriage Laws - 8 Oct 14 - page 3State Marriage Laws - 8 Oct 14 - page 4

 Last updated: Oct. 8, 2014