The nationwide debate about marriage in America has finally reached Penn's door.
Penn law professor Amy Wax recently signed her support onto the "Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good," a report that resulted from an academic meeting in Princeton, New Jersey sponsored by independent research center The Witherspoon Institute.
The report links the decline of marriage to widening socioeconomic gaps. It also states that, in addition to other assertions, that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman -- and that any other family structures only function to weaken traditional marriage.
"I think people should respect the reasoning behind and the genius of traditional constraints," Wax said., adding that ten years of teaching and writing on social welfare policy led her to support the document.
Wax has received criticism from colleagues about her support for the report but maintains that it is important for all sides of a debate to be heard.
"I don't agree with every single thing that the document says," Wax said. "But I think it is an important counterweight to ... the wisdom that is widely accepted in the academic community."
Some of Wax's colleagues disagree with the report's assertions and denounce its existence as being for political, rather than scientific, reasons.
"It's hard to imagine that it is any other rationale than politics," said sociology professor Kristin Harknett. "I'm sure that some people do believe these things, but I think a careful review of the evidence that banning same-sex marriage is going to help kids [will show] the argument is absurd."
The document is not scientifically valid either, according to Harknett.
"The basic principle in research is that when two things are correlated one thing does not necessarily cause the other," she said. "The research argument they are trying to make is just too simple."
As for same-sex marriage, Harknett said she felt it had no place in the report.
"Their first set of policy recommendations is to ban same-sex marriage and that to me felt like a non-sequitur," she said. "It seems very political and not connected to the research argument."
Harknett's research indicates that same-sex families would contribute to the institution of marriage, not erode it.
"Same-sex parents are going to be [strong] on all the good stuff we like to see" such as giving children homes and resources, Harknett said. "I would predict that same-sex parents are going to raise very healthy children."
On being called extreme, Wax retorted by asserting that the views of many college students that marriage should be open to all those who want it regardless of gender is the extreme viewpoint.
"I think it is the notion that an ages-old institution that has stood the test of time will suffer no cost of a radical revision," Wax said. "To me that is the radical idea."
Wax also said that while she recognizes that the chances of same-sex marriage being banned nationally are slim, she thinks it is vital that the debate take place.
"What you see as the aspiration or the norm might not be what you actually manage to do," Wax said. "But I think it is important to [express] that norm and that set of values."
Penn sociology professor Grace Kao said that some of the report's findings are obvious.
"Sure it is beneficial for kids to be raised in households that have more income," Kao said. "I feel like that doesn't need to be endorsed."
Kao agreed with Harknett that two parents, regardless of gender, is likely more beneficial for children.
"All else equal, children having more adults around is probably better than having less of it," she said.
Wax's support for the report should not reflect on Penn, according to Kao.
"It is a little surprising but not shocking in any way ... and I don't think the University can prevent individual professors from stating their beliefs," Kao said. "I don't think it represents Penn in any way."
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