I often ask you to read several posts in succession and make your own connections. Here’s a line up of some old and some new posts about the history, current state (and cultural battle) and possible future of the institution of marriage:
“…a lot of Right Wing America lives on the frontier between civilization and Trailer Park choas. The reason they are so terrrified by change and the prospect of sexual and personal freedom is that where they come from all those things are aftereffects of social breakdown.”
“Armchair speculation (the most entertaining form of speculation, requiring only tenuous links to reality) leads me to wonder whether open relationships might be under-rated in our society.”
This really fits in the theme – is the institution of marriage going to lose its official institutionality, the way it is already happening in places like Sweden, Netherlands, etc., and become something much more private?
“Be that as it may, I think conservatives are right about one thing: if the institution of marriage is going to survive, it does need defending. Not because marriage is the only or best source of truly moral living, but precisely the opposite: marriage is increasingly irrelevant in modern society. In the absence of many good reasons for marriage to even exist, those who value it as a tradition are going to be more and more hard-pressed to perpetuate it.”
I disagree with his attempt to make correlations between marriage-types and life-styles, e.g., nomadic vs. stationary peoples (research by Stephanie Coontz and others found no such correlation), but the rest is fine. Notice a commenter from Sweden who has a completely different concept of marriage – he completely ignores the central point of the American marriage institution: the legal and religious aspects of it. In his world, cohabitation IS marriage.
Oneman also ends with:
“One final note: None of this is meant to belittle the efforts of same-sex marriage advocates to legalize marriage for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation. That battle has an importance quite distinct from the question of what marriage does or does not do in our society.”
I agree wholehartedly (which means I changed my mind since 2003 when I wrote some of my own posts linked below in which I thought that if marriage is on its way out why bother to have gays enter an obsolete institution at a high cost of the struggle). It is essential that we win the battle for gay marriage, so we can proceed to alter the whole insitution to fit the times.
What I think is missing from all of the above posts is a clear defnition of marriage (so the Swedes in comments do not get mixed up), and what recent developments are responsible for the change in the definition. I wrote about it a long time ago (ignore the wishy-washiness on gay marriage – I have changed my mind since I wrote that):
“The thousand provisions in various laws are not favoring just hetero- over homo-sexual marriage. It also favores a particular, narrowly defined type of relationship over all others, including over living alone. That narrow definition of marriage contains several criteria: 1) church-sanctioned, 2) state-sanctioned, 3) monogamous, 4) exclusive, 5) heterosexual, 6) fertile, 7) indefinite (till death do us part).
Vast increase in life-span, invention of contraceptives, cures for most STDs, gender equality, increasing secularity, as well as economic forces are making the 7 criteria obsolete, whether you like it or not.”
Since then, I have read the currently best book on the topic – Stephanie Coontz On Marriage. She analyzed many different types of marriage in many different cultures around the world and tracked their changes over time. Her one-liner summary is that marriage used to be about “getting the best in-laws” be it for land, money or social connections. In other words, in order to increase their own fitness, people have to provide for their grandchildren and they do it by carefully selecting the parents of the person who will marry their child and provide half of the provisioning for the grandkids.
According to Coontz, the so-called “traditional marriage” that conservatives are trying to defend these days existed only from 1945-1961 in the USA and 1947-1963 in Western Europe. It lasted a short time and vanished for a good reason – and good riddance! Coontz writes:
“Forget the fantasy of solving the challenges of modern personal life by re-institutionalizing marriage. In today’s climate of choice, many people’s choices do not involve marriage. We must recognize that there are healthy as well as unhealthy ways to be single or to be divorced, just as there are healthy and unhealthy ways to be married. We cannot afford to construct our social policies, our advice to our own children and even our own emotional expectations around the illusion that all commitments, sexual activities and care-giving will take place in a traditional marriage. That series has been canceled.
People will continue to marry, but it is too late to “defend” marriage; Coontz says flatly that it will never again be an important cultural institution. It strikes me that the strident debate about gay marriage masks a deep anxiety; it might well be a distraction from acknowledging the diminishing importance of marriage. Isn’t it ironic that those who now sentimentalize marriage are denied entry?”
In Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What’s Wrong With Conservative View Of Marriage I took an editorial by Stanley Kurtz and two editorials by William Raspberry as examples of what is wrong with the conservative “defense” of marriage:
“Yes, gay marriage and the evolution of straight marriage go hand-in-hand. But Kurtz is afraid of it, instead of celebrating it. This is yet another step in a long line of advances towards equality of sexes. First, women managed to win the battle for not being their husband’s property. Later, they won the right to own property. Choosing a husband, not paying dowry, divorcing , working outside the house, voting, taking contraception, having an abortion, running for office, …. those are all victories that women won over the past century or so, always against the screaming horror of conservatives who thought, at each of these junctures, that the fabric of the society is unravelling and that the End of the World will result from those immoral shameless practices.”
“The history of marriage can be seen as a constant struggle between the two ideologies, one bent on keeping the moral authority of the white straight adult rich male, the other fighting for equality of all people. Every change in the definition of marriage was a blow to the conservative core model, and a victory for the liberal worldview. Giving women right to own property, granting legal equality, allowing contraception, or divorce, allowing inter-racial marriage and, currently, allowing same-sex marriage, are some of the stages of evolution of marriage, from a feudal economic arrangement designed for the strengthenig of the clan, towards marriage as a love relationship between two equal human beings.”
So, what do you think? How is the institution of marriage going to change over the next few decades? How should we prepare our children for such changes?