Monday, December 6, 2010

What Marriage Has Become

I was reading an article the other day that took a different tack on the source of the sudden and seemingly overwhelming push for gay marriage.  It posits that shift away from the civil rights, the ever growing public presence of gays in American society, and the easing of cultural attitudes toward homosexuality.  These are not the reasons why the move toward gay marriage seems unstoppable, at least according to Bryce Christensen of South Utah University.  He suggests that this movement began with a change in the way heterosexuals view marriage.  According to him, gays want what marriage has become -- not what it was.

Marriage was formerly defined by religious doctrine and moral tradition. Marriage was seen as the divinely ordained and established estate which existed not so much for the pleasure, happiness, or fulfillment of the husband and wife, but for the sake of need -- both individual and societal.  Those married were expected to embrace the full weight of commitment to childbearing, religious attendance, distinctive sex roles (i.e., breadwinner/homemaker) and lifelong sexual fidelity to each other.  This was not about the desire or happiness of the couple but of an estate and roles that were essential to the society and necessary to the health, safety, and life of those married. 

Something changed, however, and that change is at the root of the movement toward gay marriage.  It began with America's shift from an agricultural nation to an industrial one, in which men and women began to work separately and were disconnected.  This left marriage as an institution "badly bloodied"  and forever changed.  Men went off to work, women were left at home to their work, and the home was no longer the center of the family's life or identity.  Women worked alone "in a functionally diminished home," in which "advertisers, manufacturers and educators" moved in to assist those homemakers, Mr. Christensen writes. The American home transformed from the hub and center of family activity, into "incidental parking place," where, from 1950 on, family members met to consume goods and relax.

The religious foundation of this understanding began eroding in the 1960s until today we think of marriage almost entirely in secular terms -- even among religious folk.  The rebellion of the 1960s, the sexual revolution and availability of cheap, reliable birth control devices, the entry of women into the workplace, and an intellectual attack on the understandings of marriage and family inherited from the past all ravaged what marriage had been.  What had been understood as an arena for self-sacrifice became the domain of self-gratification.  Increasingly, marriage became a place where self-interest must be constantly asserted and rights must be carefully preserved less they be abridged by the spouse.

The roles were blurred until the family had several providers and no one to nurture the place of home as hub and center of the family life.  The limitation to one or two children as well as the creation of a whole new category (DINK - dual income no kids) made family into something very different than it was a half century before.

With no fault divorce, marriage could be ended as easy as it was entered into.  Wendell Berry called husband and wife "two careerists who share the same bed."  Sex became one of the few things that tied husband and wife together and it has proven too weak to support the burdensome weight of pleasure that has been placed upon it.

Once marriage became "bereft of a healthy home economy, frequently devoid of children, and threatening to dissolve at any moment" and yet remained the most convenient way to get insurance, employment and government benefits (i.e., Social Security), it became an institution "that homosexuals finally wanted" to participate in, Mr. Christensen writes. (quoted from Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times)

This shadow of what marriage had been, has become the marriage that people want -- gay or straight -- or, perhaps, more accurately, the marriage they will settle for because it appears that this is all there is left.  A very interesting take on this very timely subject of debate, court redress, and legislative change.


Anonymous said...

This is completely correct and completely correct on so many levels.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The connection between the shift away from the farm hits so many things. It's not that women started leaving the home to work... it's that men did. Instead of working from home, from a trade that one did where one lived - things became disconnected from the home. Probably says something about vocation and its decay in there - a job becomes something incidental to who we are - just a way to get cash. This is giving me many great thoughts - thanks.

Carl Vehse said...

Working away from home occurred long before the Industrial Revolution. I think such people were referred to by various names, such as "hunter," "fisherman," "sailor," etc.

Anonymous said...

The goals of husbands and wives have
changed for their marriage. College
educated couples look at marriage as
an economic merger of two high-power
wage earners. They want the good
life in suburban million dollar homes. Master degrees in engineering
and business administration enable
both males and females to economic
independence if the marriage fails.
The traditional marriage is too often
based on finances and not self-sacrificing love for their

Anonymous said...

According to U.S. Census Bureau
unmarried opposite sex couples living
together numbered 7.5 million in
2010. This figure was 2.9 couples in
1990 and 4.2 couples in 2000. This
epidemic of cohabitation has lowered
the moral standards of our nation
and challenged the traditional
Christian marriage concept. The
Christian church must show that
live-in arrangements are sin against
God's will for marriage.

Anonymous said...

"This epidemic of cohabitation has lowered
the moral standards of our nation
and challenged the traditional
Christian marriage concept."

Marriage rates of the highest earning folks are higher than lower earners. Unfortunately higher earning folks have fewer children than the lower earning, except in Utah where the trend is reversed and the highest earning also have the most children.

Anonymous said...

Marriage rates of the highest earning folks are higher than lower earners.

I may be making an assumption but if these folks are among the elites it means they are defending the idea of cohabitation for others while they get married.

Anonymous said...

"The decline in marriage rates has been steepest for the least educated, especially men, and smallest for college graduates, especially women. College graduates, the highest earners, are more likely today to be married than are Americans with less education — 69% for adults with a college degree versus 56% for those who are not a college graduate.

"That was not the case in 1970, when all education groups were about equally likely to wed. Among college-educated men, 88% were married in 1970, compared with 86% of men without a college education. Among women, the comparable 1970 figures were 82% and 83%."

CannedAm said...

I married my husband because I wish to spend the rest of my life with him -- as his partner in life, parenting, home management. While we decided to have one parent available to our children full time, we did not decide that only one gender was qualified to do so simply because that was the age-old tradition. Men are as capable of nurturing as women are, but society would have us believe that's untrue. My husband was the homemaker for 5 years, and now it is my turn. We've been lucky to be able to earn enough to allow one parent to stay home. For many that is not the case and we do make sacrifices. How is it that our union is any more reasonable than a union between any other loving couple? Research has shown that the best parents are lesbian couples. Their children are better able to cope in the world and have zero abuse in their homes. The legal aspects of marriage allow that say should either my spouse or I die, certain social monetary benefits are available. He could make end of life decisions regarding my care should that need arise. How, if two people share their lives for years, is it acceptable that their partner not be able to: make end of life decisions, share in the property they accumulated, enjoy the medical benefits that any other legally joined couple does? Does the religious community think that seeing same sex couples will encourage homosexuality in others? It isn't that homosexuality has increased, it's that awareness and acceptance have increased and fewer people are living lies. How can two men joining their lives or two women joining their lives denigrate my heterosexual marriage in any way, shape or form? It cannot. My marriage means no less to my spouse and I because of any other marriage. My marriage is certainly not defined by bronze-age mysogonists bent on keeping the patriarchal power in the hands of men. Gender roles have certainly changed within society as well they should. Simply because women have the biological function of childbearing does not mean that is their only worth or lot. Men have as great a capacity for compassion and nurturing as women do; their parenting is equally important. Whether a child is raised by a man and woman or a man and a man or a woman and a woman is irrelevant except that many in society would make that child's existence miserable outside of the home -- while at home he would experience love and acceptance, much of the rest of the world would give him condemnation and judgment. It's time to crawl out of the dark ancient times and see the humanity of our fellow humans.