Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marriage and Society

I'm not quite sure why The Washington Post decided so much space in the opinion section should go to the topic of marriage, but I'm glad it did. There were two thought-provoking pieces there, one about myths of marriage and another about how Dan Quayle might have been right 20 years ago in that whole Murphy Brown kerfuffle. 

This is a tough topic, in political circles, to be both truthful and sensitive. Yet it's a topic worthy of discussion. And I'm happy to see that considerations of marriage's importance are becoming more common in the media. I think a great elephant in the room of American political dialogue is the preponderance of out-of-wedlock births. There is a lot of research to suggest correlation between out-of-wedlock births and fatherless families and poverty. Meanwhile there is significant research to suggest that marriage is something of a token of middle-class affluence. Perhaps it's even a ticket for admission.

Divorce and same-sex marriage might seem to complicate this. To me commitment is the keystone of this dialogue. The important act is two adults entering into a covenant to commit, even with the knowledge that keeping that promise can at times become too difficult to keep.

We've become a more tolerant society in the last half century. That is a great thing! But tolerance doesn't mean free-for-all, and I think we would do better if we uplifted, honored, and valued commitment when it comes in the form of marriage between adults. This is where I think those opposed to same-sex marriage have been missing something big: that heterosexuals haven't done the best job advertising commitment as a valuable act in modern-day society.

My own exhibition of being tongue-tied in the previous two paragraphs is perhaps testament to how this is a topic that defies our best attempts to be both truthful and sensitive. I offer these comments knowing and loving people who raised children (and doing a great job of it) outside the institution of marriage. Still, I'm glad media treatment is starting to be cast on what role marriage can play in our culture. After all, we've been through a fascinating transition in the past five decades. Marriages became easier to sever. Divorce became less taboo. Same-sex relationships are seeing growing acceptance. The percentage of births that are out-of-wedlock have grown. Dialogue is welcomed.   

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